Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Grocery Store 101: Produce

The produce section is definitely my favorite section in the grocery store.  All of the fruits and veggies lure me in!  Despite this, I rarely shop this section.  Instead I head to my local farmer or co-op to get my produce whenever I can.  That being said, there are times when shopping for produce at the grocery store can’t be avoided.

Like right now, we’re on a last minute vacation at the beach (my husband had a work trip pop up so we all tagged along).  I had very little time to plan what we’d eat or do any shopping, so I’m at the mercy of the local grocery stores.

If you need to shop the grocery stores for your produce, there are easy steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the freshest, healthiest fruits and veggies you can.  This will translate into more nutrients for you!  Here are the things you can look for when choosing your produce:

An Improvement: Avoid the dirty dozen and look for the clean fifteen
Getting There: Buy local produce that is in season
Awesomeness: Buy local, organic produce (or produce from local farmers who don't use pesticides)

An Improvement

I rank avoiding the dirty dozen at the top of my list because avoiding pesticides is most important to me.  The side effects of these are terrible and my top priority with food is limiting the toxins I feed my kids.  The produce listed on the dirty dozen is the most offensive.  It got there either for its high pesticide content or for having pesticides that were especially terrible.  If you aren’t familiar with these lists, check out my post on the EWG’s ranking system here.

Small children are especially sensitive to pesticides (and toxins in general) so we never buy conventional produce from the dirty dozen list.  Since you don’t have contact with the farmer in a grocery store setting, anything that isn’t organic should be assumed to have pesticides on it.

If you need to buy conventional produce, look for items listed on the clean fifteen.  You can even get an app for your phone to use until you're familiar with the items on the lists.  Also, make sure to soak and rinse your produce with a veggie wash, you can see my homemade recipe here.

 Getting There

The next step you can take toward more healthful produce is looking for local, seasonal produce.  There are lots of reasons to eat local- supporting your local economy, less environmental impact, fresher food and the health benefits of eating seasonally. 

Many grocery stores will promote their local items so look for signs or displays.  You can also read the produce label to find out how far your fruits and veggies had to travel to make it to the store.  The longer the produce sits after harvesting, the more nutrients that are depleted. 


The best option in the grocery store is to choose local organic produce.  At a minimum, you know that the veggies and fruits have been held to organic certification standards.  You’ll be supporting ethical farming that has the least impact on the environment.   This is also a great way to find out about local farmers and can be a stepping stone to purchasing directly from local farms.

Organics can be more expensive however choosing items that are in season will greatly reduce this cost.  In season, I've found that the organic options are very similar in price.  I've come to realize though, that the extra cost of clean produce is worth it for our family.  Compromising here leads to too much exposure to toxins for me to be comfortable.

I encourage you to read the labels on your produce, something you might not have thought to do before.  You can tell a lot about your fruits and veggies that way.  Being conscious of our food is the first step to making changes!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

8 Ways to Eat More Raw Foods

On Monday, I shared all the reasons I eat plenty of raw foods on a daily basis.  I also promised you I’d share some easy ways you can incorporate more raw foods in your diet.  Today, I’ve got eight simple tips to help increase your rawsomeness!

Like I explained on Monday, we're not exclusively raw here, we just enjoy lots of raw foods and the health benefits that come with them.  Raw food may seem complicated at first, but it doesn't have to be. I've made it harder than it needed to be in the past and learned my lesson.  Keep your food simple!

Sub Your Cooked Noodles for Raw Ones

I love raw noodles. They're simple to make, they taste good and they're a great way to increase your veggie intake.  You can make noodles out of lots of veggies- zucchini, carrots, radish, onion, beet, etc.  I've got a nifty spiralizer that I love but you don't need a fancy tool.  You can simply use a vegetable peeler. 

Most noodles are neutral tasting and you can easily use them with any sauce.  Sub them for spaghetti with your favorite meat sauce or a tamari based sauce with veggies for lo mien.  The possibilities are endless and you'll greatly boost your nutrient intake!

Keep a Raw Salad in Your Fridge

Raw salads and slaws make quick and easy snacks.  One of my favorite things to do is make a large batch of veggie slaw and keep it in the fridge without the dressing.  I'll dress just what I want to eat and the rest will keep fresh for 4-5 days.

Trade Your Cooked Snacks for Raw Ones

With 2 little people in our house, we have lots of small meals.  My kids eat great at meal times but their little tummies empty quickly too.  I know how easy it is to eat too much snack food in a day.  This doesn’t have to be a bad thing though, as long as those snack foods are nutrient dense.  Below are some common cooked snacks and ideas for raw snack options.

            Granola bars- trade these out for raw date and nut bars, or raw granola
            Crackers- try some nutritious raw crackers
            Fruit- trade apple sauce or canned fruit for a fresh piece of fruit (simple right?)
            Nuts- choose raw nuts over the roasted ones, if you're feeling fancy you can marinate and dehydrate them!

Master a Raw Dip

A good dip can be used for so many things: a sandwich spread,  a dip for veggies or a sauce for some raw noodles.  Raw dips are also easy to make with some nuts and herbs.  They’re also packed with nutrients and very filling.  I love this spread- it's meant to be used in a wrap but it makes a great dip or sauce too.

Trade in Your Wraps

I love raw wraps because not only am I eliminating a processed wrap from my diet, but I’m also including more leafy greens in the process.  Almost all large leafy greens make good wraps.  I love Boston lettuce, kale, romaine and collard leaves for wrap making.

Raw-ify Your Smoothies

I’m a huge fan of smoothies because they’re so versatile.  No matter what you’ve craving- protein, fats or some carbs- you can get them in your smoothies.  The possibilities are endless but some of my favorite ingredients are veggies, fresh or frozen fruit, nuts, cacao, chia, hemp and coconut flakes or oil. Yum!  For some raw smoothie ideas, check out my green smoothie, chocolate banana shake and piña colada smoothie

Discover Raw Meals

When I first started eating more raw foods, I was a little intimidated by raw meals- specifically dinners.  When you’re used to eating cooked foods, you might wonder if raw ones can be satisfying.  I’m here to tell you, they definitely can.  What I’ve found is keeping it simple is best.  I’ve never successfully made raw “bread,” pizza, lasagna, etc.  They just don’t turn out right.  Instead I look for recipes that make the most of their ingredients.  Some of my favorites are raw pad thai, avocado lettuce wraps and garden herb roll-ups.

Indulge in Raw Desserts

Ok people, if you have never had a raw brownie or some raw mouse, you are missing out.  Raw desserts are fantastic and I usually prefer them to their cooked counterparts.  There are some truly delicious raw desserts out there waiting for you to discover them.  The best part is that they are all good for you!  With fresh ingredients, natural sweeteners like honey and dates, and creaminess from avocado and hemp seed, you get fabulous desserts that you don't need to feel guilty about!  Try this chocolate shake, these brownies, these nut truffles or this "cheese" cake if you need some inspiration.

I hope these tips encourage you to add more raw foods to your diet.  If you're trying to eat healthier this year, this is a great way to do it.  If you’ve got a favorite raw recipe, please share it... I'm always looking for more yummy raw food!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Real Deal on Raw

If you follow my blog, you probably already know that I’m a huge fan of raw foods.  I’ve found that incorporating a high percentage of raw food into my diet makes me feel my best.  I have more energy, mental clarity and I just feel better.  I don’t eat totally raw and I enjoy plenty of cooked foods too, but I know where my happy place is!

Today, I'd like to share my love of raw food with you.  No matter what your eating philosophy is, you can benefit from increasing your intake of raw foods.  The truth is, most of us don't eat enough fresh foods (especially veggies), and eating raw is a great way to increase your intake.  There are many ways to benefit from raw foods: doing a raw cleanse, juicing or simply including more raw foods will all have beneficial effects.

What's This "Raw" You Speak Of?

A raw diet is made up of raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains and legumes.  There are variations- some raw foodies exclude grains and legumes since they can trigger inflammation in some people and some include raw dairy and meats.  No matter what you include, nothing should be heated over 115-118 degrees to preserve the vitamins and enzymes.

One important aspect of eating raw is choosing fresh organic produce, or produce that hasn’t been sprayed.  Since one major reason for eating raw is to reduce the toxins in your body, it is counter productive to introduce food covered in more toxins.

The Benefits of Raw Goodness 

There are plenty of reasons to include raw foods in your diet.  Below, I highlight a couple of ways raw foods can help you!

Alkalizing: To maintain a healthy body, we want out system to be alkaline rather than acidic.  Most of the SAD (standard american diet) staples today fall into the acidic category: grains, sugar, processed oils, commercial meats and dairy.  In contrast, almost all fruits and veggies are alkalizing.

Nutritionally dense: By eating raw foods, we are avoiding cooking out valuable vitamins from our food.   The components of raw diets are naturally nutrient dense so you'll be filling your body with a huge amount of nourishment.

Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are all high in various antioxidants, phytonutrients and healthy fats.  These allow our body to heal itself and fight off illness and disease.

Fiber: Unless you are eating plenty of fresh whole foods, you probably aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet.  If you’re eating the SAD, you definitely aren’t!  I’m a huge fan of fiber and its role in our bodies.  It’s true that too much is unhealthy and can interfere with nutrient absorption, but the fact is, most people are on the other end of the spectrum.

Enzymes: Raw foods are full of enzymes that aid in the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients.  Including plenty of them in your diet can even help you digest foods that normally cause problems.  When I don't eat enough raw foods, I actually take enzyme supplements that make a huge difference in digestion.

So, raw is great right? I think so, but lately it seems like raw foods are getting bashed quite a bit.  My poor little friends, kale and broccoli are feeling put down.  So I'd like to share some things you should know about eating raw and hopefully clear up some misconceptions.

What You Can't Get From Raw Foods

Eating a wide variety of raw foods can provide you with plenty of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.  The one vitamin that is hard to get is B12.  It’s widely found in its easily absorbable form through animal products but not in plants.  The only raw source you can find of absorbable B12 is in chlorella, an algae.  You can easily add this to smoothies or water.

I like to take Nutri-Calm from Nature’s Sunshine to make sure I’m getting enough B vitamins.  If you are going to eat a totally raw diet for a long period or find yourself especially grumpy (like during a cleanse), consider adding a supplement to your diet.

Cruciferous Vegetables

I’ve seen some people putting down the raw cruciferous veggies saying they contain goitrogens.  Goitrogens are not  specific compound, but actually refer to anything that interferes with thyroid function.  In the case of crucifers the combinations of nutrients can have a goitrogenic effect on people with thyroid problems.   Not so much for healthy individuals.

In fact, eating raw crucifers can benefit your digestive track.  Their nutrients are naturally more likely to be absorbed by your upper digestive track and used in the liver.  For more information on crucifers and goitrogens, you can read this article.


Oxalates are another point people bring up with raw foods.  Oxalates can cause problems for some people who are sensitive to them.  These individuals should stay away for oxilates whether they are raw or cooked since cooking does not measurably effect the oxalate content.

If you aren’t sensitive to them, eat away!  Spinach, beet greens and parsley have some of the highest levels of oxalates.  These foods are nourishing and delicious so we enjoy them on a regular basis (especially spinach).

Phytic acid

Don’t be fooled by anyone claiming that raw foods are higher in phytic acid.  Properly soaking your raw seeds, nuts and grains is far more important to dissipating phytic acid than cooking.  Since grains and beans are used much less than in a normal diet, the raw portion of your diet is likely to have much less phytic acid than your cooked foods.
Always soak or sprout your nuts and seeds for the recommended time to ensure you are activating the enzyme to break the acid down.  You can bookmark this chart for the recommended soaking times.  For more information about phytic acid, you can check out my post here

See, raw foods aren't scary or dangerous- they're nourishing and delicious!  If you don't currently eat them every day, trying including more raw items and see how you feel.  Later this week I'll be sharing more info on ways to include more raw foods in your diet.  If you've got specific questions, let me know!

This post is shared at the Homestead Barn HopNatural Living Monday, Allergy Free WednesdayGluten Free Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday and Fresh Foods Link Up.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Zucchini Quinoa Pancakes

I love quinoa.  I love how versatile it is, how quick it cook up and how nutrient dense it is.  Of course, I am the only one in my family who likes it.  I'd love to use it in tons of recipes but every time I do, it's met with distain, especially from my tiny people.  Apparently, the size and texture offends them greatly.

So I hide it shamelessly.  I stuff it into peppers and zucchini, make it into bites and hide it in burgers.  This usually works pretty well so I thought I'd try some pancakes too.

These pancakes are great anytime of the day- breakfast, lunch or dinner!  And apparently, they are awesome at hiding quinoa!

Zucchini Quinoa Pancakes

2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 eggs
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
dash red pepper
1 tbsp coconut oil

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.

Heat your skillet to medium, scoop large spoonfuls of mixture into pan and flatten.

Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes per side.

Repeat with remaining batter and enjoy!

This post is shared at Fight Back Friday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Gluten Free Fridays and Simple Meals Friday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grocery Store 101: Packaged Meats

While I generally don't like to buy lots of packaged meats, they are convenient to have once in awhile.  Not only are they processed (no matter what quality you buy) but they can also be pretty expensive.  I save these items for when I've got a busy day or when we're traveling.

Today I'll be covering hot dogs and sausages, lunchmeat and bacon.  The major problem with the standard grocery store versions of these products is the quality of meat they are made with and the additives used to make them.  Anytime a product is processed, it's easier for the manufacturers to use lower quality ingredients since the consumer won't see them- this is why it's so important to be vigilant in reading labels when you buy anything in a package!

I'd also like to remind you that, as always, I prefer to buy directly from a farmer or a local butcher and discuss their practices.  These options are for those of you who currently need to shop the grocery stores for these items.

A general tip of all of these items is to look for the natural meat section in the store.  Most larger grocery stores will have their organic or "green" packaged meats together in a section.  Bypass the standard brands and look for this section.  This should help weed out the most offensive of ingredients and give you some decent options.

Hot dogs and Sausage

Even my kids, who love kale and cucumbers, love a good hot dog.  We served these up to the crowd at Dakota's birthday- super easy and not full of terrible ingredients.  If you're buying standard grocery store sausages, you may be surprised to learn they contain some pretty scary stuff.  Besides being made with bottom of the barrel meats, the ingredient lists probably contain MSG, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial flavors.  Label reading is imperative here!

So about that meat quality... if you're buying a pork, turkey or chicken product, there's a good chance it contains mechanically separated meat. You know what that is right?

Gag! Yeah, that is definitly not on my list of "real foods." Mechanically separated beef is actually outlawed in the US so buying 100% beef products is one way to avoid this.

Avoid: mechanically separated chicken and pork, MSG, corn and soy ingredients 

An Improvement:  products free of natural and artificial flavors, HFCS and mechanically separated meats
Getting There: sausages made with no added nitrites and nitrates
Awesomeness: organic or pastured meats, made nitrate and nitrite free

Brands I like are Applegate, Blinski's, The Brat Hans and Aidell's Organic.


As a mom, I can definitely appreciate the need for some lunchmeat every once in awhile.  At our house, lunchmeat comes to the rescue when we need a quick lunch or something to eat on the go (i.e. not messy in the car).  Normal lunchmeats are strictly off limits at our house though.  Did you know many of them contain gluten and casein (a milk protein)?  Why, I ask you, why???  Besides these no-nos, many contain HFCS, modified food starch and mechanically separated meat.

Instead, look for brands with minimal ingredients and no artificial anything.  I avoid the deli counter since it's not easy to read their labels and I have never seen any that don't have added nitrates.  I prefer to find the packaged meats and read carefully!

Avoid: mechanically separated meats, gluten, casein, and HFCS.

An Improvement:  products free of natural and artificial flavors, gluten, HFCS and mechanically separated meats
Getting There: lunch meats with the qualities of the previous category and made nitrate and nitrite free
Awesomeness: organic or pastured meats with the qualities of the previous categories 

Brand's I like are Applegate and Fresh Fields.


If you're like my brother, you might have the urge to add bacon to everything.  He's a pretty huge fan.  I like to indulge in it on occasion but it's got to be quality.  I look for bacon that is uncured with minimal ingredients.  That means no sugar, no soy or corn ingredients and no artificial anything!  I specifically avoid corn and soy since those are almost guaranteed to be GMOs if they aren't organic.  And don't fall into the turkey bacon trap- that stuff is not "healthy."  Turkey bacon is highly processed and contains sugar, soy, corn and tons of processed salt.  

Avoid: turkey bacon, bacon with sugar, soy, corn, or added nitrites and nitrates.

An Improvement:  look for bacon with no added sugar, corn or soy ingredients
Getting There: uncured bacon with no added nitrates or nitrites 
Awesomeness: organic or pastured bacon with the qualities of the previous categories

The only brand I normally buy is Applegate, but there are many others, just read the labels!

When you're reading through your options, you'll want to keep in mind how often you eat an item.  The more often it's consumed, the more you should be concerned with the quality!  Happy shopping!