Junk Food in Disguise: Foods that Seem Healthy but Aren’t

Foods that Seem Healthy But Aren’t

Some marketing teams are so good they can take what’s otherwise considered junk food, wrap it up nicely (with natural hues of green and tan on the package of course) and market it as something you should feel good about eating. Before you give yourself a pat on the back, check out these not-so-healthy “health foods” that I featured on WBAL NBC Baltimore, MD this morning.

1. Trail Mix. It’s so easy to believe that all trail mix is healthy. But, you’ll want to watch out for sugary candies, milk chocolate, dried fruit coated with added sugar or fake yogurt coating. Leave the candy for Trick-or-Treaters, and choose in-shell pistachios for your snacks instead of prepared trail mixes. Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions. If you still want trail mix, make your own with dried fruit that doesn’t contain any added sugar (dried plum bits, apricots or papaya for instance).

2.  Veggie Chips. If you flip over the package you’ll see that most veggie chips are really fried potato chips with added spinach powder, tomato powder or little bits of dried vegetables here and there. Unfortunately they don’t count as a serving of vegetables.

Better Alternatives: black bean chips made with real black beans, roasted chickpeas – you can    make these at home or buy them in a wide variety of flavors or kale chips. All of these options give you the crunchy and salty texture you may be craving.

3. Veggie Pasta. Like vegetable chips, veggie pasta often contains small amounts of powdered vegetables that do little more than turn the pasta a different color. If you want pasta that is actually made from vegetables, check out Explore Asian’s line of bean pastas. They are gluten free, vegan, organic and high in both fiber and protein (24 or more grams of protein per serving). I made black bean butternut squash for TV this morning as well as a homemade pesto for Explore Asian edamame pasta.

4. Light Olive Oil. Light (or extra light) olive oil isn’t lower in calories or fat. Instead, “light” refers to the flavor and color. Here’s what you should look for:

“Extra virgin” means the olives have been pressed to release the oil (anything labeled just “olive oil” means chemicals or other methods were used to release the oil from the olives; this oil is lower in both nutrition and flavor quality).

Dark glass containers. Heat and light can damage olive oil. Glass protects better than plastic and dark glass protects better than light glass. Your olive oil will not only taste better but also preserve the integrity of your oil (rancid oil isn’t good for your body).

A University of California Davis study found many brands of olive oil sold here in the US failed their test for sensory standards (possibly due, in part, to adulteration since olive oil is one of the most adulterated foods – lower quality oils are mixed in to increase the profit margin). Two brands that faired the best according to their study: California Olive Ranch and Lucini.

5. Turkey Bacon. Many brands of turkey bacon have almost the exact same nutrition profile as regular bacon in terms of calories, fat and sodium. So, choose this if you love turkey, not if you are looking for a leaner choice. If you want great tasting bacon that contains fewer calories, less fat and sodium, check out uncured Canadian turkey bacon.
Regardless of your choice – pork, turkey or some type of Canadian bacon, always look for uncured bacon. Consumption of cured meats can increase risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Why “Avoid Processed Foods” is Bad Advice

Countless internet blogs preach about the dangers of processed food, how eating a diet with processed food will make you gain weight and your health will suffer. Yet anyone who writes this nonsense doesn’t understand the real definition of processed foods (and I bet large sums of money they eat many processed foods) and benefits they provide.

A processed food is “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity (“food that is in its raw or natural state, including all fruits that are washed, colored, or otherwise treated in their unpeeled natural form prior to marketing”) and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling (1, 2).” Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, livestock – these are all agricultural commodities. And therefore, all of the following are processed foods: frozen broccoli, frozen chicken breast, dried beans, dried pumpkins seeds. Who in their right mind would dare say any of these foods are harmful or will make you pack on the pounds? Someone who has no clue what they are talking about. Not to mention there are many reasons why processed food are healthy:

Concord Grapes

Concord Grapes

Welch's 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes

Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a Concord grape farm – where they grow and    process the grapes into Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. Nothing is wasted during this process. The Concord grapes are crushed – skin, seeds and all (so more of the grape is in the bottle) – and heated to release healthy polyphenols (plant based compounds) straight from the grape into the juice. In fact, 40 whole Concord grapes are in every 8 oz. serving of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. This is important because over a decade of research indicates that, thanks to the Concord grape, 100% grape juice made from these grapes helps support a healthy heart. Because the Concord grape harvest season is very short, lasting approximately 12 weeks, juice processing delivers the benefits of Concord grapes to us year round.

I consider all of these processed foods a good nutrition bargain. Plus, you may end up with less food waste, thanks to a longer shelf life, if you buy canned and frozen produce and poultry as well as 100% juice.

  • Convenient – in between long days and traveling, there are days I like meals that take me 5 minutes or less to throw together (not to mention if I’m hungry I want to eat asap). Frozen and canned foods allow me to do this. Steamed vegetables? They take about 7 minutes in my stovetop steamer. Canned? Less than 1 minute to open the can (because sometimes I don’t even heat them up). Frozen chicken breast? Perfect, I don’t have to go by the grocery store late at night if there is nothing in my fridge.

So the next time you hear someone say you should eat fewer processed foods, ask them to define “processed food.” And if you read it in a blog, move on to nutrition advice grounded in science.

Disclosure: I am an advisory board member of family-farmer owned Welch’s.

1) 21 U.S.C. United States Code, 2010 Edition, Title 21 – Food and Drugs. Chapter 9 – Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Subchapter II – Definitions.

2) SEC. 201. [21 U.S.C. 321]. CHAPTER II—DEFINITIONS 1.

High Protein Frozen Yogurt Pops – Orange Dreamsicle

If you loved the taste of orange dreamsicles when you were a kid, you can recreate them (this time making them high in protein) with this recipe from Kristina Flores:

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High Protein Frozen Yogurt Pop: Orange Dreamsicle

High Protein Frozen Yogurt Pop: Orange Dreamsicle

High Protein Frozen Yogurt Pops – Orange Dreamsicle

Makes 6 servings
Ingredients
2 cups lowfat plain Greek yogurt
2 cups Dymatize protein

Directions
Blend both ingredients together until smooth (I used a Vitamix though a food processor will work too). Pour into popsicle holders (I used Zoku because they are easy to get out).

Nutrition Information per Popsicle
158 calories
30 grams protein
5 grams carbohydrate
2 grams fat

Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 8%
Vitamin D 8%
Vitamin E 8%
Calcium 30%

Disclosure: I am a spokesperson for Farmer-owned Cabot Cooperative Creamery

CANNED FOOD

Don’t be Misled by Poor Nutrition Advice: “Avoid foods with too many ingredients, ingredients you don’t recognize….”

I typically tune out nutrition conversations when I’m out in public so I can stay sane. Yet there is no shortage of really bad advice being spread in person, print and over the internet by self-proclaimed nutrition experts. And I’ve found that people like to group foods into strict categories (“good” or “bad”) in an effort to simplify and better understand the complex science of nutrition. Yet this rarely works and the top 3 common reasons that are cited to avoid a particular food or food group are misguided and not based on science:

1. Avoid the interior isles of the grocery store and only shop the perimeter. While this might expedite your trip to the grocery store, it won’t help your diet. If you avoid the isles and stick to the perimeter you’ll avoid plenty of healthy and convenient foods including canned tuna, dried beans, nuts and seeds, 100% juice, frozen meat / fish / poultry, frozen fruits and vegetables.

If you want to know a little more information about how frozen and canned produce compares with fresh, here’s a segment I did on this topic for CNN:

2. Look at the list of ingredients and avoid foods with more than 5 ingredients. The number of ingredients on a food package has nothing to do with it’s nutrition value or how healthy it is (or isn’t). If I make an omelet with eggs, onions, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, spinach, mushrooms and cheese, is it automatically unhealthy because it contains 6 ingredients? Do you automatically consider a recipe “unhealthy” or “fattening” if it contains a long list of ingredients? Of course not. What if you eat a salmon dish from a restaurant – do you ask how many ingredients were used to prepare it and judge how healthy it is based on the total number of ingredients? I hope not. If you don’t  stick the “unhealthy” label on a recipe or restaurant meal based on the number of ingredients it contains, don’t do this with a food that comes in a package.

3. Never eat a food that contains ingredients you don’t recognize. I recognize most of the ingredients listed on food packages. But sometimes (okay often) I go to restaurants and I feel like I’m reading a foreign language. Feijoada? That’s Brazilian rice and beans. How about Aringa? That’s Atlantic herring. I appreciate the creativity that comes with fancy menus but I’m not sure what I’m ordering. So here’s my point: unless you are a food scientist or chef who is well-versed in wide variety of cuisines, chances are you won’t know every ingredient listed on a food label or restaurant menu. Just because you don’t know what it is, this does not mean that it isn’t healthy.

The next time someone tells you to avoid a food based on any of these 3 misperceptions, consider sharing some of this information with them. Friends don’t let friends spread poor nutrition advice :)

Best Gluten Free Foods from Expo East 2014

Fueled by the rise in celiac disease (which affects an estimated 1 in 133 people), non-celiac gluten sensitivity (which might actually be due to FODMAPs) and media attention surrounding gluten, the gluten free market is growing faster than other segments within the food industry. If you are gung-ho on gluten free, here are my favorite finds (based on taste and nutrition – except for the desserts of course) from Natural Products Expo East. If you aren’t sure if you should be gluten free, read this post.

High protein pastas? There are plenty on the market now though some are easier to find than others. All of the ones below aren’t just gluten free but also made with beans, peas or lentils making them high in fiber as well.

I fell in love with Explore Asian bean pastas a few years ago at Expo East. And I’m thrilled this pasta is now on store shelves (click here for a store locator). I sampled the edamame bean pasta tossed with Kirkland brand pesto sauce (talk about an easy meal) at their booth this year and it was delicious! Check out their website for a store locator – I’ve seen it at Costco and a few other stores near me.

High protein pastas made from beans.

High protein pastas made from beans.

Banza chickpea pasta is brand new and only available online right now. And though I didn’t get to try it (they didn’t have samples out), I’m intrigued by it’s higher fiber (which means lower “net carbs” for those who look for this) and higher protein content.

Banza Chickpea Pasta

Banza Chickpea Pasta

Tolerant Foods makes a gluten free, non GMO, organic legume pasta.  Each serving of their Red Lentil or Black Bean pasta has 21 – 23 grams of protein and 13 – 15 grams of fiber.

Tolerant Black Bean and Red Lentil Pastas

Tolerant Black Bean and Red Lentil Pastas

In addition to pastas, Paleo followers who miss their wraps will love this new coconut wrap. Gluten free, Paleo diet friendly and if you love coconut you’ll really like The Pure Wraps.

Pure Wraps - Coconut Wraps

Pure Wraps – Coconut Wraps

Breakfast

My favorite cereal from the show is Attune Foods Ewehorn Buckwheat and Hemp.Buckwheat is actually a vegetable and this cereal is not only very tasty (especially if you like the taste of hearty whole grains) but also very filling thanks to its high fiber content. Buckwheat is actually a vegetable and this cereal is not only very tasty (especially if you like the taste of hearty whole grains) but also very filling thanks to its high fiber content.

Also try The Toasted Oat Granola. I almost walked right by this booth in the new products section (because there are so many granolas on the market) but this one is different – it’s chewy. I absolutely love this because it stands out among different granolas on the market today and provides an option for adults who have had problems with their teeth and have been told to avoid hard foods like granola and nuts.

The Toasted Oat chewy granola

The Toasted Oat chewy granola

Another great breakfast option – FlapJacked. Sure you could make your own high protein pancakes but, if you don’t have time, check out FlapJacked. Just add water, mix, pour into a pan sprayed with non-stick spray or lightly coated with oil and flip once the sides start to cook (this is important! Flip them too soon and they will be very flat).

Dessert 

If you are a chip lover, check out Simply 7 Snacks Quinoa chips. High in protein and fiber and their sour cream and dill is better than any similar flavored potato chip on the market today.

I fell in love with roasted chickpeas last winter. I love crunch and salt and these are the perfect substitution for potato chips (seriously, they taste great when you add spices – I make them by brushing them with olive oil and sprinkling garlic salt on top). However, if you don’t want to good, Saffron Road has flavored chickpeas that will make your taste buds dance with delight.

On the sweet side, Nothin’ But Granola – I can’t even describe how good this is. I walked by and grabbed a bite, stopped in my tracks and went back for more. It comes in soft bars or bites.

I’m a fan of both Immaculate Baking Company and Betty Crocker’s gluten free mixes but, XO Baking Company is on an entirely different level. Those are the best boxed mix gluten free cookies I have ever tried. In fact, they were so good they beat out any non-gluten free mixes I’ve tried too. The founder of XO Baking Company, Lindsey Deitsch, has a neat story as well. She’s been baking ever since she was a child and once diagnosed with celiac disease she set out to make better tasting baked goods. Lindsey has a degree in Public Health and is a chef as well. All gluten free bakeries and restaurants need to buy these in bulk – your customers will thank you.

XO Baking Company - gluten free & amazing taste!

XO Baking Company – gluten free & amazing taste!

Fresh cheese and ravioli? If you are on the Paleo you can't have either.

Pros and Cons of Grain Brain, Wheat Belly and the Paleo Diet

Diet books are tempting. They tell you the reason you’re overweight, what foods are “toxic” and how to get rid of them while strolling down the yellow brick road to lasting weight loss and good health. But there’s one main issue – many of these books aren’t based on scientific evidence but instead theories that are pulled out of thin air. “But my neighbor lost 50 lbs. following Paleo!” Well your neighbor cut out potato chips, beer and fried food in the process so of course he lost weight. The Paleo diet just gave him a convincing (even if scientifically inaccurate) reason to cut these foods out.

All of these diets have some pros and cons which I expand upon in this TV segment I did for Fox 5 and below the video:

Gluten is a protein formed from other proteins (gliadins and glutenins; any single wheat plant may produce > 100 gliadins and > 50 glutenins) naturally found in wheat foods when wheat flour is mixed with water (the mechanical action of mixing plus the water are necessary). Other proteins that are similar to gluten are found in barley (hordiens) and rye (secalins). Gluten gives dough it’s tough elastic structure and contributes to the light and fluffy texture of baked goods. If it sounds complex, it is but here are the important points:

  • Wheat today doesn’t have more gluten (or create more gluten when mixed with water) than varieties from 70 years ago unless the manufacturer adds vital wheat gluten back to the food itself (J Plant Reg 2012;6(1)).
  • Wheat breeding is complex and focuses on creating varieties of wheat that meet what food makers and consumers are looking for – a flaky pie crust or nice soft wheat bread for instance.
  • Gluten isn’t an easy to digest protein (there are many foods we eat that are not completely broken down) but, this isn’t a problem for most people – only those with celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (which might not be due to gluten alone but instead FODMAPs).

And here’s the bottom line on the Paleo:

The Paleo diet is based on one main principle: if we eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lived between 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago, before the start of the agricultural revolution, we will avoid modern diseases such as heart disease as well as infections.

This diet is based on grass-produced meats, fish/seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds and “healthful” oils. Everything else is off limits.

But, there are some glaring oversights:

  • there was no one single Paleo diet – diets varied based on region and time period (check out Christina Warinner’s TED talk on this)
  • In several regions, well over 10,000 years ago and possibly even a few million years ago, people ate grains and legumes.
  • Examination of mummies tells us that all people from this time period had clogged arteries.
  • The fruits, vegetables and meats we have today look nothing like what our ancestors ate (ex: fruit were small, tough and bitter).
  • Our ancestors hunted and gathered food – in other words, their daily lives included physical activity (both strength training which builds muscle and bone and aerobic exercise).

The Good:

  • The Paleo diet cuts out our top sources of calories in the US including alcohol, desserts and sugar sweetened beverages.
  • It’s loaded with protein which will keep you full for a longer period of time after eating and help you build muscle.
  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables!

The Bad:

  • No legumes (peas, beans, lentils and peanuts) – legumes are rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium (some), iron (some), antioxidants and more.
  • No grains. Grains provide a good bit of the fiber in the average American diet in addition to folate, other vitamins and antioxidants.
  • No dairy – our top source of bone building calcium and vitamin D. Now, I know what some self proclaimed nutrition experts will say here – people in Africa (or insert other country here) don’t consume much calcium and they don’t have as many cases of osteoporosis as we do in the U.S. Go to Africa, conduct dietary recalls (to see what they are indeed eating) and then follow a group of women around for several days. The women I met from Africa a few years ago were big and strong thanks to farm work (in their particular country the women do all the farming). They walked (far) with buckets of water on their head daily (fantastic way to build bone density in the spine!). I don’t know any females in the U.S. who get near the bone building activity these women are getting on a daily basis. So, this is far from a valid comparison. (SN: I haven’t even bothered to research the incidence of osteoporosis here vs. Africa because I’d be comparing a largely sedentary desk-sitting population to one with different genetics that also gets bone building activity for hours each day).

Diet magic? Follow anything that makes you cut calories and you’ll lose weight. Eat more protein and you’ll tend to lose more fat than muscle.

Lemon Garlic Krave Turkey Jerky

Expo East Food Trend Spotter: Natural Jerky

Jerky was hot this past weekend at Natural Products Expo East (the leading trade show on the East Coast in the natural, organic and healthy products industry). And I was thrilled to see so many varieties since my clients are often looking for shelf stable, portable, higher protein, healthy, TSA-approved (you can travel with it) snacks. If you are looking for a healthier version of jerky, check out these finds from the Expo:

KRAVE is a small-batch producer of all-natural, gluten free, artisanal jerky marinated and baked to lock in moisture. KRAVE’s well-seasoned meat is braised first, utilizing the “low & slow” method to result in its signature moist and tender texture. KRAVE’s wide selection of innovative flavors includes basil citrus and lemon garlic (turkey); chili lime, chipotle, garlic chili pepper and pineapple orange (beef); grilled sweet teriyaki and black cherry barbecue (pork). Check out their Store Locator to find out which grocery stores near you carry KRAVE.

Lemon Garlic Krave Turkey Jerky

Lemon Garlic Krave Turkey Jerky

The New Primal greeted me at their fantastic booth like they did with every customer – showing their appreciation that you stopped by to check out their jerky (in the new products section at Expo East). Their jerky comes from grass-fed beef, marinated and smoked to perfection. The founder, Jason, started in his own backyard, fine-tuning his jerky until it was ready for store sheaves. Because The New Primal specializes in artisanal jerky that contains no nitrates, preservatives or MSG and their original beef has just 1 gram of sugar per serving. It comes in Jerky and Spicy and perhaps best of all you can find it in a store near you. 

Original-Beef-Front-1000x1000

The New Primal Grass-Fed Beef Jerky

Original-Beef-Back-1000x1000

The New Primal Grass-Fed Beef Jerky Nutrition

Golden Valley Natural wants you to taste the Flavor of the West with their natural, gluten free, high quality beef, buffalo and turkey jerky. They come in Teriyaki, Bar-B-Que, Black Pepper, Sweet N’ Spicy and Original. Purchase online only right now.

Golden Natural Valley Buffalo Jerky

Golden Natural Valley Buffalo Jerky

Country Archer starts with extra-lean beef and adds fresh, high quality ingredients like chili peppers, pineapple juice, ginger and tamarind. No artificial ingredients or preservatives. They carry Hot, Sweet & Spicy, Peppered, Beef Teriyaki and Turkey Teriyaki. This brand is in many stores on the west coast, some in Canada and a sprinkling in the northeast (PA on up). For retailers, click here.

Country Archer Beef Jerky - Hot

Country Archer Beef Jerky – Hot

Fusion Jerky is gluten free, preservative free, contains no artificial ingredients, is and is all natural. Order these flavors online: Basil Citrus Beef, Chipotle Lime Beef, Basil Citrus Chicken, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Garlic Jalapeño Pork, Island Teriyaki Pork, Chili Basil Turkey, Rosemary Citrus Turkey. The nutrition information is listed for each flavor if you go under “shop” at the top, scroll down and click on the flavor under “Online Store” (click on the arrows at the top on the left to increase the size of the nutrition label to make it bigger).

Fusion Jerky

Triple-R-Farms features grass-fed Highland beef jerky (grass-fed means less saturated fat). Triple-R-Farms flavors include Chesapeake Bay with Coffee Beef Jerky, Chesapeake Bay Beef Jerky, Red Hot Pepper with Coffee Beef Jerky, Red Hot Pepper Beef Jerky, Beef Jerky with Coffee. They need both the nutrition information and a store locator (or some information regarding where you can find it), on their website. Props for the Chesapeake flavor!