Category Archives: questions


Favorite Instant Pot Tools

I was a little late jumping onto the Instant Pot train, but now I really can’t remember what I did without it!  It is my absolute favorite tool in the kitchen. Pressure cooking made easy-as-pie (hmmm… I haven’t tried making a pie in my pot yet…)  The ease alone would be enough but Instant Pot takes it even further – a slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, warmer and sauté pot, and that’s just the 6-in-1 model.  The 9-in-1 model also makes yogurt, cooks eggs, sterilizes AND makes cake. All this multi-tasking, no hogging my kitchen counter space – it’s a keeper. So I’ve given my Instant Pot it’s very own drawer, to store all its handy accessories.  Here are my favorites.

TEMPERED GLASS LID
A clear glass lid is perfect for when slow cooking, sautéing, keeping food warm, or even serving direct from the pot.
Instant Pot Tempered Glass Lid

STAINLESS STEEL INNER COOKING POT
Having a second inner pot makes it really easy to prepare multiple dishes. I find it especially handy when I’m meal-prepping. I can make a main dish, and then quickly pop in a new inner and make quinoa, rice a veggie and such. It’s almost as handy as having two Instant Pots.
Instant Pot Inner Cooking Pot

SEALING RINGS
The Instant Pot lid sealing ring is made of silicone. It’s really durable and will last you a long time. It can, however, hold onto food odor. I wash mine in my dishwasher after each use. I also periodically “steam-clean” it in the pot – toss a couple cut up lemons and a cup of water into the pot and cook on manual high pressure for fifteen minutes. I do have a second ring to use when I make a neutral or sweet dish and I really want to ensure no savory aromas are transferred.
Instant Pot Sealing Rings

STACKABLE INSERT PANS
Stackable insert pans are great when you have more than one dish you can cook at once – steaming, cooking veggies and rice. Or cooking two dozen hard-boiled eggs at a time. These make reheat leftovers in the Instant Pot so easy and fast, a much better choice than using a microwave.
Stackable Stainless-steel Insert Pans

STEAMER BASKET
A steam basket or rack is essential for Instant Pot cooking. I especially like one with moveable sides so it can adjust and accommodate food of all shapes and sizes. I like the extendable removable handle on this XOX model, it’s handy when lifting hot food from the pot.
OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Steamer with Handle

TRIVET-RACK-STAND
I use a taller trivet in addition to the trivet that comes with the Instant Pot, so I can cook in several layers. I’ll often cook things like sweet potatoes on the lower level and place an entrée in a pan above on the higher level. If you do this, take care that the height of the tallest item is not higher than the pot’s maximum fill line.
Trivet Rack Stand

RAMEKINS – OVEN-SAFE DISHWARE
I love my porcelain ramekins and love that they work so well in my Instant Pot. The perfect size for single serving dishes and porcelain doesn’t absorb odors or flavors.
Ramekins

HOT POT GRIPPER CLIP
Sort of like a hot pad’s much stronger studier weight-lifter cousin. Just clip the grip end onto the hot pot, or pan or basket and lift it from the Instant Pot. My friend Coleen, an Instant Pot veteran, gave me these when I first got my pot. She was absolutely right about how much I’d love them!
Hot Pot Gripper Clip

CHEESECAKE PAN
Perfect for cheesecake, tarts, quiches and more cheesecake. This pan was designed with Instant Pot cooking in mind, it has a handle for lowering into and lifting out of the pot. The only problem I have found with this pan is that it is too easy to make cheesecake. It’s very tempting to have cheesecake every week. LOL
Stainless Steel Cheesecake Pan

YOGURT MAKER CUPS
My Instant Pot doesn’t have the Yogurt function (sad face) so this yogurt maker cup set is on my wishlist for now. When it’s time to give my pot an Instant Pot sister, it will be the yogurt-making 10-in-1 model.
Yogurt Maker Cups

 

If you loved this list, be sure to check out my Favorite Kitchen Tools list. I’ve done the research so you don’t have to!

 

 

 

 

 

Affiliate Disclosure: Recommendations I share on my website may contain affiliate links. If you click through my referral link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I use myself and would share with friends and family. Your purchases from these companies through my links helps me continue to bring you free information on my site.

 

 

Gift Ideas For Dad

Fathers deserve to be showered with love every bit as much as we shower our Moms. Sadly, when it comes to the official day for Dad celebrating, Father’s Day, most of the time we’re low on ideas, having used all our creativity for Moms on their official day the month before. So, Dad usually gets a funny card and maybe a new tie. Dads are troopers.

I’m here to support you and Dads everywhere. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite gifts for Dads (and any and all of the unofficially titled dad-like people in our lives). These products all meet The Ingredient Guru guidelines and are products I either own, use regularly, and/or gift on a regular basis to others. Give him a gift that he’ll really love and shower him with the hugs and appreciation that all Dads deserve.

 

HOT SAUCE
Give Dad some heat with hot sauce made from spicy, flavorful real-food ingredients. One bottle won’t be enough, Dad really needs an ultimate hot sauce sampler pack. Start with two of my favorites, Brother Bru’s Original African Hot Pepper Sauce, Very Hot and Sky Valley by Organicville Sriracha Sauce (finally a siracha sauce without potassium sorbate and sodium bisulfite)
Shop Hot Pepper and Sriracha Sauce

 

BBQ TOOLS
If Dad is the master of the grill, he should have a top-notch set of grilling tools. This is the ultimate of grillmaster tool sets, made from heavy-duty food-grade stainless steel, strong, sturdy and dishwasher-safe – just what Dad needs to up his barbecue game this summer.
Shop BBQ Tools

 

CHEF’S KNIFE
Every Dad who knows his way around a kitchen deserves a really good chef’s knife. I love my Wüsthof.  With an 8” blade and perfectly balanced, this is my absolute favorite and I use it all the time.
Shop Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

 

HEALTHY SUNBLOCK
Is Dad an outdoor enthusiast? I love that. Everyone needs sunshine, but sunburn and overexposure to those UV-A and UV-B rays? Not so much. Get Dad the BEST sunscreen (imho)  3rd Rock Essentials Sunblock. Invented by my good friend, Dr. Guerry Grune, an outdoor enthusiast and research chemist, who wanted something better than the garbage ingredients found in the conventional sunscreens he used to have to put on his skin. Made from 100% food grade edible ingredients, no GMO’s, no parabens, no hormone disruptors, this is the best stuff ever.
Shop 3rd Rock Essentials Sunblock

 

SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
Who doesn’t love seafood? Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics is a wonderful, nourishing gift for Dad. When giving seafood it’s important to get sustainably fished, wild caught for the best quality. My friend Randy Hartnell knows fish. Before he started Vital Choice, he spent more than 20 years fishing wild, pristine Alaskan waters for salmon, herring, and other regional species. He’s an expert, AND he’s generous – he is offering a free gift just for Father’s Day! Use the code DADGRD18 with your order and Vital Choice will tuck in their popular Organic Salmon Marinade. That’s an added $10 bonus for Dad, and you, to enjoy.
Shop Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics

 

BECAUSE…  BACON
Did you know that bacon is the healthiest food.? Because it’s been cured.
Eggs and Bacon walk into a bar…… and the bartender says, “Get out – we don’t serve breakfast here.”
I don’t know who became more famous, Sir Francis Bacon or his son Chris P. Bacon
Obligatory Dad jokes over….  
Socks. A regular pair of socks might fall into that ho-hum category of Dad gifting, like a tie. Luckily, these are no ordinary socks, these are bacon socks. Bacon makes anything cool, even socks. Imagine if they also smelled like bacon… that would revolutionize the sock world!
Shop Bacon Socks

 

LEATHERMAN MULTI TOOL
For a Dad who does everything why not get him the tool that does darn near everything? Collapsible, portable, extremely useful. It’s named The Wingman for good reason. Because every Dad needs a knife, pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, wire stripper, scissors, package opener, bottle and can opener, file, ruler, ready for anything and more tool.
Shop Leatherman Wingman Multitool

 

OLIVE OIL JARS AND OLIVE OILS
I fell for these gorgeous olive oil jars as soon as I saw them. Handmade by Doni Langlois, talented artist and owner of Artful Life Clay, each and every unique bottle is practical, functional, and beautiful to look at. Not something you’ll find in your local shop. If you don’t see the bottles on her webstore, she’ll help you out if you send her an email inquiry, Doni@ArtfulLifeClay.com

If you’re going to gift Dad an olive oil jar, he’ll appreciate it even more if he has delicious olive oil to fill it with. Sandy Oaks Olive Oil Orchard, 50 acres of olive trees nestled in on a 200-acre homestead south of San Antonio, makes olive oil with love and a Texas accent. Sandy’s Olive Oil is made from Arbequina olives, soft, meadowy and sweet, and Picual olives, brisk and robust, producing a blend with complex buttery flavor. The Orchard also sells olive trees if you really want to help keep Dad’s bottle full.
Shop Olive Oil Jars and Olive Oils

 

SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL UTENSILS
Is Dad always on the go? If so, he needs the right equipment for eating on the go. Eco-friendly To-Go Ware is made from lightweight, strong bamboo, so perfect for toting around. The carrying case is made from recycled plastic (to help keep plastic bottles out of landfills) and has a handy carabiner on the back so Dad can just clip and carry a fork, knife, spoon and chopsticks wherever he may roam. Perfect for Dad’s busy lifestyle and our precious planet. It’s unique combination of ecology, innovation & compassion.
Shop To-Go Ware

 

MINDFULNESS MATTERS
Dad’s need mindfulness too. Life is busy. Meditation can restore balance to the mind, to relationships, to the workplace, and to health. In just minutes a day. Packed with dozens of ways to incorporate mindfulness, great essays, inspiration pages, and worksheets, Beyond Meditation: Making Mindfulness Accessible for Everyone is an easy-to-read, easy-to-implement resource for all, even Dads.
Shop Beyond Meditation: Making Mindfulness Accessible for Everyone

 

Although we officially recognize the greatness of Dads on Father’s Day, remember that dad’s day is really every day. Show your appreciation, tell your dads you love them, and celebrate Father’s Day all the days of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through my referral link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I use myself and would share with friends and family. Your support of these companies through my links helps me bring you free information on this site.

 

 

Gift Ideas For Mom

Mother’s Day is always special. Of course, I believe that’s because moms are special. They nurture us, feed us, and encourage us to grow into better people. They kiss boo-boos, drive away under-the-bed monsters, and generally help to make everything alright with the world.

It’s always been strange to me that we choose only one day to celebrate. That’s mostly because I think moms, well parents actually, should be celebrated every day. But we have this habit of celebrating all the moms, aunts, grandmas, heart-moms, and mom-like people in our lives in May. And they definitely deserve a little pampering.

Here’s a list of my top twelve great gifts for moms. These products all meet The Ingredient Guru guidelines and are products I either own, use regularly, and/or gift on a regular basis to others. (Hint, you will want to buy some for yourself. They’re just that good.) 

 

HERBAL TEAS and a CUTE TEAPOT
I love making my own tea blends. For delicious high-quality herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs is my number one go-to. If mom prefers a pre-blended option, they have a tasty selection of those to choose from also. And if you’re going to give mom some tea why not a beautiful teapot to go along with it? Hayneedle has a truly lovely and eclectic assortment of teapots.
Shop Mountain Rose Herbs & Hayneedle

GLASS STRAWS
Plastic is so passé. It’s chock-full of unhealthy ingredients, like BPA, and it’s really environmentally unfriendly. Re-usable glass straws are here to save the day!  Glass straws made of borosilicate are non-porous, hypoallergenic, shatter-resistant, break-resistant, and usable in cold and hot temperatures. Borosilicate? That’s Pyrex to you, me, and your grandmother’s casserole bowl. I have a set of four straws, which came with a teeny brush to keep them nice and clean. I also keep one straw with me in a travel pouch, so I have it with me when I visit my favorite green juice bar.
Shop Hummingbird Glass Straws & Organic Cotton Travel Pouch

COCONUT OIL CREATIONS
I am so in love with this stuff. It’s a really delicious and convenient way to get coconut oil, along with anti-inflammatory, immune boosting spices into your daily diet. I spoon it into tea, herbal beverages, and oatmeal. I have to keep fighting off my husband who puts it in his coffee. The flavors are deep and scrumptious, created with loads of organic spices. My current favorite flavor? Chai. Next week it may be Mocha. Really, all the flavors are so good. Mom probably needs one of each, so she can taste-test her way to finding her favorite.
Shop Coconut Oil Creations

GLASSTIC
Glasstic bottles are my favorite way to take my water along with me, everywhere. It’s a glass bottle surrounded by a tough BPA-free plastic shell. My water stays delicious, I don’t have to worry about breaking the bottle AND I help keep the earth free of throw-away plastic bottles! Great for hot or cold beverages, and there are a seemingly endless number of designs to choose from.
Shop Glasstic

MYGREENFILLS
Let’s face it when you’re a mom laundry is a way of life. You can make things easier for mom by gifting her with the last laundry bottle she will ever use. MyGreenFills’ refill program delivers eco-friendly, toxic-ingredient-free laundry wash right to mom’s front door. The refills are in powder form, so you don’t pay extra shipping for the weight of a liquid filled bottle. How smart is that? Plus, this company has an amazing mission statement and social cause. Absolutely worth standing on a soapbox and supporting.
Shop MyGreenFills

GAIAM
I really appreciate Gaiam’s (pronounced “GUY-um”) company message. They believe in nurturing, protecting and respecting the Earth and everyone and everything that exists on the planet. For now and for our future generations. They also make some of my yoga and fitness products. They have such a broad range of products good for gifts – comfy clothing, balance balls, colorful yoga mats, foam rollers, videos, even pet massagers – there’s definitely something here for every mom.
Shop Gaiam

DARK CHOCOLATE
Chocolate is a delicacy. The Mayans believed chocolate possessed healing abilities. In 1753, Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus named the cacao tree: Theobroma cacao (food of the gods).  Today, dark chocolate is considered a Super Food. Loaded with nutrients and high in antioxidants, dark chocolate is good for your heart and your brain, just for starters. Also, it’s delicious. Choose minimally-processed, dark chocolate with at least 70% pure cacao, free of emulsifying agents.  Thrive Market has an incredible selection of delicious, clean, healthful dark chocolate for every palate – from fun and flavorful to dark and dreamy. Delicious.
Shop Dark Chocolate

INSTANT POT
Because I absolutely LOVE mine. I received my Instant Pot as a gift last year. As soon as I tried it I immediately added it to my Favorite Kitchen Tools List and added Instant Pot variations to my Fast, Fun Freezer Meals recipe collection. Every kitchen should have one. Every mom should have one. Check out my Pinterest Board’s ever-growing collection of Instant Pot recipes. You can practically taste the deliciousness.
Shop Instant Pot

HIMALAYAN SALT LAMP
Looking to give mom a calm refuge in the hurry and stress of everyday life? Consider a salt lamp. Not only pretty to look at, the soft, gentle glow of a salt lamp adds negative ions to the air and lends a peaceful tranquility to the room. I have several and love their welcoming glow when I return home after a long day. A salt lamp is perfect for every room of the house. Mom’s probably going to want more than one.
Shop Himalayan Salt Lamp

REAL PLANS MEAL PLANS
This online meal planner is a plan with superpowers. If mom loves to cook but struggles with menu planning (and really, who doesn’t?) this is the gift that keeps on giving. It makes menu planning a snap no matter what your dietary plan. Just remember to take her out once in a while too.
Shop Real Plans Meal Plans

SKIN FOODIE
Oh my gosh this is the Best. Stuff. Ever. I met Skin Foodie’s creator, Amy, at a conference and have been a huge raving fan of her healthy skin products ever since. Everything is food for your skin – made with ingredients from nature, and love. Ditch those over-the-counter products full of toxins! And Skin Foodie knows moms – they even have a Mom Fixes Everything Balm!
Shop Skin Foodie

TOTEM
TOTEM has fabulous gemstone jewelry – the prettiest mala necklaces, chakra bracelets, and so much more. TOTEM Sacred Jewelry and Smudge Bar designs pieces with good vibes and lots of love. It’s the place to get mom something really special.
Shop TOTEM

BONUS
I couldn’t resist making this list a baker’s dozen, so here’s one final gift idea: a copy of Gratitude: A Mindful Pause. This journal is the perfect little gift for mom to write down her everyday experiences and the many things she’s grateful for (including you!) Paired with some beautiful pens or pencils and it’s a gift that will keep on giving.
Shop Gratitude: A Mindful Pause

 

Although we’re officially celebrating now, remember that mom’s day is really every day. Show your appreciation, tell your moms you love them, and celebrate Mother’s Day every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through my referral link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I use myself and would share with friends and family. Your support of these companies through my links helps me bring you free information on this site.

 

 

Favorite Kitchen Tools

Good kitchen tools can help make cooking easy, delicious and fun. I’ve put together a list of a few of my favorites, the ones I find myself reaching for over and over again. Some are new discoveries and some are my dependable old friends.

 

CHEF’S KNIFE
Everyone needs a good chef’s knife. With an 8” blade and perfectly balanced, this is my favorite and I use it all the time. When I was displaced by Hurricane Harvey for a few months the one thing I missed the most was my knife.
Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

FLEX EDGE BEATER
I love my mixer and all of the attachments that come with it. Especially this scraper mixer blade This is an amazing mixer because it makes short work of beating, mixing, and blending. I even use it to mix my meatloaf.
KitchenAid Flex Edge Beater

IMMERSION BLENDER
This is the handiest dandiest tool in my kitchen. Perfect for making mayonnaise, blending soups and sauces, making applesauce, I also use it for making a bulletproof style boosted tea.
All-Clad Stainless Steel Immersion Blender

CUISINART
My mother bought me one years ago and I remember thinking “What the heck am I going to do with it?” Now I don’t know how I’d live without it. I use it to chop everything, including making chopped salads in the summer.
Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor

JULIENNE BLADE
Perfect for making julienned vegetables and especially for ‘zoodling’ zucchini, butternut squash. I’ve even used it to julienne apples for a shredded apple dessert.
OXO Good Grips Julienne Peeler

ECO-FRIENDLY FOOD STORAGE
I’m a big supporter of the movement to reduce plastic, especially one-time use plastic. I do my best to use eco-friendly products. In my kitchen, I’ve moved away from plastic wrap to Bee’s Wrap for food storage. Made of organic cotton, naturally antibacterial sustainably harvested beeswax, and organic jojoba oil that help keep food fresh. Each cloth is washable, reusable and compostable. Even their product packaging is sustainable, made from 100% recycled paper and biodegradable cellulose.
Bee’s Wrap 3-Piece Sustainable Reusable Food Storage

VITAMIX
I Iove my Vitamix. It was an investment for sure, but there’s good reason that foodies, home chefs and restaurant kitchens around the world are loyal to Vitamix. Mine gets used almost every day. Sure, it’s perfect for making smoothies, but it’s also great for blending NiceCream (“ice cream” made from frozen banana), homemade almond milk, coconut whipped cream, soup, and more.
Vitamix 7500

INSTANT POT
I’ve had my Instant Pot for less than a year now, and I really can’t remember what I did without it! It is my absolute favorite tool in the kitchen. Pressure cooking made easy-as-pie (hmmm… pie. I haven’t tried making a pie in my pot yet…)  The ease alone would be enough but Instant Pot takes it even further – a slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, warmer and sauté pot, and that’s just the 6-in-1 model.  The 7-in-1  also makes yogurt, and the 9-in-1  cooks eggs, sterilizes, makes yogurt AND cake. All this multi-tasking, no hogging my kitchen counter space – it’s a keeper. So I’ve given my Instant Pot it’s very own drawer, to store all its handy accessories.  I have so many favorites I’ve made a favorites list for Instant Pot Tools too. You can read that list here.
Instant Pot

LE CREUSET PAN
I adore my Le Creuset pan. It’s cast iron and enameled. From eggs for breakfast to sautéing veggies for dinner, this pan practically lives on my stovetop because we use it so much.
Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle Skillet, 9-Inch

MANDOLIN SLICER
Fabulous for slicing things at any time of year it’s great for salads, frying, canning, and makes quick work of different cuts for a wide variety of foods
Mueller Austria V-Pro 5 Blade Adjustable Mandolin

SHAMELESS PLUG
If you’re giving gifts for the kitchen this holiday season why not share a copy of my book The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food? This is a fabulous resource to help you learn more about your food, so you can make healthy choices. Available in Kindle or paperback, it’s an essential guide for anyone who eats, in other words, it’s an essential guide for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Affiliate Disclosure: Recommendations I share on my website may contain affiliate links. If you click through my referral link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I use myself and would share with friends and family. Your purchases from these companies through my links helps me continue to bring you free information on my site.

 

 

Glucerna – Is It A Healthy Choice?

Meal supplement beverages, such as glucerna, are frequently promoted by doctors for a variety of reasons.  In some cases it may be due to concerns about the amount of protein a patient needs, or if they are a “picky eater” and not getting enough nutrients.  An increasing number of these products are aimed at diabetics, purporting to help them control blood sugar levels.  Sadly these products come with a massive ingredient list and are not as healthy as the manufacturer would have you believe.

What’s in the can?

Glucerna - ingredient breakdown

I’ve chosen Glucerna because it’s one of the more popular products aimed at people with diabetes.  It claims to “Help Minimize Blood Sugar Spikes”, has 190 calories, and provides 10 grams of protein.  Just because something has a lot of protein does not mean that it’s helpful for managing blood sugar.  You need to read the label to see what’s really in that can.

INGREDIENTS:  Water, Corn Maltodextrin, Milk Protein Concentrate,       Fructose, Glycerol, Short-Chain Fructooligosaccharides, Cocoa Powder       (Processed with Alkali), Soy Protein Isolate, High Oleic Safflower Oil.            Less than 2% of the Following: Canola Oil, Soy Oil, Cellulose Gel, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Phosphate, Salt, Choline Chloride,  Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate,      Cellulose Gum, Potassium Phosphate, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Liquid Sucralose, Potassium Hydroxide, Magnesium Chloride, Carrageenan, Turmeric Concentrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Manganese Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, FD&C Red #3, Cupric Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Chromium Chloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Sodium Molybdate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Phylloquinone, Cyanocobalamin, and Vitamin D3.

That’s  quite a mouthful.  Literally.  So now let’s break down that long list  so you can really understand what you’re getting.

Glucerna ingredients

Sugars

This product delivers 6 grams of sugar per serving.  That’s a lot of  sugar in my book, especially for a beverage that’s supposed to balance blood sugar.   The very first thing that stands out for me on the ingredient list is that the first ingredient is water, meaning that most of this product is water.  

When we go through the list of ingredients we see that it has several different sources of sugar and sweeteners.  To have all of this in a product clearly aimed at people trying to better manage their blood sugar levels does not make sense.

  • Corn Maltodextrin: The corn is most likely genetically modified meaning that this has GMOs in it.  I do not advocate consuming GMOs and recommend avoiding them as much as possible.
  • Fructose: This is probably from either sugar cane, sugar beets or corn.  While I don’t know which one it is I will point out that the sugar beets and corn are most likely to be from GMO sources.  Excess consumption of fructose has also been shown to have a negative impact on the liver.  
  • Glycerol: This is a sugar alcohol which can be synthesized or made from either plant (soy, i.e., GMO soy) or animal (tallow) sources
  • Sucralose: An artificial sweetener which can cause a host of negative health issues including migraines, dizziness, digestive disturbances, and allergic type reactions.
  • Acesulfame Potassium: Another form of artificial sweetener.  Unfortunately studies appear to show that consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners may be linked to weight gain.

Other negative ingredients

  • Artificial flavor:  Made from “proprietary chemical formulations” the actual ingredients are not required to be listed on the label as long as they are considered GRAS.  However, many artificial flavor formulations have been shown to cause nausea, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, chest pain and more.
  • FD&C Red #3: Made from petrochemicals, this artificial dye can have a very negative impact on brain chemistry.  Studies have positively linked inattentive type behaviors, anxiety, and aggression with consumption of artificial food colors.
  • GMO ingredients:  In addition to the probable GMOs found in the sugars listed above, this product also has Soy Protein Isolate, Canola Oil, Soy Oil, and Soy Lecithin.  Soy and canola are two of the most highly genetically modified crops currently out there and should be avoided.
  • Milk Protein Concentrate: Sometimes listed as MPC, this highly processed ultra-filtered product is highly likely to come from cows that have been treated with artificial hormones and antibiotics.  These artificial hormones have been linked to overall immune system issues, metabolic syndrome, and even diabetes.  Overconsumption of antibiotics through animal products have been linked with antibiotic resistant diseases.
  • Carrageenan: is made from red seaweed and is often highly problematic for those who have digestive issues.

Many of the other additives are most probably synthesized versions of the vitamins that they represent, not the forms found in nature which are more readily absorbed by the system.

Overall this is not a product that I would suggest for anyone.  There are too many negative ingredients and I do not believe it’s a product that delivers any sort of health benefit.

Update  

When I posted this on my Facebook page it generated a number of comments asking what would be a good alternative.  If you’re looking for a protein drink there are powders that have a reasonable protein content, far less sugar, and few to no dubious ingredients.   I encourage you to read the label and understand what’s in the can before you make a choice.  The object is to choose one that has no negative ingredients.

An even better choice than a beverage would be the addition of real foods that are nutritionally dense and provide balanced protein without junky ingredients.  One of my favorites is soaked raw nuts or grass fed bison jerky.  My friend and colleague Trudy Scott is a huge fan of tinned sardines.  There are plenty of other options out there if you read the label.

 

Oven Dried Tomatoes

oven dried tomatoes

Sam writes and asks, “We have a bunch of beefsteak tomatoes that my sister wants dried. We have a gas oven but no dehydrator. What is the best way to do this?

You can dry or dehydrate foods in the oven and tomatoes do very well when preserved this way.  The first thing to do is figure out if you want your oven dried tomatoes in slices or in sections (i.e., slicing into quarters or eighths).

Start by washing the fruit well and discarding any that is over-ripe or bruised.  An easy way to wash it is to put the tomatoes in the sink, fill it with water and add approximately 1/2 cup of vinegar plus the juice of 1/2 lemon per gallon.

Drain the fruit well and core it before slicing.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F.

Prep your “drying tray” by placing cooling racks (fine mesh ones work best but the others will still work) on top of cookie sheets.  This will allow maximum air circulation around the tomatoes and help them to dry faster.  In case you’re interested this is also how I cook bacon in order to avoid bacon grease splatter all over the stovetop [20 minutes at 325].

Slice your tomatoes.  Note: If you are going to dry your tomatoes in sections you’ll need to pierce the skin in a few places to make sure all of the moisture can get out during the drying process.

I find that when dehydrating tomatoes it goes faster and works better if I remove most of the seeds and the pulp.  That’s a personal choice though, some people like the seeds in it.  If you’re removing the seeds this is the time to do so.

After the tomatoes have been sliced and de-seeded gently toss them with a little bit of olive oil and then arrange on the cooling racks.  Lightly sprinkle with sea salt or minced herbs if desired.  Then bake.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. How long to cook them for.  Well, that depends.  On how thickly they are cut, on how juicy they are, on the ambient humidity, and how dry you want them.  If you’re looking for serious long term storage it will probably take at least 8 hours.  You want the tomatoes to be very reduced in size, with curled up edges and almost leathery looking.  They need to still be a bit flexible, you don’t want to dehydrate them until they are brittle.

In order to use your oven dried tomatoes you’ll need to rehydrate them for about 20-30 minutes in liquid. You can use either warm water, broth, wine, or even olive oil.  These amazing veggie treasures can be used in soups, chopped for salad topping, added to meatloaf, used to create an intense flavor in sauces, the variety of uses is only limited by your palate and your imagination.

photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis

flavored apples - ugh!

Bubblegum Flavored Apples Anyone?

Consumer question:

We came across these apples at Stop & Shop here in town. We could not believe our eyes when we saw flavored apples!! I told my husband to take a pic to send to you because I wasn’t sure you would believe me when I tell you that they had bubblegum flavored apples. I believe there were four flavors total to choose from. 

I’m curious what your thoughts are. I walked away all kinds of confused. Was this an attempt to help kids with poor eating habits cross over the healthy eating or the other way around? How exactly did they alter this apple to make it flavored? And of course the obvious…yet another example of FAKE food.

Oh and as you can see it was placed right next to the apples and the packaging says ready to eat snack.  What’s so difficult about preparing an apple for eating?  hmmm you wash it?!?!”

The Answer

Good eye, and good thinking.  This is very similar to something I just saw in my local grocery store called grapples.  Research indicates that the flavoring comes from “natural” (read possible MSG ingredients) and artificial flavoring. It seems that the apples are marinated for several days in an undoubtedly chemical concoction which allows the apple to soak up the flavor.  This process has apparently been approved by the FDA.

The Grapple company website assures the consumer that the product has not been genetically modified and there are no added sugars or calories.  Unfortunately there is a huge chemical load, not just from the flavorings, but one assumes these are not organic apples and therefore potentially high in pesticide residue.

The Crazy Apple company website says they can’t tell you how they do it but I assume it’s the same sort of process.  They do however assure you that their apples are gluten free (duh!), dairy free (again, duh!), and contain no soy or nuts.

I believe this is seen as a way to market apples to kids but I’m not really sure why this sort of adulteration is seen as a positive.  Since apples by themselves are sweet, crunchy, and tasty I’m not sure what the appeal is here.  Unfortunately I see this as a big step backwards as items like these further dull the taste buds to what food should taste like.

Update:  It turns out these apples are being spotted all over the place and most of you are not happy about it.  My friend Adrienne suggests, “If you want a grape flavored apple take a slice of apple and some grapes.  Eat them together.  It’s a party in your mouth!”  Good advice.

Pink Slime Clarified

ground beef | photo: Rainer Zenz

One reader contacted me asking, “What cafeteria food is made with this pink slime stuff?  I’ve never heard about this and [my son] is now eating in the cafeteria at public school.  He took his lunch every day for four years but not this year.  I was just worried about the nutritional value of what he was eating but now, this is creepy.”

The quick answer to your question is any hamburger product is potentially made with pink slime.  The industry term is actually “lean finely textured beef.”  It is a meat-product made from scraps and trimmings, heated, de-fatted, and treated with ammonium hydroxide.

Current federal regulations say it does not need to be listed as an ingredient and reports suggest that it can be the basis for as much as 50-70 percent of “hamburger” meat.  Although many fast food restaurants are backing away from it in response to consumer disgust, the industry still wants to sell it because it is cheap and profitable.  The USDA has just approved it for school lunches.

News reports indicate that in response to growing outrage by consumers, schools will be allowed to opt out of receiving this product.  Not, however, until next Fall and not until after currently signed contracts have been fulfilled.  I assume there will be schools which will claim they didn’t hear from enough families so they signed contracts and it will continue to be available in the school food for some time to come.

There is a petition being sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (started by Houston resident Bettina Elias Siegel who runs the blog The Lunch Tray) urging a ban of pink slime in schools.  Although I no longer have children in the public school system I am furious that my tax dollars are being spent to feed garbage to children and I have signed.

Current research shows that this product is also in grocery stores.  However, once again, because it is not required to be labeled you may not know.  As of today, March 20, 2012, the most recent list I have been able to find indicates the following:

Pink Slime NOT In Grocery Store:

Costco, Whole Foods, HEB, Ingles, and Publix

Pink Slime ALLOWED In Grocery Store:

Safeway, Stop&Shop, Kroger, Giant, Frys (I’m going to assume this includes Randalls since they are owned by Safeway)

Stores Not Responding About Pink Slime:

Walmart, Food Mart, Fred Meyer  (I’m going to assume this includes Sam’s Club since they are owned by Walmart)

If your store is on the list for allowing or not responding the ONLY way to avoid purchasing this product is to purchase organic ground beef as it is, to the best of my knowledge, fillers are not allowed under the rules of organic production.

Eating More

I recently got asked the question, “How do I eat more fruit and veggies, I don’t think I’m eating enough?”  That’s a good question.  And one that’s faced by a lot of people.  Especially parents who are trying to encourage their children to eat a healthier diet.

One of the best ways I have found to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables is to have them on hand and convenient.  This means they are not in your fridge just rotting in the bottom of your crisper drawer.  I frequently encourage people to cut them up, prepare and make containers.  Set them out on the shelf in your fridge and it’s a grab-and-go snack.  They can either be sorted by type of food or you can make “snack packs” with an assortment.  Either way if you’re in the mood to munch and you open the fridge door to see a convient snack right there you may find yourself eating more healthy choices.

Another way is to add veggies to other foods.  You would not believe what gets added to my homemade spaghetti sauce.  Add shredded veggies to a lasagna.  Double the veggies in your omelette or frittata.  What about soups?  Loaded with pureed veggies, especially if it’s a creamy style soup base is an easy way to boost your veggie intake without trying very hard.  The trick is to make sure that you put in things that will not overwhelm your soup.  Sharper tasting foods such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc) or onions may not appeal to some.  Mucilaginous textured foods such as okra may not appeal to others.  Experiment and be mindful of what you are adding in.

Choose seasonal fruits and vegetables.  I can’t stress this enough.  A tomato in season and from a farmer’s market (if possible) tastes like the most delicious, amazing thing.  A tomato in the middle of winter with a waxy coating tastes like cardboard.  When foods are in season, and hopefully local, they are picked close to ripeness.  Otherwise they may be picked early, stored, and then force ripened with ethylene gas.  This forced ripening does not allow the flavor to come through, it just makes it look ripe.  If you’re eating unappealing, non-tasty fruits and vegetables it does not encourage you to want to eat more.  As a side benefit, you really appreciate things when you can only have them in season.

Make different choices when you eat out.  There are tasty ways to add more veggies to your diet when you are eating out which allow you to still enjoy your dining experience but avoid getting bogged down by the simple carbs and other unhealthy choices.

Skip the juice and eat the fruit.  Did you know that it takes an average of 4 oranges to make 8 ounces of orange juice?  That’s a lot of sugar and those extra calories add up pretty quickly.  It would be pretty difficult to eat four oranges in one sitting.  However each orange you eat comes with a significant amount of fiber which helps to slow down the glycemic effect.  The same is true for other juices.  Switch your juice to water (add a few slices of fruit for flavor if you like) and eat the fruit instead.

Keep a food journal.  An 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper folded into quarters gives you 8 spots to write down what you eat each day.  If you’re looking to increase things like water consumption (always a good idea) and fruits and veggies set a goal for yourself and then keep track of it.  By looking back over the week you’ll be able to see if you’re meeting your goal and where you can make changes to increase your consumption a little at a time.

Small changes add up over time.  By making one or two adjustments you may soon find yourself eating more healthy fruits and veggies.

Sprouted Flours

sprouted spelt and chia bread | photo:  wattle12

I recently received a question from Hope who wanted to know about sprouted flours (specifically spelt) and how to use them.

Sprouted flours are a very healthy way to go.  Sprouting essentially deactivates some of the enzymes that can interfere with nutrient absorption.  The grains are sprouted, dried at very low heat, and then ground into flour.  If you do not own a mill (I like both the Blendtec and WonderMill) you can purchase sprouted flours from a number of different sources.

Sprouted flours can be easily interchanged with traditional flours one for one.  There is a difference between the fiber content so if you are switching it for all-purpose flour you’ll need to make some adjustments to the moisture content as well as to how long it may take to rise.

Regarding her question about spelt specifically, it is a grain similar to wheat but lower in gluten content.  Some people who do not digest wheat well find spelt to be an acceptable alternative.  For those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, spelt still needs to be avoided as it does contain gluten.

To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company has some delicious looking recipes on their website which specifically call for sprouted flours.