Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit

As soon as I saw that title I had to know more. The book by Barry Estabrook uncovers some very disturbing truths about a food item we love and use in great quantities. Here are a few significant details:

  • Compared to nutrient data from the 1960’s (the delectable tomatoes of my youth), today’s commercially grown tomatoes have 30% less Vitamin C, 30 % less thiamine, 19% less niacin and 62% less calcium.
  • There’s a Florida Tomato Committee that imposes export controls on tomatoes shipped out of state for fresh use. It stipulates all tomatoes must be flawlessly smooth, evenly round and of a certain size….not a word about taste (that explains a lot).
  • Field tomatoes grown for export are picked green and hard then gassed with ethylene to turn them red. There is no ripening going on in the true sense of the word – they may be red but they are still stone hard.
  • Florida is a bad actor in the realm of tomato growing with an appalling history of labour abuse.

And here is how I’ve changed my food life after reading this book:

  • I love tasty tomatoes in my salad and on my sandwiches. When there are no farmer’s markets or if I’m in a hurry, I get cherry or grape tomatoes from the grocery store because they usually have some flavour. I sometimes buy the vine ripe tomato clusters, but I now look for a country of origin on the sticker, preferring local and avoiding Florida.
  • You never know how a tomato is going to taste until you get it home and you’ll never really know what it’s been through (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, chlorination, gassed or maybe misted with mineral oil) unless you grow your own. I don’t have much sun in my nicely treed neighbourhood but I do have large planters that will accommodate 4 or 5 tomato plants and this summer I will remind myself what a real, fresh picked tomato tastes like (and that sometimes they are bumpy with weird folds…).

There’s a lot to love about cranberries…

…the colour, the variety of uses, the nutrition and health benefits. I always have a couple of bags of cranberries in my freezer. I buy them fresh in season or frozen on sale. I also buy them as dried and canned (as cranberry sauce) to make sure I never run out.

Breakfast cranberries are usually the dried variety. A quick breakfast includes 1 Tbsp sprinkled on a high fibre cereal. If I plan ahead, a 1⁄2 cup portion is cooked into my oatmeal recipe (4 servings). As for baking with cranberries, my favourite is a banana bread recipe from a Dietitian’s of Canada cookbook where I toss 1⁄2 cup of frozen cranberries into the batter, give a final stir before panning and baking. Here is a link to the basic recipe…keep the cranberries frozen until the last moment and they will retain their shape while baking.cranberrybanana

I also have two holiday recipes – cranberries & white chocolate cookies and cranberry/pistachio fudge. I was smart enough to take pictures last time I made them.cranberry-uses

Now for the health attributes. I recently attended a webinar by Dr. Howell, Rutgers University. It summarized the latest research and findings. I have extracted a few points of interest.

There’s a long-standing connection between cranberry juice and urinary tract infections (UTI’s). The benefits appear to be valid but some vital details deserve comment. First, if you have symptoms of a UTI, cranberries will not make it go away… go to your doctor, get diagnosed and follow the doctor’s prescription meticulously. However, if you know you are prone to UTI’s, or have had recent treatment, cranberries may prevent a recurrence. (Prone individuals, most often women, can have 3 or 4 recurrences per year)

As often reported, it’s not the acidic pH of cranberries that wards off infection. Rather, it is the action of a bioactive compound which prevents E.coli bacteria from adhering and proliferating within the urinary tract. For anyone wanting to research further, the compound is an A-type proanthocyanidins (PAC), a specific class of flavonoid.

But what form to take and how much? Well-controlled studies have shown success using a daily dose of 8 – 10 oz (240mL-300mL) of pure cranberry juice (* see sugar note). Equivalents are:

  •  1⁄2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1⁄4 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 125 – 500 mg cranberry pills OR supplement containing 36 – 72 mg PAC’s (suggested use if travelling)

* Cranberries are naturally very tart, unless you cook with fresh or frozen, sugar will be added for acceptance, sometimes lots of sugar! ‘Light’ or ‘Diet’ versions are equally effective. Or make your own…here is a recipe; untried, so let me know if it’s good and what you sweetened it with.

PS: Other benefits of cranberries: prevents adhesion of H.pylori (the ulcer bacteria) in the stomach; antioxidant activities have heart benefits. The concentration of total polyphenols per serving size, greatest to least, was found to be: Fresh or frozen cranberries, 100% cranberry juice, dried cranberries, >27% juice products, whole berry cranberry sauce and lastly, jellied cranberry sauce.

Sources: 1. SCAN (Practice Group) sponsored Webinar, Cranberries: Rich in Tradition, Supported by Science, Amy B. Howel, Ph.D., Marucci Centre for Blueberry Cranberry Research, Rutgers University, Chatsworth, New Jersy, USA. Jan 13,2 013 2. Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD, Cranberries—Tangy, Tasty, and Nutritious, Today’s Dietitian, July 2009. Vol. 11 No. 7 P. 74

A sought-after rice recipe

Every time I make edamame [pronounced ed-a-maw-mee] fried rice, I am asked for the recipe, so here it is, complete with some important custom options that are my own:

Edamame Fried Rice

Servings: 6 • Size: just under 1 cup • Weight watchers: old Points: 4 pt, PointsPlus: 5 pt
Calories: 202 • Fat: 5.8 g • Protein: 8.6 g • Carb: 28.5 g • Fibre: 4.3 g • Sugar: 1.1 g Sodium: 245 mg (without salt)

• 3 cups cooked brown rice (leftover works well)
• 2 egg whites, scrambled
• 1 whole egg, scrambled (use 2 whole eggs if no whites on hand)
• cooking spray
• 1/2 onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, diced
• 5 scallions, chopped, whites and greens separated
• 1/2 cup shredded carrots
• 1 tbsp oil
• 1 cup ready-to-eat shelled edamame
• 2 tbsp low sodium tamari soy sauce, (or more to taste)
(good option – add 2 tsp sesame oil and 1 tsp fish sauce)
• fresh pepper to taste (salt if needed)

Whisk eggs and egg whites, season with salt and pepper. In a hot wok, spray a little oil and cook the eggs. When cooked, remove from pan and set aside.

Let the wok get really hot. Add oil and cook onions, scallion whites, carrots and garlic for about 30-60 seconds, careful not to burn. Add brown rice and stir well a few minutes to heat through. Add chopped cooked egg along with soy sauce, scallion greens and edamame, mixing gently for about 3-4 minutes until evenly combined.
(Good served either hot or cold.)
(Easily doubled or even tripled.)


Sodium Lurks in Unexpected Places!

A review of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada has me looking at my food labels more carefully. While I have been diligently checking the fibre content of my breakfast cereals, my sodium intake has gone unchecked. Cereals are nowhere near the worst offenders when it comes to salt in our diets but why is it there at all?
Here are some numbers taken from products in my pantry:
• All Bran Original 1/2c. (36g) = 180 mg sodium (8% DV)
• Fibre 1 Honey Clusters 1c. (54g) = 280 mg sodium (14% DV)
• Multi Grain Cheerios 1c. (30gm) = 160 mg sodium (7% DV)
• Compliments Wheat Squares 11/4c. (55g) = 330mg sodium (14% DV)
• Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Regular I pack (28g) = 180 mg (8%)
• Spoon Size Shredded Wheat 11/4c. (59g) = 0 mg sodium (0% DV)
• Blue Menu Steel Cut Oats 1/4c. (40g) = 0 mg sodium (0% DV)
• Quaker Large Flake Oats (bulk) 1/3 c. (30g) = 0 mg sodium (0% DV)

For added interest, I looked these up on the Internet:
• Kelloggs Corn Flakes 11/4c. (30g) = 220 mg sodium (9% DV)
• Kelloggs Special K 11/4c. (29g) = 230 mg sodium (10% DV)

So what?
I rely on cereals as a source of B vitamins and fibre. So I will still be eating cereals for breakfast but they will be cooked up on the stove top…..a batch of Oatmeal or 7 grain or Red River. I will prep two or three days worth and each morning scoop 1/2 cup, add milk and microwave. Then I will sprinkle it with a bit of chopped or dried fruits and nuts. Yumm.

Value your food labels! Whether it’s cereal or any processed food, check the label before you buy. Choose items which deliver 5% DV (Daily Value) or less. Click this link to download valuable information on sodium and what to look for on those labels.