Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Soup

Heirloom Tomato Soup

Even though tomatoes are a summer treat, tomato soup brings back memories of cool weather foods that warm me inside and out.  I remember dunking soup crackers into tomato soup and trying to eat them while they still had some crunch, before they became piles of sludge at the bottom of the bowl.

After I changed my diet, I haven't really missed soup crackers, but I have missed the soup.  In my past life, before I clogged up the supermarket aisle inspecting labels, I might not have even thought twice about something called "tomato soup"--I mean, it's just tomatoes right?  Wrong.  Here is the ingredient list for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup:
Ingredients: Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat Flour, Water, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Flavoring, Citric Acid, Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Monopotassium Phosphate.
Call me an idiot, but I could NOT find the ingredient list on Campbell's website without some serious digging. While their Australian website had products with ingredient lists readily available, their American site only includes Nutrition Facts, not ingredients when you searched by product.  Nice.  After a search for "tomato soup ingredient list," half-way down the page, buried in a Schedule A pdf of all their soups, I found it.  But since it's a pdf, I couldn't copy and paste it.  So I had to use their "shop" online link to find the product there.  Can you say NOT so user-friendly...
We're sorry, there were no results that matched you're search term: ingredient list 
Not being forthcoming usually means you have something to hide--perhaps like that high fructose corn syrup, wheat, and "flavoring"?  And seriously--ADDED sugar?  To a soup?  To a soup already sweetened with one of the sweetest vegetables/fruits: tomatoes?  Um....  This sounds exactly like what Dr. Lustig was saying when he called foul on companies for pumping their products full of fructose to get people to eat more.  Remember, fructose by-passes the metabolic hunger turn-off switch, so you want more and more and more...and guess where all that excess goes?  Hint: it's bulking you up but unfortunately not your muscles!

Finally, the can is also part of the problem.  Not only does it denote a processed product we are trying to oust from our diet for a more "real food, slow food" lifestyle, but it also contains BPA, which according to Consumer Reports is in the cans (even some that say it isn't) and has been linked to:
infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and breast cancers and diabetes.
Mark's Daily Apple has a great doomsday post on that issue if you'd like more information.

Okay, so enough with the ranting over the sorry state of nutrition affairs. Now it's on to recreating all the wholesome goodness that I thought I could find in a canned vegetable soup, but I was clearly mistaken.

You Don't Need Soup from a Can

The cool thing is that my recipe is dead simple and freaking' delicious.  It is just as easy as reheating from a can and is a gazillion times better for you.  It hits the spot for a warm (or chilled) bowl of flavorful tomato soup.  All you need are heirloom tomatoes and some spices.  No wheat, sugar, oils, or "flavoring." The tomatoes themselves provide all the liquid you need.  It's like magic!

Why Heirloom Tomatoes?

The heirloom tomato part is important to get sweet, flavor-bursting tomatoes AND to support the alternative agricultural traditions that produce these not-so-mass-produced vegetable/fruits.  From the article: Why Heirloom Seeds & Veggies Matter on Robb Wolf's website, I learned a bit more about heirloom plants:

  • Heirloom varieties are pollinated via insects and the wind and gardeners have chosen seeds to plant from those with the most favorable traits, usually taste and hardiness for their climate--usually passed down from 50-100 years. 
    • This is opposed to mass-produced vegetables that are either uniform hybrids from carefully controlled artificial selection pairings or genetic modification, which is a whole 'nother cup of tea. 
  • You can save the seeds from heirlooms and plant them to start your own gardening process. 
  • Unlike hybrids, heirlooms ripen at different times and take on their own unique characteristics, adapting to your tastes and environment if you only choose to plant the seeds from plants that perform best. 
Unfortunately, while I DID by heirloom tomatoes for a pretty penny, they were not locally sourced and I feel bad about it.  I just really wanted to enjoy my soup for that taste of summer to come.  I suggest that if you can, buy local heirlooms and save some seeds to start your own garden. 

What about Nightshades?

Nightshades are inflammatory plants, so those with autoimmune disorders or sensitivities to inflammatory foods try to stay away from them.  Nightshades include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.  Since I have had issues with inflammation, I used to be deathly afraid of eating any of those except in moderation, like every once-in-a-blue-moon frequency.  However, Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, discussed the issue in his newsletter.  Here are his insights:
The primary tomato saponin which causes a leaky gut is the glycoalkaloid, α-tomatine. Table 4 below shows the concentration of α-tomatine in a variety of tomatoes and tomato food products. Note that smaller and unripe tomatoes have noticeably increased concentrations of α-tomatine, whereas this compound is barely detectable in a standard ripe, red tomato.
The referenced table shows the highest concentration amongst unripe, small green tomatoes (548mg/kg) and remarkably reduced concentrations amongst edible tomatoes: 2.7mg/kg for red cherry tomatoes, 1.1mg/kg for large yellow tomatoes, 0.9mg/kg for ripe red beefsteaks, and 0.3 for standard red ripe ones.  Heirlooms weren't on the list, but I can imagine they are in the ripe range.  While their low concentration of this saponin is good news, the bad news is that there are also lectins to worry about:
In addition to α-tomatine, tomatoes contain another anti-nutrient called tomato lectin (TL) which rapidly crosses the gut barrier and enters into the bloodstream in humans. The concentration of TL in tomatoes and tomato products is between 3.0 – 6.0 mg/kg.
He goes on to scare the crap out of me with his description of how these nasties lead to a leaky gut, but fortunately he ends on a high note:
However, because ripe red tomatoes have such low concentrations of α-tomatine, and because they are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and other healthful nutrients, only people with an autoimmune disease or allergies should consider limiting their fresh ripe tomato intake. 
Yay!  So while I still won't make tomatoes an everyday menu item, I also won't shy away from them when I'm beckoned by their dazzling, jewel-like colors perched so temptingly along the produce aisle.  

Without further ado, here is the recipe!

Heirloom Tomato Soup
Super easy and super delicious tomato soup perfect warm or chilled.
Cooking time: about 15 minutes

  • 1 large or 2 medium ripe heirloom tomatoes (soft to the touch) for each diner
  • spices of your choice, such as:
    • dried or fresh basil
    • dried or fresh thyme
    • dried or fresh rosemary
    • dried red pepper flakes
  • salt 
  • pepper

Cut your heirlooms in half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet or broiler pan (you don't want to put the tomatoes directly on racks because they'll spill).  You could probably season them now, but herbs will just burn, so you can salt and pepper now and hold off on the herbs until they reach the bowl.  Broil or even grill until you see the tops start to crisp up a little and the flesh is softened.  This can take up to 15 minutes, depending upon your oven and how long it takes to get cranking.  Broiling is a good use of a toaster oven for the small space and faster heating. 

Slightly crispy, broiled tomatoes

Once you have soft tomatoes, carefully remove them one half at a time into a bowl and chop them up with a spoon and knife to break the chunks and skin into bit-sized pieces.  The texture is chunky, so if you like a smoother soup, use an immersion blender or regular blender/food processor to reach your desired consistency.  The tomatoes themselves supply all the liquid you need for the soup--be careful not to overflow your bowl!

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper plus any spices you desire and taste to find the right proportions.  Enjoy your tomato soup hot or chilled--it's delicious!  

This is a terrific carbohydrate for your meal (2 tomatoes is a Zone block) or an easy first course to a dinner.  You can easily make this a complete meal with the addition of some protein and fat.  For example, add some shredded chicken to the bowl and then have some berries and coconut milk (see my recipe: Berry Bowl) for dessert.  Yum!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An American Tsunami

Coca-Cola Red photo by Kyle May on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons

I mentioned in my last post that I would talk about Dr. Lustig's presentation, so here is some background to provide you with some thought for food.

Who is Dr. Lustig?  

Watch his phenomenal video presentation that is well worth the length.

Dr. Lustig's Presentation

Next, here is Carole Mulford's take on the presentation.  As manager of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education child development department, she organized the whole event and pulled it off flawlessly.  Thank you, Carole!

Following Carole's article is the coverage the event received by the Sentinel's staff writer. It provides the perspective of the soda tax, a controversial initiative proposed by State Assemblyman Bill Monning.

Below, I emphasized some key points in bold.  Here is Carole's letter published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:
Carole Mulford: Child obesity a crisis of tsunami proportions
Posted: 04/03/2011 01:30:04 AM PDT
Carole Mulford
In the midst of the worst storm of 2011, a discussion about a health crisis likened to a tsunami was being held down the street from the site of a water main burst in Capitola. At the end of an already long day, educators, doctors, nurses, child care providers, and students came to listen and learn how to stop an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
Some 187 people came because they care about what is happening to our children and wondered what, if anything, we can do to improve their future. The event's keynote speaker, Dr. Robert Lustig, a UC San Francisco pediatric endocrinologist, drove through that relentless downpour for three hours to deliver his message.
"If one person stops drinking soda or juice, then it will be worth the drive," he said, explaining that food-manufacturing practices have created a "toxic environment" that dooms children to being overweight.
"Changes in food processing during the past 30 years, particularly the addition of sugar to a wide variety of foods that once never included sugar, and the removal of fiber, both of which promote insulin production, have created an environment in which our foods are essentially addictive," he said.
He passionately talked about the fact that children don't wake up one day and choose to be fat.
"This notion of self-control and just saying no never works," he said. "The concept of personal responsibility is not tenable in children. Children are not responsible for food choices at home or at school, and it can hardly be said that preschool children, in whom obesity is rampant, are in a position to accept personal responsibility."
His words were inspiring and thought-provoking. Even if you wanted to avoid excess sugar you have little choice; sugar and high fructose sugar are in places you would never expect. Why do we need high fructose sugar in our chicken, canned vegetables or soy milk?
Lustig said fructose is toxic in large quantities because it is metabolized in the liver in the same way as alcohol, which drives fat storage and makes the brain think we're hungry.
"People are searching for answers to this epidemic that make sense," he says. "The science of fructose metabolism in the liver and fructose action in the brain turn the normal cycle of energy balance into a vicious cycle of consumption and disease."
"What I have proposed is quite controversial: that our food supply has been adulterated right under our very noses, with our tacit complicity. But I think the public gets it, and the tide is turning."
Lustig's powerful words remind us that we can and need to inspire one another. It is a time to get educated and take bold action. Recognition should be given to the leadership of Rep. Sam Farr, who empowered the audience to act, Assemblyman Bill Monning for his approach to address the problem, and Michael Watkins, Santa Cruz County schools superintendent, for his insight to bring the entire event together.
With our children in dire need of good nutrition, the simple intervention of an individual can make a huge difference. And when we act collectively, far greater change is possible. History will decide whether we acted quickly enough to give the next generation the healthier outcomes they deserve. Through collaboration and actions of individuals, community groups, business, educators and government, let's send a message that tells our children we can and will take better care of their health.
Carole Mulford is the manager of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education child development department.
And here is the Sentinel's story about the event, highlighting the soda tax initiative. I emphasized some key points in bold:
Monning pushes tax on soda to help educate, develop healthy lifestyle at Capitola school
Posted: 03/26/2011 01:30:12 AM PDT
CAPITOLA -- State Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, on Thursday proposed a 1-cent tax per fluid ounce on soft drinks that have sweeteners in an attempt to slow what was termed the poisoning of the nation's children for profit by food companies.
Monning, whose Assembly District 27 represents portions of Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara counties, addressed a crowd of approximately 167 people at New Brighton Middle School in Capitola. He said the bill, titled AB 669, would impose a tax for soft drinks, including sport drinks people falsely believe are healthy because of the word "sport" on the container.
"The money raised would result in $1.7 billion," Monning said.
He said the money could be used to educate children and develop alternative, healthy eating habits in schools, community organizations and nonprofits.
Monning held aloft a 20-ounce bottle of soda. "Our bill would add 20 cents to this," he said. "This is a war, for the hearts and minds of our people. It's a war we're currently losing. But heart disease is preventable."
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, representing Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, said Santa Cruz, with a higher percentage of organic growers than almost anywhere in the country, could serve as a leader in the effort to reduce obesity.
"If we demand healthier food, that's the way they'll have to serve it," he said.
Statistics estimate the U.S. spends $65 billion annually treating chronic diseases caused by obesity.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a nationally known endocrinologist for the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Francisco, called obesity an epidemic leading to heart disease, diabetes, liver destruction and other life-threatening problems.
"Excess sugar gums up the body's metabolic system," he said. "Changes in food processing during the past 30 years, particularly the addition of sugar to a wide variety of foods that once never included sugar, and the removal of fiber, both of which promote insulin production, have created an environment in which our foods are essentially addictive."
Lustig said food manufacturing practices have created a toxic environment that dooms children to being overweight. He said he didn't know if a 1-cent tax would reduce excess sugar consumption, but noted that it's a beginning.
"It's the kinds of foods children eat, the excess sweeteners that get stored as fat. That's the problem," he added.
Lustig said he's not a socialist who's against business, but he wants to promote healthy nutrition habits. Monning said he had been labeled a "social engineer" by critics because of his stance on the food tax. He added that soft drink companies spend millions in advertising sweet-laced drinks to children.
"The real social engineering is in this advertising," he said.
In covering the history of sugar addiction and artificial sweeteners, Lustig said before World War II, Americans consumed 16 grams to 24 grams per day. By 1994, the level reached 54.7 grams per day and the number has soared to 75 grams today. Soft drink container sizes have increased just as dramatically, from a 6.5 ounce bottle in 1915 to up to 20 ounces currently.
"It's a dose-dependant poison," Lustig said. "This is an American tsunami, and it will kill more Americans than a real tsunami would."
As an example, Lustig cited the 44 ounce "Thirst Buster." If you consumed one "Thirst Buster" each day for a year, the result would be an average 57 pounds of weight gain per year, Lustig said. Normal weight gain for children is 4 pounds to 5 pounds annually. Some children today are gaining 40 pounds to 50 pounds per year.
Lustig said attempts to exercise the weight off won't work in the face of bad eating habits.
"Until we get added sugar out of the American diet, nothing will work," he said.
He said that food industry companies are putting sugar in everything, and 25 percent of American exports are food items. Other countries formerly free of sugar addiction in the past are picking up our bad eating habits and developing their own obesity epidemics.
Are you terrified or at least sufficiently moved by this?  I hope that together we can make a difference and reverse this terrible health trend.  If you would like to act on this, please contact your politicians and show support for the soda tax, bill AB 669: California's Sweetened Beverage Tax.  Here is the link to Bill Monning's website for more information: AB 699. According to Monning, every legislator gets a daily tally of the feedback for and against proposals and they take those numbers into account when the proposal is debated.  Your voice CAN make a difference!