Figge’s Favorite Groceries

grocery shoppingWith the success of  Figge’s Favorite Things blog post, I thought I would follow up with a list of some of my favorite foods that frequently occupy my shopping list. Years ago, my diet heavily consisted of processed luncheon meats, frozen dinners and snack bars. Today, fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are typically what fill up my grocery cart. This was no overnight process, but slowly, I began to step outside my comfort zone and taught myself how to prepare and cook with fresh ingredients. To stay healthy, I rely on clean, minimally processed foods. Combined with a healthy dose of physical activity each week, clean eating helps keep my cholesterol down, energy up and promotes a good night’s sleep.

  1. Eggs. Eggs have been hounded over the years for their fat and cholesterol content. However, with today’s research on eggs, we are learning that 1) the cholesterol found in eggs is not what is causing high cholesterol in individuals and 2) the benefits of the yolks include a Vitamin B12 source, eye-healthy lutein , zeaxanthin antioxidants, and choline, which is essential for cardiovascular and brain function.
  2. fresh-spinachSpinach. This green giant gets sautéed in with my eggs each morning and makes several appearances in other meals throughout the week.
  3. Peanut or almond butter. If I could eat almond butter every day, I would; but because the cost of it is often more than peanut butter, I tend to go back and forth between these heart-healthy fat and protein snack additions.
  4. Cauliflower. My kitchen often looks like a cauliflower war zone. For those of you that regularly cut up cauliflower, you know what I’m talking about! My preferred way of cooking it is steaming in a sauce pan and then mashing it in my food processor. Add a pinch of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, butter and garnish with chives and you have a great vegetable side dish (not to mention for the cost of $3 or less!)
  5. Spaghetti Squash. We have been having a lot of fun with spaghetti squash this winter. It is a great substitute for pasta in recipes. To me, it is not very tasty when served plain, but if you add mixed vegetables, seasonings, sauces or a homemade mayo to the mix, you’re set-to-go for a delicious meal.
  6. Chicken. This is the most popular protein consumed in our household. For that reason, I am constantly finding new ways to season and prepare it. We also consume beef, pork and fish but chicken definitely takes the podium for most consumed.
  7. Apples. This fruit is a good source of antioxidants and soluble fiber. I usually have at least one and sometimes two apples a day with my peanut or almond butter for heart-healthy, filling snacks.
  8. Whey protein powder. Since both my husband and I do Crossfit, we need a quick source of protein for our post-workout snacks. One scoop of protein powder poured in 8 oz. of almond milk allows my body to quickly refuel after a workout, promote lean tissue growth and speed up recovery time.
  9. Ground flaxseed. This antioxidant powerhouse can be easily mixed into recipes or sauces or can even be sprinkled on top of foods to add fiber, omega-3 and healthy lignans to any dish.
  10. Sweet potato. These Vitamin A giants interestingly are most often consumed with my breakfast meal. I’ll sauté a medium-large sweet potato in 1 Tbsp of coconut oil on Sunday nights and then portion out servings to grab and go for the week. NCI5_POTATO

What’s Your Yogurt IQ?

Fruit-and-yogurtWhat are the health benefits of yogurt?

Yogurt is a high-quality, low-fat, easily-absorbed protein source. (Try saying that three times fast!) Additionally, yogurt is a good source of calcium and active cultures (probiotics) that can promote a healthy gut. Individuals with lactose intolerance often can consume yogurt without gastrointestinal distress. The translation of yogurt “yoghurt” means “dense and thick”. Yogurt is made by the fermentation of milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid. This thicker substance is tangier in taste when compared to milk.

With so many yogurt varieties, is there any difference between them?

Not all yogurts contain live active cultures. The term “made with live/active cultures” is somewhat deceiving because all yogurts are made with live cultures; but live cultures do not survive heat treatment/pasteurization. Look for phrases like “active yogurt cultures” or “contains active cultures” to identify the yogurt varieties that contain the probiotic benefits. Dr. Ted Paradowski, Springfield Clinic Gastroenterologist recommends patients choose Activia yogurt for its probiotic benefits.

One of the main nutritional differences between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt is the protein content. A standard-size container (5.3-6.0 oz) of Greek yogurt contains anywhere from 10-20 grams of protein while the same serving of regular yogurt contains only 5-6 grams of protein. Unsweetened yogurt (both Greek and regular) will contain the lowest amounts of sugars; however, most people prefer the sweetened/flavored varieties. Try to find the yogurts with the least amount of ingredients for increased nutritional value. Be careful of kid-friendly varieties such as Go-Gurt. This type of yogurt contains the highest amount of added sugars and is also lowest in protein content. Basically, your kids are getting more calories from the added sweeteners than they are from the yogurt itself. Watch the calcium content difference. In many cases, Greek yogurt contains less calcium than normal yogurt.

To Greek or not to Greek?

Greek yogurt has been a hot trend to take grocery store shelves by storm these past couple years. One thing I’ve noticed at my local supermarket is that the yogurt section appears to be phasing out regular yogurt options to make room for more Greek yogurt brands and varieties.

Many will argue that the term “Greek” is being used too loosely. Typically, Greek yogurt has gone through an extra straining process that removes the liquid whey and milk sugars. This is the reason why this type of yogurt is much thicker and tangier in taste. However, some brands simply add a thickening agent and protein concentrate to their regular yogurt and call it “Greek”.

This year especially, we have seen Greek yogurt products popping up everywhere from cereal to granola bars to veggie dips.  Greek yogurt is most notable for its lean protein content, but do all these additional products retain the same benefits or are they just a marketing gimmick?

Most of the time, the term “made with Greek yogurt” on food items is simply a way to get consumers to buy that product thinking it’s going to be healthier than the item sitting next to it on the shelf. For example, Post has recently come out with Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch cereal. Compared to their standard variety, Honey Bunches of Oats Honey Roasted cereal, the “Greek” variety contains more calories, more carbs and added sugars with just a minimal increase in protein content. Don’t be fooled by frozen Greek yogurt either. Often, these substitutions are simply sweet treats disguised as health foods.

How creative are you with using yogurt?activia-active cultures

It’s thick, creamy texture makes it a great base for smoothies or an excellent swap for mayonnaise and sour cream in recipes. Whether you use regular or Greek yogurt, these healthy recipe substitutions will add more nutrients to your everyday favorites!

  • Try mixing yogurt with herbs and spices to make a protein-packed veggie dip.
  • Add a dollop on potatoes or tacos instead of sour cream.
  • Substitute yogurt for some of the mayonnaise when making tuna, chicken or potato salad.
  • For additional ideas, download this handout:

To Gluten or Not To Gluten…

Going “gluten-free” was one of the top diets last year and the trend is still going strong. More and more individuals are being diagnosed with gluten intolerance and need to follow a gluten-free diet for medical purposes; however, people are also voluntarily going gluten-free. Before you decide to try any new diet or meal plan, it’s always best to first inform yourself with the facts.

gluten-free-infographic-purebarWhy is a gluten-free diet recommended?

Gluten-free diets are recommended for individuals with gluten intolerance or who suffer from celiac disease. Celiac disease is an immune-mediated disorder, meaning it causes the body to attack its own cells. Individuals with celiac disease often experience inflammation in the intestinal tract that can lead to intestinal villi atrophy, malabsorption and a variety of other clinical manifestations (like bone disease or iron deficiency anemia). Gluten-containing products activate an abnormal immune response that induces this tissue damage. Strict elimination of gluten from one’s diet can help heal the intestinal mucosa and improve nutrient absorption. Individuals with celiac disease are recommended to follow a lifelong strict gluten-free adherence. For more information on celiac disease, please refer to this video from Dr. Ted Paradowski.

What is gluten and where is it found?

Gluten is a dietary proteins found in wheat, barley and rye.  Gluten-containing products include breads, cereals, pastas, crackers, beer, cakes, pies, cookies and anything else containing wheat flour as an ingredient, which may include sauces, gravies and some soups. Gluten can also be found in non-food products such as medications, lipsticks even the adhesive part of a stamp or envelope. Here is an excellent article on tips from a pharmacist on medications with gluten.

What is safe to eat?

Naturally gluten-free products include fresh proteins, fruits, vegetables, milk, some yogurts and eggs. Individuals with celiac disease are encouraged to consume high-nutrient grains and non-grains including quinoa, amaranth, flaxseed, beans, legumes, nuts, wild- and jasmine rice and gluten-free oats.

Will a gluten-free diet help me lose weight?

Maybe. Some people experience weight loss by going gluten-free because they are no longer consuming heavily-processed, high-calorie, gluten-containing products such as: pizza, beer, crackers, most restaurant menu items, dessert cakes, cookies and brownies to name a few. They replace these items with more nutritious items like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts/seeds, low-fat dairy products and gluten-free whole grains. However, some people do not experience any weight loss at all. Gluten-free does not always mean “healthy.” For example, most Doritos varieties are gluten-free and chips do not necessarily make the” health-food” cut.

Is a gluten-free diet nutritionally adequate?

As you can see, gluten is found in many of our grains products, which happen to be good nutrient sources. It’s important to get enough B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate), iron and fiber when following a gluten-free diet. Thiamin and niacin can also be found in pork, legumes, nuts and fish. Legumes and leafy green vegetables are sources of both riboflavin and folate. Iron is best found in animal products like lean cuts of beef, poultry and seafood but is also found in legumes, dried fruits, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, wild rice, quinoa and nuts/seeds can help contribute to adequate amounts of fiber in the diet.

For more information on gluten intolerance, gluten-containing ingredients and recipes please refer to the following websites: