Food Label Claims

beware-of-food-label-claims-etb-livingNon-GMO, free-range, organic, grass-fed, and natural are common food label claims. It seems as if every day there’s a new “claim.” Whether it’s slapped on a product at the store, listed on a restaurant menu, or publicized in the media, food label claims are becoming ubiquitous.

Greeeaaaat, we are still struggling to understand how to read a standard nutrition label, not to mention decoding the ingredients on the label, and now we’ve got to tackle food label claims too?!? Yes, yes you do. The good news is that many of these claims can be helpful and insightful; the bad news is that many of them can also be confusing, and thus require individual research and learning.

New food label claims are on the rise, and I think the trend will continue for years to come, so get on top of it now! If you want extra brownie points – and you know you do – you should not only learn about current and new food label claims, but also teach and educate others as well.

I’ll help get you get started with these common food label claims from one of my handouts from school (The Institute for Integrative Nutrition). Read, learn, share, and then take a nap.

ANTIBIOTIC-FREE: “Antibiotic-free” means that an animal was not given antibiotics during its lifetime. Other phrases to indicate the same approach include “no antibiotics administered” and “raised without antibiotics.”

CAGE-FREE: “Cage-free” means that the birds are raised without cages. What this doesn’t explain is whether the birds were raised outdoors on pasture, if they had access to outside, or if they were raised indoors in overcrowded conditions. If you are looking to buy eggs, poultry, or meat that was raised outdoors, look for a label that says “pastured” or “pasture-raised.”

FAIR TRADE: The “fair trade” label means that farmers and workers, often in developing countries, have received a fair wage and worked in acceptable conditions while growing and packaging the product.

FREE-RANGE: The use of the terms “free-range” or “free roaming” are only defined by the USDA for egg and poultry production. The label can be used as long as the producers allow the poultry access to the outdoors so they are able to engage in natural behaviors. It does not necessarily mean that the products are cruelty free, antibiotic-free, or that the animals spent the majority of their time outdoors. Claims are defined by the USDA, but are not verified by third-party inspectors.

GMO-FREE, NON-GMO, OR NO GMOs: Products can be labeled “GMO-free” if they are produced without being genetically engineered through the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Genetic engineering is the process of transferring specific traits or genes from one organism into a different plant or animal.

GRAIN-FED: Animals raised on a diet of grain are labeled “grain-fed.” Check the label for “100 Percent Vegetarian Diet” to ensure the animals were given feed containing no animal by-products.

GRASS-FED: This means the animal was fed grass rather than grain. They should not be supplemented with grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease, although they may have been given antibiotics to treat disease. A “grass-fed” label doesn’t mean the animal necessarily ate grass its entire life. Some grass-fed cattle are “grain-finished,” which means they ate grain from a feedlot prior to slaughter.

HEALTHY: Foods labeled “healthy” must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. Certain foods must also contain at least 10 percent of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber.

HERITAGE: A “heritage” label describes a rare and endangered breed of livestock and crops. Heritage animals are prized for their rich taste, and they usually contain a higher fat content than commercial breeds. These animals are considered purebreds and a specific breed near extinction. Production standards are not required by law, but true heritage farmers use sustainable production methods. This method of production saves animals from extinction and preserves genetic diversity.

HORMONE-FREE: The USDA has prohibited use of the term “hormone-free,” but animals that were raised without added growth hormones can be labeled “no hormones administered” or “no added hormones.” By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones. If the products are not clearly labeled, ask your farmer or butcher to ensure that the meats you are buying are free from hormones.

NATURAL: Currently, no standards exist for this label except when used on meat and poultry products. USDA guidelines state that “natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients. However, “natural” foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic, humanely raised, or free of hormones and antibiotics.

NON-IRRADIATED: This label means that the food has not been exposed to radiation. Meat and vegetables are sometimes irradiated to kill micro-organisms and reduce the number of microbes present due to unsanitary practices. No thorough testing has been done to know if irradiated food is safe for human consumption.

PASTURE-RAISED: “Pasture-raised” indicates that the animal was raised on a pasture and that it ate grasses and food found in a pasture, rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or barn. Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane manner. This term is very similar to “grass-fed,” though the term “pasture-raised” indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on pasture.

ORGANIC: All organic agricultural farms and products must meet the following guidelines (verified by a USDA-approved independent agency):

  • Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for three years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license. Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation.
  • Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management, and crop rotation practices.
  • Provide outdoor access and pasture or livestock.
  • Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
  • Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
  • Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
  • Keep records of all operations.

If a product contains the “USDA Organic ”seal, it means that 95 to 100 percent of its ingredients are organic. Products with 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients can still advertise “organic” ingredients on the front of the package, and products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can identify them on the side panel. Organic foods prohibit the use of hydrogenation and trans fats.

RBGH-FREE OR RBST-FREE RBGH: Recombinant bovine growth hormone is a genetically is a genetically engineered growth hormone that is injected into dairy cows to artificially increase their milk production. The hormone has not been properly tested for safety. Milk labeled “rBGH-free” is produced by dairy cows that never received injections of this hormone. Organic milk is rBGH free. (rBST stands for recombinant bovine somatotropin).

Here’s a great site to refer to. It’s where the content here was actually adapted from.

And I’m out,
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Should you go gluten-free?

I often hear people speaking about going gluten-free or eating gluten-free foods. It’s a hot topic these days. We here about it everywhere, whether it’s a celebrity that just went gluten free, the latest gluten-free diet plan or cookbook, or a new gluten-free food product. So should you do it? To answer this question, I think there are two more important questions to consider first:

  • Do you NEED to go gluten-free?
  • What healthy foods should you be eating or are you eating that are naturally gluten-free?

When you walk into any store or market, you are sure to see a slew of packaged products with the words “gluten-free” on them. Although going gluten-free can be beneficial — and for some people absolutely detrimental for their health and survival — unfortunately it is also used as a marketing tactic to sell product. Be wary of that.

Why is this the case? Well, people associate gluten-free with being healthy or losing weight, and as a result feel less guilty when they consume a product that is gluten-free. If a packaged product, healthy or unhealthy, has the words, gluten-free slapped across it, more often than not a consumer will purchase that item. Herein lies the problem. People are making purchasing decisions based on words, rather than the true meaning and implications of those words.

In some cases gluten-free is healthy, but often it’s because those foods were naturally gluten-free to begin with. Vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, beans, fish, poultry, meat, herbs, etc. did not suddenly transform and become gluten-free, they always have been! These naturally gluten-free foods are very good for you, but many of the packaged products are not. There has been an explosion of gluten-free junk foods. Junk food, with or without gluten, should always be eaten in moderation. In fact, the gluten-free junk food may actually have fewer nutrients than the gluten-full kind.

There continues to be new research and learning around gluten, and I am no expert, but here are a few things worth your while to know.

Know what gluten is. Gluten is a storage protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and most oats. Pure oatmeal does not contain oatmeal, however most oatmeal brands on the market today are cross-contaminated with gluten proteins in processing facilities. For example, Quaker Oats states on its website that it cannot guarantee its oatmeal is gluten-free.

Know the difference between celiac and gluten sensitivity. Gluten is problematic for people with celiac disease or with a gluten sensitivity. Celiac is when the person is completely intolerant of gluten. Gluten sensitivity is when someone tests negative for celiac disease, but shows some improvement when gluten is taken out of the diet.

Know how common gluten allergies are. Before you panic about the long list of diseases connected to gluten sensitivity, know a few important stats and facts. Celiac is estimated to affect 1% people in the U.S., while gluten sensitivity is estimated to affect 6-10% of the U.S. population. This means that gluten is safe for 90% of the population! Remember that number please. Gluten gets a bad rap, and for many it is a sensitivity that should be monitored, BUT 90% of people are good to go.

Alright, now that we’ve got that squared away, here are some of the diseases linked to gluten sensitivity: osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy, and autism.

Determine whether you have a gluten allergy. Before you jump on the gluten-free bandwagon determine whether you truly need to. Why? Although it can be worth it, it isn’t an easy diet to follow, and requires lifelong commitment. You must be strict and regimented with what you eat, as the health effects can be quite damaging if you consume the wrong food. Also, you have to be extra careful about balancing nutrients that are lost from gluten-free foods. This is especially important for growing children and young adults, as they need a balanced diet and certain nutrients that adults do not (e.g., dairy). Studies have shown that some children are producing weaker and thinner bones as result of minimizing or removing gluten from the diet.

To add to the difficulty, gluten isn’t necessarily called out on the label. Wheat has labeling laws that require the words “wheat” to be written on the label, but barley does not. You have to look for barley as an ingredient as well as malt, malt flavoring, malt vinegar, beer, or brewers yeast. Oh and you know how some packages have the words “This was produced in a factory that produces wheat”? Turns out this is not regulated; it is up to the manufacturer to decide whether or not to include this information. That means you don’t truly know if traces of gluten (or the amount) are present.

So how do you actually test for this? You can determine whether you have celiac disease through a blood test (it is about 95% accurate), and then a biopsy to confirm. However, remember that you MUST BE EATING GLUTEN for the test to be accurate! Once you’ve tested for celiac and received a negative result, THEN test for gluten sensitivity. Unfortunately, this is not so easy, and at the moment the diagnostic tests aren’t the greatest. Trying out a gluten-free diet for 2-3 months, and journaling about your foods and reactions to them, is probably the best bet.

I leave you with this…

The benefit of all this gluten-free talk. On the plus side, this whole gluten-craze has resulted in people paying greater attention to what and how they eat. Even if people have no gluten issues, this topic has inspired individuals to think about their eating, choose healthier options, and read nutrition labels. These are favorable behaviors that help get people moving in a positive direction when it comes to healthier eating habits.

And I’m out,
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Do You Chew Your Food?

Is there a point to chewing our food? Is it important? Yes and yes. There’s a reason we have teeth people.

What happens when you chew?

Let’s talk about what happens when you don’t chew. First, it puts a lot of stress on your digestive system and decreases your energy. This is because your body is overwhelmed with the process of breaking down the large food particles that you didn’t breakdown in your mouth. When you don’t chew, your intestines cannot properly absorb nutrients form the food particles as they pass through. I like how Purdue University Professor of food and nutrition Dr. Richard Mattes explains it (based on a his recent study):

Particle size [affects the] bioaccessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body.”

Second, it prevents your saliva from doing its job. What do I mean by that? Well, believe it or not saliva isn’t simply there to increase your chances of drooling when you sleep. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that are only released when you chew! No chew = no release of digestive enzymes. One of these enzymes is called pytalin, and it is the enyzme that helps us digest grains and carbohydrates. Another is called lingual lipase, and this enzyme helps break down fats.

Lastly, when we don’t chew, we can forget to appreciate and taste the food we are eating. Chewing forces us to slow down. Many of us live busy, active, on-the-go lifestyles, and scarf down our food without thinking. Often we take down the food so we can rush off to the next thing in our day. There’s hardly any time to eat, and now we have to chew?! But, it shouldn’t be that way, and we should take time to enjoy and taste our food. When we bite and swallow we stop our body from thinking. When we chew there is a connection between the stomach and head, creating a more mindful, slow, and satiating food eating experience.

How many times should you chew?

So there isn’t an exact formula or number of times. It is really about making sure the food is paste-like or pureed. If you can still feel pieces of food, you should chew a little more. It also depends on the food itself. For example, you would chew chicken more than lettuce, and lettuce more than yogurt. If I am counting I usually start with 20, and go from there. Sometimes I need up to 50 chews! It is also not uncommon for one to require up to 60 + chews to properly breakdown the food. Once you start to think more about chewing and slowing down when you eat, you will find the process becomes more natural and intuitive. And you get the added bonus of better digestion, feeling full sooner, and more easily managing your portions.

Let’s recap…Why is chewing important and how can one benefit from the act of chewing?

  1. You can absorb more nutrients and retain energy levels
  2. Your saliva can do its job and help you breakdown the food properly so you can digest more easily
  3. You take longer to eat, which can help some to control their portion sizes, and maintain a healthy weight
  4. You strengthen your teeth and prevent plaque build up and tooth decay
  5. You minimize the amount of bacteria lingering in your intestines, which helps prevent gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping, and other digestive problem

Think about chewing at your next meal. Why not reap the benefits? It’s free. The only cost is slowing down and taking/making more time to enjoy your meal…and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

And I’m out,
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12 Complete Vegetarian Proteins

Originally posted on Buckwheat for your health:

12 Complete Proteins Vegetarians Need to Know About

Other than meat, there are other ways to get complete proteins in your meals and buckwheat is one of them!

The term “complete protein” refers to amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that can form a protein, and 9 that the body can’t produce on its own. These are called essential amino acids—we need to eat them because we can’t make them ourselves. In order to be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all nine of these essential amino acids.

You can view the full article here, at

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Cooking with Kasha: Move Over Quinoa, You’ve Got a Competitor

Quinoa often gets all the attention for being gluten-free, high in protein and vegetarian friendly; but, there are many other grains out there that provide no gluten, high plant-based protein, and optimal health benefits. Kasha is one of them. I learned about Kasha recently, and decided to try it for dinner the other night. Basically, I LOVED it – form the texture and taste to the way it set in my body. I couldn’t stop eating it! What was even better is that I didn’t feel heavy, stuffed, or tired. I felt light, satiated, and energetic.

So what is Kasha? Kasha is the name for buckwheat that has been roasted to a deep amber color. In fact, you can chew and eat Kasha without cooking it. It actually taste really good! It has a nutty, smoky, burnt flavor. The cooked version is fluffier, but has the same nutty, smoky, burnt taste to it. Both versions are good. I think it depends on the type of meal you want, your texture preference, and perhaps the mood you are in.

Kasha is one of the oldest traditional foods of Russia. Despite its name, buckwheat is not actually a member of the wheat family, but rather a relative of rhubarb. Of all the grains, buckwheat has the longest transit time in the digestive tract and is the most filling. It can be eaten as a hot breakfast cereal, a side dish, or a grain entrée mixed with vegetables.

A few characteristics and health benefits of Kasha include:

  • Stabilizes blood sugar, minimizing stress-related cravings due to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, while improving energy, mood, memory and overall hormone balance
  • Gluten-free
  • Builds blood; neutralizes toxic acidic waste
  • Benefits circulation
  • Contains the flavonoid rutin, which protects against disease by strengthening capillaries and preventing blood clotting.
  • Contains high levels of magnesium, which helps lower blood pressure
  • Strengthens the kidneys
  • High proportion of all eight amino acids, especially lysine
  • Rich in vitamin E and B-complex vitamins

How do you cook Kasha?

It is super easy and fast. First, you must boil the water. This is very important! No Kasha can enter that pot until the water has already come to a boil. Got it? Good. Then bring the water down to a simmer, slowly pour the Kasha in to the hot water, and let it cook for about 20 minutes. That’s it! Then, serve, eat and enjoy.

Do not add Kasha to cold water, as it will not cook properly. The Kasha to water ration is 1 cup Kasha to 2 cups boiling water. You can make more of course, but 1 cup is a good amount for 4 people. See below for a basic Kasha recipe. You can definitely do more with Kasha, like create a pilaf, or just get creative and add veggies and spices you like. I may try adding diced onion, parsley, kale, and tomatoes and create what I will call a Kasha Salsa Salad.

Basic Kasha Recipe:

Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cook Time: 20 minutes. Yield: 4 servings. Ingredients: 1 cup kasha, 2 cups water, pinch of sea salt. Directions: (1) Bring water to a boil first (2) Slowly add kasha and punch of sea salt (3) Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes (4) Fluff with fork and serve.

Now get out there, try some Kasha, and create your own unique Kasha cuisine.

And I’m out,
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Soy Nuts & Dry Roasted Edamame: The Perfect Road Warrior Snack

I had an amazing 4th of July with friends in New Jersey this past weekend, and per usual I came equipped with snacks. I brought Persian cucumbers, mixed greens, Greek yogurt, bananas, dry roasted edamame and almonds. Oh and two hard-boiled eggs of course. If you know me you know I almost always carry around hard-boiled eggs, but that’s another topic of conversation. So, when I busted out the edamame everyone questioned what it was. I was surprised; I thought most people knew about dry roasted edamame. Turns out no, but everyone liked it! I was happy to introduce my friends to a new, tasty, and heart-healthy snack. Perhaps many others out there don’t know about dry roasted edamame or soy nuts, so figured I’d blog about it.

Why I love soy nuts and roasted edamame.

Soy nuts or roasted edamame are at the top of my snack list, especially when traveling or out all day. They are a dream snack for busy, on-the-go health nuts. Speaking of nuts, soy nuts aren’t really a “nut,” so don’t be fooled by the name. I like the taste of these roasted beans, but what really draws me to them are their high fiber and protein content, having 14 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per ¼ of a cup. The protein to fiber ratio is almost 2:1! That means every bite you take is loaded with fiber, almost double the protein, and pure deliciousness.

To add to the awesomeness, the protein content contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Not that you can’t get your nine essentials from other healthy foods or combinations of foods, but for the busy bee, with limited food options and limited time, this can be extremely helpful and beneficial. Furthermore, because the food is high in fiber and protein it is also extremely satiating and filling. It is a slow burning food, meaning it fills you up and keeps you filled for a pretty loooooong time. It’s already difficult enough to find non-processed wholefoods that you can carry and store with you (even for a few hours), and these little nuggets can easily go days and weeks.

How I learned of this wonderful nut.

I was introduced to soy nuts when I visited Iran about 6 years ago. A year later my father brought a container of dry roasted edamame home from Costco. I took a look at the nutritional profile, did some research, and discovered they are basically soy nuts. There are definitely differences between soybeans and edamame, but they are few and far between. If you really want to know the intricate details, this article is helpful.

So today, soy nuts and dry roasted edamame are a household favorite. I also like that they have lower fat content than standard nuts and seeds (e.g., sunflower seeds, flaxseed, almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, etc.). I absolutely love nuts, but a little goes a long way, and I tend to overdo it…oops! I discovered dry roasted soy delights satisfy me just as much as nuts and seeds do; and when I mix them, I not only create a great snack, but also a great way for me to enjoy and control my nut and seed intake.

Ida’s ultimate travel mix.

I love mixing different snacks together, especially crunchy things. The concoction I create usually depends on what’s around the house and my craving or mood on that particular day. Here are common ingredients I love to combine. But, get creative and design a mix that suits your palate and personality!

Common Ingredients in My Mix: Soy nuts or edamame, oatmeal, cereal of some sort (usually cheerios or multigrain puffins), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, some sort of dried fruit (dried cranberries, tart cherries, dried blueberries, or raisins), and pretzels or crackers (recently digging Mary’s Gone Crackers).

Some cautionary advice.

There are a couple of things you want to be sure to do when it comes to consuming soy nuts or edamame. First, careful how much you eat, as the high fiber can cause bloating or gas if too much is consumed, or consumption is not balanced with water/fluid intake. This brings me to the second suggestion – drink lots of water! It is a dry, high fibrous food, so you must balance this out with moist, hydrating foods and fluids.

Additional information for you curious cats.

If you desire to learn more about soy products and their health myths and facts, here are references from two of my favorite MDs – Dr. Andrew Weil & Dr. Mark Hyman.

Time to purchase…I know you are hungry for dry roasted soy now.

Depending on where you live it may be easy or difficult to find at the grocery store. Two brands I’ve tried and trust are Seapoint Farms and Sunridge Farms.

And I’m out,
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Raw verse Cooked Tomatoes – The Lycopene Debate

Let me start by discussing one of my favorite forms of the tomato, the paste. I probably go through close to two cans of tomato paste every week. I like the texture and combination with certain foods. I also love that it is a product you can buy for cheap, store for months (even years), and turn into a sauce or soup. A multipurpose, multifaceted fruit I must say. I mostly treat it like a condiment, using it as a topping or dipping sauce with various foods. It’s the way way way better version of ketchup – tastes better and is better for you.

If we take a look at the standard nutrition facts, every 2 tablespoons has 30 calories, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 20mg sodium (make sure there is no salt added), 7g of carbs, 1g fiber, 4g sugar, 1g protein, 10% Vitamin A, 10% Vitamin C, 2% Calcium and 4% Iron. Not too shabby. Oh and here’s the best part, there is only one ingredient – tomatoes! A win win for me. Stellar nutrition and simple ingredients. I mean it’s no meal replacement, but it is a great dish addition.

I wasn’t always a t-paste connoisseur. It all started in undergrad (around 2008). I used to eat a more normal amount, about 2-4 tablespoons a week, maybe less some weeks, maybe more others. Over the next few years I definitely upped my intake. I think it was some time in 2010 when I started eating t-paste by the can. At that point I began to question my consumption. Maybe it was time to cut back on my obsession before I became a full-blown addict, or maybe I already was. Regardless, I felt it was time to slow my roll. My family wasn’t as concerned as I was, but they too felt it wouldn’t hurt to dial down.

A few months later I was watching an episode of Dr. Oz, and he spoke of the health benefits of tomatoes, and tomato paste in particular. He recommended eating 4 tablespoons a day. Pause, rewind, replay (thank you DVR). “MOOOOM! Come here, listen to this please.”

Looks like I was good to go. After all that worrying, I may have been doing something beneficial for my body. I learned that cooked tomatoes have a higher amount of lycopene, which is particularly important in the prevention of prostate cancer. Not that prostate cancer was a concern for me, but I figured it had to be pretty darn healthy if it could reduce the risk of such a cancer. So, I went back to my old t-paste ways.

Why my sudden interest in telling this story?

Well, recently I was listening to a talk by raw food guru David Wolfe, and he commented on raw verse cooked tomatoes, saying:

“We often hear that cooking tomatoes increases the available lycopene antioxidant content by five times. Blending tomatoes also increases the available lycopene antioxidant content. Blending however avoids the heat/oxidation, as well as water and enzyme damaging properties of cooking.”

Then, 1 week later I listened to a lecture by Dr. Fuhrman where he spoke to the benefits of eating cooked tomatoes (versus raw), especially when it comes to lycopene content.

Hmmm, so which is truly better? Or are they both good? I set out to find the answer.

After investigating for a bit, I found there are health benefits to both. Research has consistently shown that cooked tomatoes do indeed have more lycopene content, but blending increases the lycopene content as well (just not as much as cooking). However, while cooking may have more lycopene, valuable nutrients are also lost during the heating process (i.e., Vitamin C, B1 and B6). So, there’s a tradeoff. It seems you have two options with respect to the tomato. (1) You can eat more raw tomatoes (blended or whole) or (2) you can eat cooked tomatoes and make sure you get Vitamin C, B1, and B6 from other foods in your diet.

I would recommend consuming the food in both forms, raw or cooked, and determining what form you like. Perhaps one tastes better, or your body may find it easier to digest tomatoes in cooked versus raw form. Unless you have specific reasons to monitor your tomato format intake go with whatever delights you and your belly :)

And for those of you who don’t care much for tomatoes all together, there are other lycopene rich foods, which include: Watermelon, Grapefruit, Guava, Papaya, Apricot, Asparagus, Cabbage (red raw), Parsley, Sweet Red Peppers (cooked), Asparagus (cooked), Beans (baked), Mango, and Carrots.

For amounts per serving for some of these foods check out this chart. Amounts are given in micrograms, so just move the decimal place over from right to left three times to convert to mg. Tomatoes definitely have the highest lycopene content, particularly tomato paste (75.3mg per cup), but if you are eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, you should have no lycopene shortage issues.

So, you may be wondering what lycopene even is and why you should care about it.

Lycopene is a phytochemical belonging to the carotenoids family. Lycopene gives tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables their red/pinkish color, with the exception of cherries and strawberries. Like all carotenoids, it is an antioxidant, but lycopene is 2-3 times more potent than beta-carotene (the phytochemical that gives carrots their orange color) and is of particular interest to the scientific community due to its anti-carcinogenic effects.

Interestingly, it is not considered an essential nutrient for humans, but it is a highly beneficial and powerful antioxidant that demolishes free radicals in the body. What do these free radicals do? They protect your body’s cells from damage, including the DNA inside the cell. The DNA inside the cell is what causes healthy cells to turn cancerous and create subsequent health problems.

Preliminary research shows lycopene may help to prevent heart disease, stroke, cancers of prostate, stomach, lungs and breast, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, and eye disorders such as macular degeneration and cataracts. If that wasn’t enough, it may also be the most powerful carotenoid against singlet oxygen, a primary cause of premature skin aging. Further, research has suggested that lycopene may boost sperm concentrations in men with infertility. Now that’s quite an impressive resume if I do say so myself.

Although there is no Daily Value for lycopene, health specialists recommend including about 10mg of supplemental mixed carotenoids daily for health maintenance. Dosages used for prostate cancer go up to 30mg daily. At times supplements are necessary, but when possible I ALWAYS advocate eating your nutrients. Lycopene is fat soluble, so try to eat it with a small amount of oil or other good fats for optimal absorption.

As you can see there are plenty of options to choose from. Have fun with your lycopene intake. Mix it up. Although I love my tomato paste, I’m going to incorporate some other sources and tomato formats too.

I leave you with this interesting take on lycopene and raw tomatoes:

“Did nature make a mistake by only offering ‘x’ mg of lycopene in a raw tomato when its cooked counterpart has twice that? Or could it be that we really only need ‘x’ mg of lycopene per tomato? “

Oh and one more thing…sorry I know this is a long post! Here’s a classic Gazpacho recipe. I love gazpacho, and it’s a super easy, fast, delicious, cooling, raw, blended (i.e., more lycopene) way to incorporate tomatoes into your next meal.

And I’m out,
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