This weekend, when I was walking around my Farmer’s market, and then later around my local Whole Foods, it occurred to me that when I looked at fresh, local, farm produce, it nearly vibrated with light and vibrant health. Early tomatoes glowed, eggplant shimmered, and cabbage was jumping out of its skin … and I immediately understood that they would have a similar effect on my health, the visible (skin, hair, energy) and the invisible parts (disease-fighting, hormonal balance, etc).
In contrast, nothing in a package even winked, they just kind of sat there. Seemed kind of dead and desolate by comparison.
I know what I’m eating these days! Check out my Vibrant Health Recipes page for vibrant veggie cooking inspiration!
Craveworthy, HEALTHY pizza!
Hint: all that greasy cheese actually doesn’t even have that much flavor – you won’t miss it!
- Use thin-crust, light-on-the-cheese pizza as a base, and then PILE on the veggies! Pretty much anything goes – onions, peppers, arugula (my fave), garlic, broccoli, eggplant, sweet potato, kale, zucchini (sliced thinly using a peeler) etc. Pile it on and eat salad with your hands!
- (My favorite tip) Saute a huge handful of pressed garlic cloves in a little olive oil, add a little parsley, and use as the sauce, as a topping, or as a dipping sauce for your pizza. Adds mad flavor, fun, and the healthy goodness of garlic!
- When you make homemade pizza, experiment with using very light cheese, or no cheese at all! Or, switch in unexpected cheeses with more flavor than mozzarella – like gorgonzola. A little goes a LONG way on flavor!
- Another way to amp up flavor and healthiness is with herbs: try oregano, rosemary, thyme … and of course, crushed red pepper!
- Pizza re-heating tip: place it in an iron or stainless steel skillet with just a tiny bit of oil … heat over medium heat, cover at the beginning if needed to warm up toppings. The crust will be crispy and delicious!
- Avoiding gluten? Some of the new cauliflower-crust recipes are AMAZING, and taste/feel just like regular thin crust!
Your strawberry-loving kids had Quaker Strawberries and Cream oatmeal for breakfast, with Hershey’s Strawberry milk. Strawberry Fruit Gushers for dessert for lunch, and Straw-Banana-Rama Double Crush Cup Yogurt for an after-school snack. At practice, they drank Kiwi-Strawberry Vitaminwater, and then had Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups after dinner.
So how many strawberries did they eat, for goodness sake? EXACTLY NONE.
Confused? Read on, and follow the links to credible sources for ingredients, if you want to check for yourself (and you should)!
- Quaker Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal contains no strawberries, no cream, and 12 times the sugar of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats.
- Hershey’s Strawberry syrup contains no strawberries; it is almost entirely corn syrup of various types. And, apparently, something pink.
- Betty Crocker “Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers” say they’re made with real fruit, but the only thing close to fruit is pear concentrate (which is essentially sugar) plus some red dye for “strawberry” color.
- Dannon Danimals Straw-Banana-Rama Double Crush Cup Yogurt – Though there are monkeys on the front grabbing at fruit, they’re not going to find any here: there are no strawberries or bananas listed in the ingredient lists. There are some fruit and vegetable juices in the product as colors. The company defends this in a public statement: “Many kids prefer yogurt without fruit pieces, and we show fruit on the label so people can clearly identify the flavor they are buying.” Ummmm … right.
- Glacéau Vitaminwater, Kiwi-Strawberry flavor: There are no strawberries or kiwis in this water.
- Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups, Strawberry: A lot of different corn syrups and oils. No strawberries.
I’m picking on strawberries, but this is by no means limited to them.
Crystal Light’s “Natural Lemonade” mix doesn’t even contain a single drop of lemon or lemonade (though it does include under 2% of “lemon juice solids, meaning solids extracted from lemons and then turned into a powder)! Please tell me what’s “Natural” about that?
Kraft sells a “guacamole dip” that contains less than 2% avocados.
Knorr “Pasta Sides” Chicken Broccoli Fettuccini has more corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, and salt than there is Chicken or Broccoli.
These food marketers are counting on your being too busy (and trusting) to worry with reading the label. They think that because they add fruit flavors or colors, you’ll be duped into buying their products and feeding them to your families. And unfortunately, for many of us, they’re right.
If a blouse were marked as “silk” but then you found out later that it was imitation silk, you’d return it. If you stopped for your morning “coffee” but then later learned it was made of a colored water that was flavored to taste like coffee (but didn’t have any of coffee’s physical or nutritional characteristics), you’d be up in arms. So why are we giving food marketers so much leeway with chemical colors and flavors that help THEM save money, but dupe us every day?
How to Fight Back
1. Read labels. Don’t assume that because you see it on the label, it’s in the box. Or that if it’s not on the label, it’s not in the box.
2. Avoid buying packaged foods. I know, it sounds extreme, but it’s actually easier than you think. Stay away from the middle of the store – shop the periphery, where most non-processed food lives. Buy strawberries rather than strawberry-flavored gook. Make a game of it for a week, just to see how you do – you may be surprised at how simple and tasty your meals become!
3. If you’re going to choose a packaged food, choose the simplest one the brand offers. As an example, next time you’re in the grocery store, compare the ingredients in Triscuits (whole wheat, oil, and salt) to the ingredients in any other Triscuit flavor (too long to list here, and includes MSG, ugh). Or compare regular Quaker Oatmeal to the “strawberries and cream” abomination mentioned above.
Here’s one more for the road: Snyder’s of Hanover Eat Smart Veggie Crisps claim to be “A bountiful blend of potato, spinach, and tomato chips.” However, they boast more potassium chloride than spinach. Doesn’t sound very bountiful to me.
Confused about all that you’ve been hearing about aspartame and milk? Me too … until I did a little digging. Now I’m not confused, I’m furious.
In 2009, the National Milk Producer’s Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association jointly submitted a petition to the FDA (you can see the information here) to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener as a flavoring ingredient for milk and 17 other dairy products … without (and this is the key) having to include prominent front-label notices that the milk is “reduced calorie” or “reduced-sugar,” and “artificially sweetened.” Note that manufacturers already can, and do, use the artificial sweeteners with the labeling. Also, they can and do use the unmodified “milk” label on milk with added caloric sweeteners like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as on unsweetened milk.
The FDA has just opened the petition “for public comment and data,” which is why you’re hearing about it now in the news.
Don’t be Fooled: What’s Actually at Stake
Presumably fueling the controversy is aspartame, which is surely one of the most well-known controversial ingredients around today … and I’ve written about that below. But as is so often the case, what we’re arguing about (aspartame) is actually just a distraction to the real, FAR FAR FAR more troubling issue: the dairy industry wants to add ingredients without clearly stating that they are there. Following is a verbatim (bolding is mine) snippet from the Federal Register’s request for comments:
“However, IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as ‘reduced calorie’ are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims.”
REALLY?? But oh … it gets worse:
“Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk—including flavored milk—as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can ‘more easily identify its overall nutritional value.'”
Let me try re-phrasing this: ‘Consumers (particularly children) aren’t smart enough to know that flavored milk contains sugar. It would just confuse them if we told them, and we don’t think they really want to know anyway, so we shouldn’t tell them. Instead, we should just quietly replace it with fake sugar, which we think will be better for them.’
Apparently the Dairy Industry thinks we can’t handle the truth.
Next on this slippery slope: ‘Consumers have an illogical fear of <rodent meat, insects, or anything else you can imagine>, unsupported by scientific evidence. Rather than troubling them with the details, food manufacturers should be able to include this valuable protein source without calling attention to it.’
Let’s Spread the Word
How do YOU feel about this petition … about the IDFA and NMPF statements above? PLEASE add your comments to this post, and share your thoughts with others.
In include the following information because it is indeed related. But please help spread the word that it’s the least of the problem with the petition currently under consideration.
The Aspartame Controversy
One side maintains that aspartame is an “excitotoxin” or “neurotoxin” that causes brain changes that lead to ADD/ADHD symptoms, impaired learning/memory, brain tumors, and worse. I dug really hard, and while there is a lot of media noise around this, there are actually very few published reports that support this view. Many on this side accuse the powerful food lobby of “hiding” research that shows the neurological and other ill effects.
The other side points out that despite heavy assault from internet memes and hoax emails, asparatame has consistently passed the scrutiny of scientific studies, including ones by the National Cancer Institute, and has been determined to be safe for human consumption.
Personal note: For myself and my family, I’m sticking with molecules that have been around for long enough to understand long-term (and I mean generational) effects. Aspartame, introduced in 1981, doesn’t make the cut. Also, I’m negative on anything that supports further development of my sweet tooth – and at 200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is a taste bud bomb I don’t need.
What is Phenylalanine and how does it relate to this issue?
It has an awkward name, but it’s actually a naturally-occurring essential amino acid (amino acids are the building blocks of protein). It’s found in most animal products – meat, dairy, eggs, even human breast milk. And it is one of the breakdown products of aspartame.
The reason you see warnings about it is that about 1 in 15,000 people have a condition called Phenylketonuria, which prevents them from metabolizing phenylalanine; it instead builds up in their bodies. These warnings allow them to make safe food choices given their condition.
Based on a recent study of the top 400 Chain Restaurants (by sales) published in the Cambridge University Press, it looks like eating out healthfully (at least at the most popular chain restaurants surveyed) is still a challenge. But even where it’s hard to find a great choice, there are still some choices that are better than others.
- Appetizers had more calories, fat and sodium than all other item types.
- Children’s menu specialty beverages had more fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates than comparable regular menu beverages.
- As few as 3% of entrees were within limits for sodium, fat and saturated fat.
- Main entrées had significantly more calories, fat and saturated fat in family-style restaurants than in fast-food restaurants.
- Restaurants that made nutrition information easily accessible on websites had significantly lower energy, fat and sodium contents across menu offerings than those providing information only upon request.
So, the message is to skip the restaurant if it doesn’t provide nutrition information. Skip the appetizer. DEFINITELY skip the kids drinks. And if you’re in a family-style restaurant, choose a veggie salad or share a main entree with others.
Better yet, skip chain restaurants altogether, and patronize a restaurant that offers clean, fresh, healthy food for your family – usually local establishments with owners truly invested in the health of the community they serve.
Or, cook at home, where you have full control of the ingredients. For less than the cost of a restaurant meal, you can buy pre-prepped veggies that can be quickly steamed or sautéed then tossed over quinoa or other grains … give a new herb or spice a try once a week or so to keep things interesting and add a boost of health! If you’re looking for healthy, simple recipe ideas, check out list of Vibrant Health Recipes or (if you’re really out of time) our list of Super-Quick Meals and Snacks.
Study Cited: Helen W Wu and Roland Sturm (2013). What’s on the menu? A review of the energy and nutritional content of US chain restaurant menus. Public Health Nutrition, 16, pp 87-96. doi:10.1017/S136898001200122X. http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S136898001200122X
I heard about this new product a few days ago, and I am SO excited! 100% natural vegetable purees that you can quickly and easily slide into favorite foods. Not that it’s THAT hard to cook up carrots, spinach, or sweet potatoes … but this makes them portable, quick and excuse-proof!
Check out their recipe section for some great ideas, and definitely don’t miss the Butternut Squash and Walnut Dip!
Hooray Purée is now sold at Whole Foods, and they’re celebrating by giving away a $500 gift card. Click on the graphic above, or here: $500 Whole Foods Gift Card to enter.
NOTE: I was not paid or in any way compensated for this post. My comments reflect my genuine opinion.
Have you seen the Leanwashing site? This website, from Enviromedia Social Marketing, founded by Valerie Davis and Kevin Tuerff, lets consumers report brands that use vague of misleading claims about health benefits that make a food seem like a smart choice when it is not. Examples are 100-calorie snack packs of highly-processed gunk, or sugar-drenched cereals that scream “WHOLE GRAIN!” on the package. I’m a huge fan of this site!
From one of their Advisory Panel members, former Big Food exec and healthy eating advocate Bruce Bradley, “Over the past decade or so, Big Food increasingly acts more and more like a snake oil salesman, shilling sugary, salt-laden, fatty processed foods and calling them ‘healthy.'” Exactly – and the result is a generation of mothers – and their kids – who have come to believe that fruit actually comes “by the foot.”
Enviromedia’s guidelines for identifying Leanwashed products:
- Does the product mislead with words? (common Leanwashing words include “natural”, “whole-grain”, and “wholesome”)
- Does the product mislead with visuals, sponsorship or imagery? (athletes on candy packages, for example)
- Does the product make vague health claims?
- Does the product exaggerate how healthy it is?
- Does the product appear to mask information, making a product seem healthier than it really is?
Check out the site and share it with others … and be on the lookout for Leanwashing in the grocery stores and restaurants you visit. When you see it for what it is, it loses its hold on you!
With early warmth this year, a friend mentioned that she had already been able to get tomatoes started in Florida! Her concern was that a frost may force her to pick them before they’re ready (typically a problem in fall, but here we are) and she wondered whether the nutrient value would suffer.
On the contrary – green tomatoes are remarkably healthy, and even beat red tomatoes on a few measures! One large green tomato (about 1 cup), provides:
- 42 calories
- 2 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber
- 29 mg of vitamin C, half the daily requirement for men and nearly 60 percent for women (vs. 23 for red tomatoes)
- 16 mg calcium (vs. 6 in red)
- 623 mcg of beta-carotene (helps your body produce vitamin A)
- 58 mcg of vitamin A, giving you close to one-tenth of your recommended daily intake
- 10% of your daily requirement for the B vitamins thiamin, vitamin B-6 and pantothenic acid, and just under 10% of the riboflavin and niacin you need
- One-fifth of your recommended daily intake for vitamin K
- 5 to 10% of your recommended daily intake for iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese
- An important alkaloid called tomatine, which may fight breast, colon, stomach and liver cancer cells, according to research published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” in 2009
Check out my Summer Recipes list on myList for some ideas on what to do with green tomatoes (there are much better ways than the traditional “fried” version). And for added benefit, pair green tomatoes with iron-rich foods like fish, spinach, or supplements, since the vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron more efficiently.
First off: eating out does not have to mean blowing your diet! Even experimental foodies can enjoy all types of restaurants while keeping their commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Seek out high-quality restaurants that use fresh, organic ingredients, and keep the below guidelines in mind when you order.
- Hold the: fried foods, cheese, bacon, potatoes, huge meat portions, bread, gravy, and sweet desserts
- Have the: grilled chicken, salmon, salad, and fresh fruits
- Hold the: chips,fried foods, sour cream, and cheese or cream sauces (they often contain a lot of sugar, too!)
- Have the: guacamole, broth-based soups, salsa, pico de gallo, salads, and grilled veggie or chicken fajitas
- Hold the: fried cheese (or ravioli, or pretty much anything fried), pasta, bread and oily foods
- Have the: minestrone soups, tomato-based sauces, and salads
- Hold the: fried rice, sweet sauces (like Mongolian beef) deep-fried meats and veggies
- Have the: steamed veggies, steamed meats and fish, sauce on the side, and brown rice
- Hold the: coconut milk-based curries, fried noodles, and sweetened sticky rice
- Have the: steamed or grilled fish, steamed veggies, and green papaya salad
- Hold the: spanakopita, fried calamari, fried cheese, sausages, moussaka, falafel, and baklava
- Have the: hummus (with veggies), souvlaki, fish, nuts, beans, vegetables, and yogurt