Category Archives: Grocery Store Spotlights

GSS: Yogurt Shopping 101

Hello!  It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Grocery Store Spotlight, so I thought it was time for another one.  This time I’m taking a stroll down the yogurt aisle to help you identify the good, the bad and the down right ugly choices out there.

Yogurt can make a great dessert or mid-morning snack and it’s easy to throw in your child’s lunch box, but many people are overwhelmed by all the options in the store.  There are so many varieties to choose from, like fat-free, sugar-free, high-fiber, organic, vitamin D fortified, high-calcium, and the list goes on.  All brands are clearly not alike, so I did a little investigating to find the best options for your family.  Of course I can’t dissect every brand and variety out there, but hopefully I can help you figure out what to look for in a yogurt and convince you to switch if you’re choosing an unhealthy brand.

Look at all these brands. No wonder choosing a yogurt is so exhausting!

When I check out the nutritional label on a container of yogurt, I first look for two things.  What is it sweetened with, and how much protein is in it?  If I see the words Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame or High-Fructose Corn Syrup in the ingredient list, it’s a deal breaker!  If it’s sweetened with fruit, stevia, honey, maple syrup or organic sugar, it passes!  If I don’t see a substantial amount of protein, I don’t see the point of eating the yogurt in the first place, because it’s just going to spike my sugar level and I’ll be hungry 30 minutes later.  Next I scan the ingredient list for any other words I don’t like (such as modified corn starch and food dyes) or just can’t pronounce.

So with all that in mind, let’s look at some of the most popular yogurt brands on the market.

Yoplait Original French Vanilla – It may be labeled 99% fat free, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  With tons of sugar (26 grams in one container!) and only 5 grams of protein, this stuff is sure to send you on a sugar roller coaster.

Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk, Tricalcium Phosphate, Kosher Gelatin, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Colored with Annatto and Turmeric Extract, Vitamin D3.

Yoplait Light Fat Free Strawberry – Unfortunately, the fat-free variety is even worse than the original when it comes to nutritional value.  I’m sure there are so many people who reach for the fat-free, not knowing that cutting the fat and calories means adding more harmful ingredients.  Although it contains less sugar (14 grams) than the original variety thanks to the added High Fructose Corn Syrup and Aspartame, this brand still contains just 5 grams of protein.

Ingredients:  Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Strawberries, Modified Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate, Natural Flavor, Red #40, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.

Would you like some yogurt with your High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, Red Dye and Modified Corn Starch?

Weight Watchers Berries and Cream – For any of you readers who are on the Weight Watchers diet plan or just like to buy their food (I’ve been there!), just know that while they are low in fat and calories, many of their packaged foods contain artificial sweeteners and harmful preservatives.  Two WW points gets you 11 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein, two types of dyes and several other unhealthy additives.

Ingredients:  Skim Milk, Crystalline Fructose, Blackberry Puree, Raspberry Puree, Black Raspberry Puree, Boysenberry Puree, Natural Berries and Cream Flavor, Modified Corn Starch, Inulin Fiber, Whey Protein Concentrate, Kosher Gelatin, Sucralose, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Red 40, Blue 1, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Citrate, Vitamin A Palminate, Vitamin D3.

Look at more than just the amount of fat and calories in your food!

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom BlueberryUnfortunately, this is a different brand with the same story.  With 25 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein and lots of artificial ingredients, Dannon doesn’t make the grade either.

Ingredients: Cultured Grade A Lowfat Milk, Blueberries, Sugar, Fructose Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Fructose, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Pectin, Kosher Gelatin, Malic Acid, Natural Flavor, Disodium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Carmine.

Dannon Activia Vanilla – I know Dannon likes to boast about all the probiotics in their yogurt, but they fail to mention all the other additives!  And with only 4 grams of protein in a serving, this brand doesn’t pack a lot of nutritional punch.

Ingredients:  Cultured Grade A Reduced Fat Milk, Sugar, Water, Fructose, Modified Food Starch, Milk Protein Concentrate, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Kosher Gelatin, Agar Agar, Guar Gum, Lactic Acid, Calcium Lactate, Vitamin D3, Sodium Citrate.

Yoplait Trix YogurtUnfortunately, the yogurts marketed for kids are some of the worst ones out there, and usually the ones with the most sugar, preservatives and added dyes.  Take the Trix yogurt for example, just because it has a friendly looking bunny on it doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for your little ones!  Trix markets this product with the slogans,”Two Fruity colors in every cup!” and “Twice the color means twice the fun!” Even though your kids may beg for them because of the cartoon characters on the packaging, stay away from all the colorful yogurts ridden with dyes and other junk.  Some brands are worse than others, so read the labels!

Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate Added to Maintain Freshness, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Red #40, Blue #1, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.

The slogan should be "Twice the color means twice the harmful dyes!"

Stonyfield Organic Strawberry – This brand has a few things going for it, like the fact that it’s USDA Certified Organic, and it doesn’t contain any dyes (colored with beets!) or preservatives.  It’s also sweetened with the real deal (20 grams from organic strawberries and organic sugar) instead of the artificial stuff.  It only contains 6 grams of protein in a container, so it’s not going to hold you over all that long, but it might make a great addition to a healthy lunch.  You could also add some high-quality nuts or granola to it to boost the protein and keep your sugars from soaring.

Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Lowfat Milk, Organic Strawberries, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Pectin, Organic Beet Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Vitamin D3, Six Live Active Cultures.

Stonyfield YoKids Strawberry and Banana – This is a great option to serve your kids.  All the Stonyfield kids yogurts are made with pure organic ingredients and don’t contain fillers, gelatin, dyes, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup like you’ll find in other kids’ yogurts.

Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Lowfat Milk, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Organic Strawberry Juice, Natural Flavor, Organic Beet Juice Concentrate, Pectin, Vitamin D3, Six Live Active Cultures.

Stonyfield makes several yogurt varieties geared to kids of all ages.

Brown Cow – Here is another excellent choice!  All Brown Cow yogurt varieties contain only natural ingredients, like  milk without artificial growth hormones, fresh fruit, pure maple syrup, honey, real vanilla, coffee and cocoa and no preservatives, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners or refined sugar.  The only downside I can think of for this company is that some of their yogurt varieties are more like desserts than a light snack.  For example, the Cream Top Blueberry variety is sweetened with maple syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice and blueberries, so it has 6 grams of fat, 180 calories and 24 grams of sugar.  You could probably have  small serving of ice cream for that!  Brown Cow’s Greek, Nonfat and Lowfat options are a little lighter and might make a better snack choice.   Like with the Stonyfield varieties, Brown Cow’s yogurts aren’t very high in protein, so you may need to add protein to it or eat it as part of a high-protein meal to keep your sugars from skyrocketing.

Greek Yogurt

Now that we’ve compared some of the most popular brands of regular yogurt, we need to talk about the Greek varieties.  Greek yogurt has been getting a great deal of attention in the last couple years.  Many people know it’s good for them, but they don’t really know why.  The answer is that most Greek yogurt varieties have more than double the protein of regular yogurt, so they will keep you fuller longer and will keep your sugars from spiking.

Greek yogurt is strained to remove excess liquid, which is why it’s thicker and creamier than traditional yogurt (YUM!).  The straining process allows the whey protein to remain intact.  Our bodies need 20 different types of amino acids for proper growth and muscle development, but we can only make 11 of these. The remaining nine, called essential amino acids, must come from food sources like whey protein, which contains all nine essential amino acids.  In fact, whey protein contains more essential amino acids than any other type of protein.

My favorite brands of Greek yogurt are Stonyfield Oikos (15 grams of protein in the vanilla) and Chobani (16 grams of protein in the vanilla).  I buy the Trader Joe’s Greek Yogurt in a pinch, although it’s not quite as high in protein.  Some of the store-brand Greek yogurts aren’t as beneficial and still sneak in some fructose and preservatives (Like Dannon’s Greek variety!), so I’d rather stick to the high-quality brands.

This brand is usually found in the natural section of your grocery store.

As with other Spotlights I’ve done, the best products are the most expensive, but I think it’s worth it to pay more for the good stuff!  (At Kroger, the Yoplait was $.60 per container while the Oikos was $1.99 and the Chobani was $1.19).  As a general rule, you’ll usually find much healthier choices in the natural section of your grocery store, where the Stonyfield Farms, Brown Cow and other high-quality brands are stored, or at places like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.  The natural brands also use the non-rBgh milk and you just don’t see all those unnecessary ingredients (the words you can’t pronounce) on their labels.  If you don’t do well on dairy products, try coconut yogurt (So Delicious makes tasty, all-natural varieties.).

I hope you learned as much from this post as I did from writing it.  If you’ve never tried Greek yogurt, I encourage you to give it a try, or at least switch to a more natural brand if you regularly buy Dannon or Yoplait.  If you have questions about another brand not mentioned here or about yogurt in general, leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to research it for you.

Got an idea for a future Grocery Store Spotlight?  Send it my way!

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Grocery Store Spotlight: Navigating the Baking Aisle

We’ve all been in a situation where we needed a quick dessert in a pinch.  Maybe you’ve gotten into bed and realized that you were supposed to bring cupcakes for your child’s class party the next morning, or you remember it’s a friend’s birthday at work.  Or, perhaps you just didn’t have time to do anything elaborate for the neighborhood potluck.  Unless you thought ahead and ordered something from the bakery, you find yourself in the baking aisle at the grocery store, desperately searching for a quick and easy treat that might even fool people into thinking that you’ve got it all together and made something from scratch!  (No judgment, I’m a domestic goddess in training myself!)

Let's face it, sometimes a box of brownie or cake mix is the best we can do!

But have you ever looked at the contents some of those brownie and cake mixes?  Well I have, and they are full of unhealthy ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavoring, modified starches, dyes and a bunch of words I can’t pronounce!

For example, here’s a look at the ingredients in a box of Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix:

Enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, corn syrup, leavening, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, modified corn starch, corn starch, salt, propylene glycol mono and diesters of fatty acids, dextrose, dicalcium phosphate, distilled monoglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, natural and artificial flavors, xanthum gum, yellow 5 and yellow 6.

Think twice before you grab the Betty Crocker box brands.

And here are the ingredients in the Duncan Hines Caramel Turtle Brownie Mix:

MIX: Sugar, Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour [Enriched with Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Malted Barley Flour), Cocoa Powder Processed with Alkali, Walnuts (Nuts, Corn Oil, BHT Added to Protect Flavor), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Salt, Cornstarch, Artificial Flavor, Carrageenan, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate). CARAMEL TOPPING: Corn Syrup, Water, Dextrose, Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Natural and Artificial Flavors [Milk], Salt, Phosphoric Acid, Caramel Color, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Sodium Citrate, Colored with (Yellow 5, Red 40, Titanium Dioxide).

And surely that sweet little dough boy wouldn’t put anything harmful in his products. 

Let’s see what’s really in Pillsbury’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough:

Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Salt, Milk), Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Water, Molasses, Eggs, Salt, Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavor.

He's not as sweet as he looks!

Here are the contents of Ghirardelli’s Double Chocolate Brownie Mix:

Sugar, enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folate), chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, natural cocoa, wheat starch, cocoa (processed with alkali), salt, artificial flavor, sodium bicarbonate, natural butter flavor.

So maybe you think you can find better-quality products if you head over to the frozen section and grab a pie or cake there.  Think again.

These are the ingredients in the Sara Lee German Chocolate Layer Cake, the biggest doozie of them all!

Water, sugar, skim milk, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed and palm kernel oils), enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), eggs, corn syrup, whey protein concentrate, vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed oils), cream, maltodextrin, walnuts, butter, coconut, cocoa processed with alkali, mono- and diglycerides, milk protein concentrate, almonds, propylene glycol ester, modified corn starch, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate), acetic acid esters of mono-diglycerides, lactose (milk), xanthan gum, natural flavor, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60, soy lecithin, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate, colored with (beta carotene, caramel color, and annatto extract), carob bean gum, guar gum, soy flour.

I checked it out, and all the Sara Lee cakes and full of harmful ingredients.

Ok, so right about now you might be despairing that I’m declaring all the mainstream brands you’ve been buying for years to be unsuitable.  But don’t fret, there are some healthier options out there for those of you who don’t have the time or desire to bake everything from scratch.

Look for the Dr. Oetker Organics brand, found in the natural section of your grocery store.  Their products are all USDA Certified Organic and don’t contain all the junk.  They make brownie, cake, cookie, pancake, icing, pudding and other mixes.  I baked a batch of the chocolate brownies the other night to make sure they didn’t taste gross (The things I do for the sake of research!), and they were delightful.  I don’t think anybody would be able to tell that they were any different from the popular brands.   There were 5 ingredients in the brownies I made:

Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Enriched Wheat Flour, Organic Cocoa, Salt and Baking Soda

Now that’s an ingredient list I can feel better about eating and feeding to my friends and family.  When it comes to cookie dough, I like the Immaculate Baking Company products, found in the natural section of the grocery store as well as health food markets.

This company uses real, organic ingredients and there are no syrups, dyes or hydrogenated oils in sight!

Another brand that I’ve purchased but haven’t tried out yet is Cherrybrook Kitchen.  This might be a great brand for you to try if you’re often baking for people with gluten and dairy sensitivities.

So, it turns out the secret to conquering the baking aisle is to avoid it all together!  The healthiest brands are often found in the natural section of your regular grocery store or at health food or specialty markets (Trader Joe’s provides some great, affordable options.).  There are so many choices out there, so as always, read labels closely and find the brand with the fewest ingredients (that you can pronounce!).  You might want to stock up so you always have something on hand in an emergency!

Alright, so we may not bake like Martha Stewart, but we can raise the bar on the store-bought desserts we serve to the people we love!  Next time you need cupcakes, cookies or brownies in a hurry, avoid the Pillsbury, Sara Lee, Duncan Hines, Ghirardelli and Sara Lee brands in the baking aisle and frozen section and reach for healthier alternatives.  Yes, they will probably cost a bit more, but I think it’s worth it to save yourself dozens of unnecessary, damaging ingredients.

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GSS: Are You Soup Savvy?

For many of us, canned soup is a staple in our regular diet.  A can of soup is  a comforting, cheap and easy on-the-go lunch or dinner,  and it’s healthy right?  Well, I’m going to find out!

Although many of the major soup companies advertise their health benefits (Light, 30% Less Sodium, Only 2 WW Points, etc.), their nutritional labels tell a different story.  Let’s have a look-see at some of the most popular brands and see how they stack up, shall we?

(As you know, each brand carries several flavors and varieties, so to keep things simple and fair, I’m comparing the basic chicken noodle variety from each company to give you an idea of the ingredients they use, but make sure you always read the labels yourself when buying any canned or packaged item.  And don’t just look at the fat grams and calories…read those ingredient lists people!)

Progresso Traditional Chicken Noodle – Take a look at all those ingredients!  I don’t know about you, but I don’t even recognize some of these words, and there are several things I don’t like, such as several forms of MSG and the modified corn starch.

Ingredients: Chicken Broth, Carrots, Cooked White Chicken Meat, Egg Noodle (Wheat Flour, Semolina Wheat, Egg), Celery, Modified Food Starch, Water, Chicken Fat, Salt, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Egg White, Potassium Chloride, Carrot Puree, Yeast Extract, Sugar, Soy Protein Isolate, Maltodextrin, Sodium Phosphate, Chives, Natural Flavor, Parsley, Garlic Powder, Egg Yolk, Onion Powder, Spice, Beta Carotene

Sorry Progresso lovers, but I can't give this brand my seal of approval!

Campbell’s Creamy Chicken Noodle – I’m afraid this nutrition label tells an even scarier story!  More MSG and modified starch, with a little corn syrup solids and other words I can’t pronounce thrown in for fun!  

Ingredients: Chicken Stock, Enriched Egg Noodles (Wheat Flour, Eggs, Egg Whites, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin and Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil, Modified Food Starch, Carrots, Cream, Chicken Meat, Salt, Mechanically Separated Chicken, Whey, Monosodium Gluatamate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Chicken Flavor, Corn Syrup Solids, Beta Carotene, Calcium Caseinate, Guar Gum, Yeast Extract, Flavoring, Xanthum Gum, Dehydrated Chicken Broth, Sodium Phosphate, Soy Protein Isolate, Dehydrated Chicken and Chicken Fat.

Campbell's also makes the Chunky and Select Harvest line of soups, so they control the bulk of the soup options found in most stores.

Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle – Different brand, same story!  I just love a little Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate in my soup, don’t you?  I’ve been researching a few of these ingredients that I can’t pronounce, and many of them boil down to MSG (Autolyzed Yeast Extract and Spice for example) and other preservatives or artificial sweeteners.  Are all these chemicals really necessary in a little chicken soup?

Ingredients: Chicken Broth, Carrots, Chicken Breast with Rib Meat, Celery, Enriched Egg Noodles (Durum Wheat Flour, Water, Whole Egg Solids, Egg White Solids, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Modified Corn Starch, Flavors, Salt, Maltodextrin, Turkey Broth, Rendered Chicken Fat, Modified Rice Starch, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Isolated Soy Protein, Chicken, Potassium Chloride, Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate, Spice, Sodium Phosphate, Mushroom Powder, Cottonseed Oil, Citric Acid, Turmeric, Beta Carotene.

Turns out it's not so healthy of a choice!

Muir Glen Organic Chicken Noodle – This is the clear winner when it comes to the canned soups I compared.  Just as with the Muir Glen spaghetti sauce, it costs a little more, but it’s worth it when you see that it’s all organic, the chicken is antibiotic and hormone free, it contains real cane juice instead of refined sugar, corn syrup or an artificial sweetener, and it’s MSG free.  You can find it as well as a few other good organic brands in the natural section of your grocery store.

Ingredients: Chicken broth (water, chicken stock, sea salt), carrots, cooked chicken meat, egg noodles, celery, water, sea salt, corn starch, natural chicken flavor, chicken fat, onion powder, soy protein concentrate, egg white powder, onion, black pepper, garlic powder, chives, yeast extract, cane juice, parsley flakes, turmeric, natural flavor, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary, carrot powder, potato flour and canola oil.

Of course this brand is nowhere near as beneficial as making a homemade soup, but at least we can pronounce all of its ingredients!

It’s the perfect time of year for soup, but nothing comes close to the nutrition found in a batch made from scratch.  It takes a little more effort, but wouldn’t it be comforting to know you’re only eating broth, chicken, veggies and maybe a little rice or noodles as opposed to all those harmful ingredients found in the popular canned brands?  You can make up a big batch and freeze it in individual containers so it’s ready to grab for lunch at the office or a quick dinner for kids.  (See my Working Woman Soup and Sweet Potato Chili recipes for some ideas!) For those times when you just don’t have the time for anything except the canned stuff, select the Muir Glen or another organic brand with no MSG.  I’m guessing places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s would have some healthier options as well.

Were you as surprised as I was to see all the crazy ingredients they put in the Progresso, Campbell’s and Healthy Choice soups?  What kind of soup does your family buy?  Do you have a great homemade recipe to share?  I want to hear from you!

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GSS: The Scoop on Ice Cream

Hello from Destin, Florida!  I’m kicking off a nice long weekend at the beach.  Since I talked about milk earlier this week, it’s only natural that it got me thinking about (and screaming for) ice cream!  We all have our favorite brand and flavor (Mine is Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia or Vanilla Health Bar Crunch!), so I thought a Grocery Store Spotlight would help us determine if we’re choosing the healthiest brand we can for our families.

Although I’m quickly becoming a bona fide nutrition nut, I’m not afraid to say that I ADORE ice cream.  I’m such a cheap date when it comes to desserts…I’ll skip the tiramisu or chocolate soufflé any day for a cup (Ok, let’s be honest…a bowl) of some delicious ice cream.  Top it with some heath bars, and I’m really in heaven.  I can’t have ice cream around my house on a regular basis if I want to keep my weight under control, but I do enjoy it as a treat every so often.  I’m a big believer in occasional indulgences as they help us stay on track and prevent us from feeling all deprived and eventually going overboard with our eating.  Moral of the story: I don’t think ice cream is the devil!

Another word on ice cream – Eat it in moderation, but when you do have it, go for the REAL deal.  None of this sugar-free junk sweetened with Splenda and Aspartame ya hear?  For years I ate the fake Weight Watchers and Healthy Choice bars, but now I know that they contain all kinds of chemicals and they really don’t satisfy the ice cream cravings anyway!  I used to think they’re a good choice because they’re low-fat and help limit portion size, but Weight Watchers, Skinny Cow, Klondike and Dove bars are full of harmful ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.  It’s better to just eat a controlled portion of the good stuff!  (I’m also a big fan of going out to frozen yogurt, especially with these new places that have been popping up everywhere with the exotic flavors and tons of toppings.)

So let’s look at the nutritional content of some of the most popular ice cream brands, shall we?  To make things as even as possible, I compared the vanilla variety from each brand (Note to self: I need to bring a sweater next time I decide to go hang out in the frozen section of the grocery store for 30 minutes!).  This is just to give you an idea of the ingredients each company is using, but make sure you READ LABELS CAREFULLY as each brand carries so many flavors and varieties with different ingredients.

Edy’s Rich and Creamy French Vanilla: This brand seems to me to be the villain of all ice creams! Check out these 21 ingredients, including corn syrup and some suspicious chemicals.  Why in the world does this company feel the need to color their vanilla ice cream with two different yellow dyes?

Ingredients: Skim milk, sugar, cream, corn syrup, egg yolks, whey protein, tapioca, maltodextrin, cellulose gum, monoglycerides, diglycerides, natural flavor, guar gum, ground vanilla beans, carageenan, dextrose, yellow 5, yellow 6, vitamin A, palmitate, natural flavorings.

As I was reading all the labels at the store, a man came by and selected some Edy’s and put it into his cart.  It was all I could do not to chase after him screaming, “You’re buying poison!”  But I didn’t think that would go over too well, so I refrained.

If Edy's is your family's ice cream brand of choice, I encourage you to make a switch!

Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla: Homemade huh?  How does one make high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors at home?

Ingredients: Milk, cream, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, skim milk, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, cellulose gum, vegetable gums, salt, annatto color

Mayfield Vanilla: At least the corn syrup they use isn’t the high fructose variety, but I still don’t think this is our smartest ice cream option. Don’t be swayed by the cheap price!

Ingredients: Milkfat, nonfat milk, sugar, sweet cream buttermilk, corn syrup, cellulose gum, guar gum, carrageenan, annatto color, vanilla, monoglycerides, diglycerides

Breyer’s Natural Vanilla and Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean: If we just go by ingredients, Breyer’s and Häagen-Dazs both look like really whole and healthy options, with just a handful of natural ingredients.  While these are a better choice than Edy’s, Blue Bell and Mayfield, they still aren’t the best we can do because they use genetically-engineered dairy products.

Breyer’s Ingredients: Milk, cream, sugar, natural tara gum, natural vanilla

Häagen-Dazs Ingredients: Skim milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla bean flakes, vanilla extract

Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla: This particular flavor contains all-natural ingredients.  As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, Ben and Jerry’s has made a commitment to using rBGH-free dairy in all of their products.  It’s especially important to read labels with this brand since they carry so many different flavors and not all of them are as pure as the vanilla.

Ingredients: Cream, skim milk, liquid sugar (sugar, water), water, egg yolks, fair trade certified vanilla extract, sugar, guar gum, carrageenan

FYI – Carrageenan (comes from seaweed) and Guar Gum (comes from the Guar seed) are both natural thickening agents.

Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frappuccino: I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this is a really healthy brand!  They use very few ingredients in their flavors, and they too have made the promise to be rBGH free.

Ingredients: Cream, skim milk, water, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract, guar gum, vanilla beans, locust bean gum

I looked at the ingredients of all the Starbucks ice cream flavors, and they all get my seal of approval!

Since you should only be buying ice cream on an occasional basis, I think it’s worth it to spend the extra money to get the Ben & Jerry’s or Starbucks brand and know that you’re not ingesting high fructose corn syrup, dyes, chemicals and genetically modified milk!

If your grocery store has a natural section or you shop at a store like Whole Foods, go check out the ice cream selection there.  You can get an organic variety (rBGH-free) with all-natural ingredients and help support smaller dairy farms around the country.  I’m a big fan of coconut ice cream if you’re like me and can’t do a lot of dairy.  As always, don’t forget to stay away from the soy products!

Do you know of any other all-natural ice cream options?  As always, I welcome your feedback!  Have a great weekend.

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GSS: It’s a Frozen Pizza Kind of Night

The other night I was eating dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, and I got to thinking about frozen pizzas and what ingredients are contained in all those varieties in the frozen aisle, and I decided this would make a great Grocery Store Spotlight.  After all, we all have those nights when we’re just too busy or lazy to cook, and frozen pizza is always the go-to dinner for the kids when parents leave them with a babysitter.  I did a lot of babysitting growing up, so I’ve cooked many a frozen pizza in my day, but it wasn’t until now that I wondered what goes into them.

Hint: Your neighborhood pizza joint probably uses healthier ingredients in their pizzas than the big delivery companies like Pizza Hut, Papa John's and Domino's, so go local!

So to keep things simple, I compared the cheese pizzas from some of the most popular frozen pizza brands.  To be honest, I was really discouraged by what I saw.  For example, here are the ingredients in the Digiorno 4 Cheese Pizza (rising crust):

WHEAT FLOUR, WATER, SHREDDED LOW-MOISTURE PART-SKIM MOZZARELLA CHEESE (PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES), TOMATO PASTE, SUGAR, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF WHEAT GLUTEN, VEGETABLE (SOYBEAN OIL AND/OR CORN OIL), WHITE CORN MEAL, GRATED PARMESAN, ASIAGO, AND ROMANO CHEESES MADE FROM COW’S MILK (PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES), SALT, YEAST, BAKING SODA, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, DATEM, SPICE, GARLIC, ASCORBIC ACID, YELLOW CORN MEAL.

Besides the fact that it contains tons of ingredients, many of which I don’t recognize and can’t pronounce, Digiorno uses added sugar, soy and spice (which is label code for MSG).  That earns it The Nutritionista’s thumbs down, which I know is very scary and intimidating to Kraft Foods!

Here is a list of all the brands that do NOT earn my seal of approval.  Click on them to see a complete list of ingredients.

Tombstone: Doesn’t contain a ton of ingredients, but what it does contain is NOT healthy!

Red Baron: Who knew soy came in that many forms?

Tony’s: This brand wins the award for most words I can’t pronounce!

California Pizza Kitchen: I’m so sad to say it, but this brand gets my lowest grade of all!  Too bad because I love CPK’s pizzas!  The cheese pizza contains added sugar, hydrogenated oils, MSG, soy and a whole bunch of other unnecessary ingredients.  Guess I won’t be eating their pizzas anymore!

Ok, so before you start hating me for ruining your frozen pizza experience for good, here are a couple of brands that aren’t too bad by my standards!

Amy’s:  This brand can be found in the natural section of most grocery stores.  It’s a little bit more expensive than the regular brands, but I think it’s worth it to know you’re paying for unbleached flour, all organic ingredients and a high-quality oil and skipping the MSG, hydrogenated and modified foods, soy and added sugars (uses organic honey instead) and preservatives.

Amy's is the nation's leading natural frozen food brand.

Trader Joe’s: Of all the brands I looked at, TJ’s Organic 3 Cheese Pizza gets my ultimate seal of approval.  Like the Amy’s, it is all organic and contains no preservatives, but it also contains very few ingredients (9 ingredients as compared to CPK brand with more than 30 ingredients!) and is reasonably priced ($4.29).

CRUST: ORGANIC WHEAT FLOUR, WATER, SALT, ORGANIC SUNFLOWER OIL, YEAST.  TOPPING: ORGANIC TOMATO SAUCE (tomatoes, water, organic EVOO, salt, oregano), ORGANIC FONTAL, MOZZARELLA AND PARMESAN CHEESE

I suggest adding your own veggies to your Amy's or Trader Joe's pizzas to make them more fresh and nutritious.

If you have a few extra minutes, I think making your own pizza is an even better option because you have complete control over what ingredients you use and everything is fresher.  Trader Joe’s carries a ready-made whole wheat pizza dough for 99 cents, and you can take it home and add a healthy tomato sauce and whatever toppings you like.  I love using big chunks of fresh mozzarella and basil or piling it with veggies.  If you buy a ready-made crust, look closely at the label and make sure it doesn’t contain any of the harmful ingredients I’ve discussed.  I took a quick glance at the ingredients in the Boboli ready-made crust, and it contains more than 20 ingredients, many of them additives and chemicals.

There are tons of frozen pizza brands on the market, and each one makes several different varieties of crusts and toppings, so it’s crucial that we read labels and feed our families the highest quality we can find.

Do you know of any other healthy brands of frozen pizza that I may have missed?  Or, do you have a healthy pizza recipe or topping combo?  If so, share the amore!

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GSS: Are all snack bars created equal?

When Shea and I first started dating, I quickly became aware of his love for the outdoors – hiking, camping, rappelling – he loves it all.  After our dinner dates, we would often go walk around REI, his favorite store (Home Depot is probably a close second in this stage of our lives!).  But if you’ve spent any time with me, you know that I’m pretty girly.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a good hike or camping trip (As long as there is an air mattress in the tent and some wine, I’m game!), but that’s pretty much the extent of it.

Couldn't resist posting a pic of us on our first camping trip (2007).

But when I go into REI, a funny thing happens.  All of the sudden, I want to throw all my purple accessories to the wind, grow out my armpit hair, deck out in hiking pants and Life is Good t-shirts and go forth into the wild!  I feel an intense need to buy all these things I don’t need, like back packs, outdoor cooking equipment, brightly colored bungee chords and kayaks.  One time I bought some really expensive (and unflattering) hiking shoes in preparation of our trip to Denver.  I’ve worn those shoes exactly two times since I bought them!  Of course, as soon as I leave the store, I’m jolted back to reality and immediately lose my granola-eating urges and go about my girly-girl ways (and shaving my armpits!).

When I’m in REI, I always spend a lot of time on the aisle with the energy bars, you know, thinking about what I would take to sustain me on all the adventures I’m going to take!  There are tons of brands to choose from, from Larabar to Luna to Clif, and everything in between.  You see even more variety of snack bars at the grocery store.  There are dozens of brands, each boasting that they pack all the protein, carbohydrates and energy one would ever need.

I had a request from a reader to compare some of the popular bars and determine which ones are the best choice.  With all the clever packaging, it’s hard to tell which ones are more like candy bars and which ones really do make a healthy on-the-go snack or pre/post workout sustenance.

As a rule with any product you’re thinking of buying, the fewer ingredients the better.  For example, here are the ingredients in the PowerBar Nut Naturals energy bar:

DRY ROASTED ALMONDS AND PEANUTS, BROWN RICE SYRUP, SOY CRISPS (SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, TAPIOCA STARCH, SALT), RAISINS, EVAPORATED CANE JUICE SYRUP, RICE CRISPS (RICE FLOUR, RICE BRAN, ROSEMARY EXTRACT), WHOLE OATS, HIGH OLEIC CANOLA OIL, VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, DARK CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, MILK FAT, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA EXTRACT), AND LESS THAN 1.5% OF INULIN (FROM CHICORY), SALT, SOY LECITHIN. MINERALS: CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, FERROUS FUMARATE (IRON). VITAMINS: ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), VITAMIN B6 HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1).

With that many ingredients, I can't believe they can make the claim that this is natural!

That is a TON of ingredients, many of which I want to avoid, such as sugar, soy, canola oil, and a few words I can’t even pronounce!  To my surprise, Clif and Luna bars also contain a LOT of unnecessary ingredients and soy, but at least they don’t contain the poor-quality canola oil like the PowerBar.

Here are the ingredients in a Larabar (Pecan Pie flavor):

DATES, PECANS, ALMONDS.

With three natural ingredients, this makes a great snack!

Now that’s more like it!  With three all-natural ingredients, I think a Larabar is a much more whole and healthy snack. The PranaBar is another great option with very few all-natural ingredients (We carry these at Longevity, along with a variety of other healthy brands).

Here is a list of some of the worst offenders when it comes to popular cereal/energy/nutrition bars.  Containing excessive ingredients, soy, hydrogenated oils and chemicals like high fructose corn syrup, we should stay away from these brands and avoid feeding them to our kids!  Click on them to view their ingredients.

Nutri-Grain Bars

Special K Bars

Fiber Plus Bars

Fiber One Bars

Kashi Bars

I say it all the time, but I just can’t preach this enough – make sure you’re reading those labels!  No matter how much protein, fiber, energy and carbs the company claims to provide, that doesn’t make up for the damage done by unnecessary chemicals and additives.  Also, don’t be fooled by the “all-natural” or “safe for kids” or “whole grain” claims on the packaging.  We’ve got to raise the bar (no pun intended) on the ingredients we’re putting into our bodies.

Also, when you’re reading the labels on bars, be aware of the high amounts of calories, fats, proteins, and sugars.  Some shouldn’t be used merely as snacks, but are designed to be more like a meal replacement or for use during extreme physical exertion (Like hiking the Appalachian Trail, not sitting by a campfire drinking Two Buck Chuck!).  Even the most natural bars can make you pack on the pounds if you’re taking in more calories than you can burn.

A bar can make a great snack, whether you’re into outdoor adventures or just on the go, but make sure you choose wisely!  I learned a lot by looking at all these ingredient lists side by side, and I was pretty surprised at how unhealthy some of these bars that I’ve eaten for years really are!

Happy Trails!

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GSS: It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

In honor of back to school time, and because I received a request to cover this, today’s Grocery Store Spotlight is all about peanut butter, a favorite among children and adults alike.  Peanut butter is such an American staple, and the grocery store aisle is always hopping with moms looking to stock up for their kids’ lunches and snacks.  Once again I got some suspicious looks as I took pictures of all the peanut butter jars for this post (What I go through for you people!).

Ants On A Log, a mandatory childhood snack

Before I dive in and start comparing the brands, it’s important to note that peanuts have many benefits (great for heart health, good source of antioxidants, prevent gallstones, help prevent weight gain, etc.), but there are also some concerns.  They are a common food allergy, and they contain high amounts of oxalates and aflatoxins.  Click here to learn more and read about all things peanut!

As with the tomato sauces we investigated last week, there are tons of brands and varieties of peanut butter (creamy, chunky, reduced fat, organic, natural, etc.) but the determining factor you should be looking for on the label is the quality of the oils used.  Hydrogenated oil is one of the most destructive things you can put into your body.  Click my post on fats to recall its many harmful effects.

Jif Creamy – Choosy moms may choose it, but that doesn’t make its hydrogenated oils good for kids!

Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono and diglycerides, salt.

Jif Natural – Jif got this one right.  I’m happy to say it’s the exact same price as the Jif Creamy, but it doesn’t contain any of the harmful oils. It has the exact same amount of fat, calories, sugar and fiber as the creamy as well.   This is a much better choice!

Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt and molasses.

Skippy – Just as with the Jif brand, it’s crucial that you select the natural variety over the others.  Avoid the creamy, which contains the hydrogenated oils and choose Skippy Natural, which contains only 4 ingredients.

Ingredients: peanuts, sugar, palm oil and salt

Skippy Creamy is not a healthy option.

Peter Pan – This brand receives The Nutritionista’s ultimate seal of disapproval (Which is like the worst thing in the world!).  The company does not offer a natural variety, and the creamy variety contains more than one type of hydrogenated oil!  That’s 17 grams of poor-quality fat in every 2 tablespoon serving!  Please don’t eat this brand or serve it to your kids.  We deserve better!

Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed and rapeseed), salt, and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil

As far as I'm concerned, Peter Pan belongs in NEVER NEVER Land!

Smuckers With only two ingredients and no added sugars, this brand wins the award for the most whole peanut butter. There are 7 grams of healthy protein in every 2 tablespoon serving.  The only problem with this brand and other super whole peanut butters is that the oil rises to top and you have to constantly remix it, and it can be a bit a little tougher in consistency than the other brands.

Ingredients: peanuts, salt


With a few healthy options in the regular section of the store, I don’t really see a need to pay a lot more for the kind in the natural section.  You can get a high-quality brand without paying double the price.  Another great option is to go to a store like Whole Foods, where you can make your own peanut butter from fresh peanuts.  However, many moms have told me they have trouble getting their kids to eat that kind since it isn’t sweet and that it doesn’t spread very well.

Almond butter is another great alternative to peanut butter when you’re looking to switch things up with your protein source.  Almonds protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease and increase energy, making them a great snack to hold you over between meals.

Here's a convenient way to send healthy peanut or almond butter in your child's lunch box, maybe with some celery sticks or an apple!

So there you have it, friends.  Avoid the Peter Pan at all costs, and steer clear of the regular Jif and Skippy brands as well.  Instead go for the Natural Jif and Skippy brands, Smuckers, or another all-natural variety with no hydrogenated oils and the fewest ingredients possible.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to send your requests for future Grocery Store Spotlights my way!

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