Category Archives: reviews

Hormel’s Vital Cuisine — Ingredient Review

Food niches

Food producers like to target niche markets where they believe they can capitalize on the desire of the consumer in that group to eat according to their needs.  Categories may include diet or weight loss products, items aimed at athletes, or those who follow a particular dietary protocol such as Atkins, South Beach, Gluten Free, etc.  

The latest target niche is cancer.  Hormel Foods, in partnership with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium, has developed a line of Ready To Eat (RTE) foods aimed at those undergoing cancer treatment.  Often people in this situation experience a wide range of issues when it comes to their food.  These can include lack of appetite or a change in tastes and eating sensations.  Coupled with a lack of energy, plus the physiological changes of treatment this often leads many people undergoing cancer treatment to be undernourished.  They frequently do better with nutrient dense, higher protein meals.

What’s in the box?

Unfortunately the choices developed by Hormel Foods do not represent the best options for nutrition as many of the ingredients are less than desirable.  Some are even known to cause cancer.  This is a rather upsetting thought when one considers that the item is aimed at those going through treatment for cancer who are presumably have a weaker immune system.  Below is a slideshow highlighting examples from the Vital Cuisine line.


I find it astounding and rather appalling that a company would put ingredients known to cause cancer into a food product designed for those going through this very condition.  

What to eat?

As mentioned above, the best food choices for those who are undergoing treatment for cancer are real, nourishing, nutrient dense foods. I always encourage people to read the label.  When dealing with a health-care crisis this becomes even more important.  While it may be overwhelming to learn how to understand the body’s nutritional needs when dealing with cancer, there are resources out there.  A couple of my favorite books are:

Screenshot 2016-05-09 18.35.54

The Cancer Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery by Rebecca Katz




Screenshot 2016-05-09 18.52.18 The Whole Food Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors: A Nutritional Approach for Preventing Recurrance by Edward Bauman and Helayne Waldman




The idea of niche marketing for specific health conditions is quite probably a new category of foods.  Who knows, we may find ourselves seeing foods designed to support those with arthritis, gout, or ulcerative colitis on the shelf next. As always it is important to look past the hype and the labeling.  Be informed, read the label, and eat well.

Zurvita Zeal – A Review

Screenshot 2016-01-10 16.29.47 Screenshot 2016-01-10 16.31.34

As The Ingredient Guru I often get asked to “take a look” at a variety of products.  Especially if they have good buzzwords  on the label.

Recently I was given a bottle of Zeal by Zurvita*.  The person who gave it to me wanted my opinion; she was very excited about the product, and takes it every day, in part because of the label statements.   “Gluten free”, “vegan”, “natural ingredients”, “complete nutrition”,  “no artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives”, and “an excellent source of fiber”.

It’s important to note that products like these often do not have gluten.  That’s because gluten is found in wheat, barley, and other glutenous grain products.  The gluten free statement is merely a marketing ploy to capitalize on the desire of a growing number of people to eat gluten free.

After a review of the ingredients I will not be trying this product.  Here’s why:

Caffeine: The label does not disclose how much caffeine is in a serving but it contains several sources.  Guarana seed powder and yerba mate.  The product also has green tea extract however the website says, “Green tea used in Zeal is standardized at 50% EGCG content and is considered decaffeinated because when it is processed to contain a high level of antioxidants (EGCG), the amount of naturally occurring caffeine is reduced” the guarana and yerba mate most likely do provide caffeine.

Crystalline fructose: This is essentially dehydrated high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  HFCS is 55% fructose by volume while crystalline fructose is 90% fructose by volume.  Excessive fructose consumption is bad for the liver.

Natural flavors: As we’ve discussed before, the term natural doesn’t really mean much and “natural” flavors might not be everything they’re cracked up to be.

A Screenshot 2016-01-10 17.01.08personal frustration with this product is how it is labeled.  The ingredients are extremely small red/orange print on a brown background.  This makes it very difficult to read, a choice that I have to believe is deliberate on the part of the manufacturer.  I find it deceptive when manufacturers label with this type of print or grey print on a dark background.  Anytime the label is not clear and easy to read I have to wonder what they are hiding.

While there are a number of apparently clean ingredients in this product, it is not without negative ingredients as discussed above.  The use of buzzwords on the label is something called front of package labeling and is often used by companies to distract consumers from looking further into the ingredients.  Keep this in mind when reading the label and looking at new-to-you products.  Just because the label says it’s a good choice doesn’t always mean that it’s something you want to consume.



Ed note:  Zurvita is a network marketing, or MLM, company.  This article is does not address the “business” of Zurvita and is not meant to be construed as for or against these types of opportunities.  It is simply a discussion of this one product that the company produces.

Greensbury Market – A Review

Greensbury Mkt

I write and talk frequently about eating cleanly, well-sourced foods.  From pesticide-free, non-gmo produce to pastured eggs, grass-fed dairy, and more.  For a number of people it’s not always that easy to source clean meats.  Grocery stores don’t always carry what you want, it may be organic but it’s not grass-fed, or it’s grass-finished not fully grass-fed, or it’s not pastured.  There may not be easy access to a local farmer who is raising sustainable animal products.  For whatever reason there are times when your only way to source what you want is to purchase it online.

I’ve recently discovered a new source for clean meats, all sourced from providers who follow sustainable practices, Greensbury Market.  I was fortunate enough to be able to try some of their organic, sustainably raised beef.   I had holiday houseguests and decided to have a tasting party for them, serving the steak and hamburgers from Greensbury Market.    While we had delicious vegetables, a lovely fermented cabbage and cucumber dish, and a salad, the focus of the meal, of course, was on the meat. I asked my guests for honest feedback and here’s what they shared:

“I’m not a big meat eater, but I would definitely eat this again.”

“This is really tender meat.”

“Delicious!  Great burger.”

“This tastes better than the steak we usually eat.”

I agree, I found it to be very tender and quite delicious.  I also liked that the meat was very lean.  A quality best found in pastured beef since the cows are not fattened up by feeding them food they can’t digest well.

Usually I try to avoid “work talk” at the dinner table but this time I was able to share with my guests why it’s so important to choose clean meats.  Grass-fed beef in particular has less saturated fat, more omega-3 (yes you can get it from beef, not just from fish), and a higher level of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that is beneficial for avoiding cancer (those with higher CLA appear to have less incidence of breast, colorectal, and stomach cancers), reducing cardiovascular risk, blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides.

According to Greensbury Market they source all their meats from small farmers who are environmentally proactive, practice sustainable agriculture, and are focused on animal welfare.  Additionally, their meat comes from animals that are not given synthetic hormones or antibiotics.

They offer beef, chicken, pork, and seafood, all sustainably sourced.  Having tasted it I can say that their beef is delicious.  I am a fan of their stated agricultural focus, especially that the animals are humanely raised.   If you’re looking for a good source for clean, humanely raised, pastured, grass-fed meats, I’d encourage you to check out Greensbury Market.





Goats Milk Soap

four french hens soap

Recently I went to a health and wellness event at a retreat center in Montgomery, TX, Three Goats Farm.  Melissa Humphries, the owner of Three Goats Farm is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner and in the process of building her retreat center is connecting with holistic wellness providers of all kinds.  It was a great event and I can’t wait to see what else she offers out at the farm.

One of the people I met there was a lovely woman named Traci who runs Four French Hens, a skin care company.  She makes fabulous soap from goats milk (from the lovely goat-girls at Three Goats Farm), beeswax candles, bath products and more.  We had a wonderful conversation.

I was given a couple of bars of soap as a gift, to try them.  The scent is clean and, I know this sounds odd, delicious, even the unscented version.  I’m really enjoying using this soap.  Made from fabulous clean ingredients and naturally homogenized, it lathers well and is very moisturizing.  With just a few simple ingredients — Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Sodium Lardate, Goats Milk, Lye, Essential Oils. Honey Oatmeal: Also contains Raw Honey, Oats — the allergen possibilities are lower and the chemical burden is very low.

As my long time readers know, I advocate eating clean and avoiding as many chemicals as possible in our food.  However I am also a big proponent of clean personal care products.  Our skin is our largest body organ, what we put on it gets into our system.  Making sure you have chemical free personal care products is an important part of health.  Enjoying a hand made, locally sourced product, in my opinion, is even better.  For those who don’t want to make their own soap (or don’t have access to such fabulous ingredients) this is a really good option.

Sunscreen That’s Uv-a Protective

Screenshot 2014-03-23 20.17.58After the long dreary days of winter it seems that the sunshine is finally returning.      Or maybe you live in an area where you have a high number of sunny days   throughout the year.  Which ever situation fits your environment you probably wear sunscreen.  But are you wearing the right one?

We’ve all been told that we should be wearing sunscreen.  With more than one million Americans per year having some form of skin cancer, we’re conditioned to think about using it regularly.  Many people seek out the highest Sun Protection Factor, SPF, that they can find.   And their examination of sunscreen stops there.  But it turns out there’s more to it than that.  One of the most important things to be aware of is what’s in your sunscreen.  Unfortunately many brands contain substances that are known to be harmful.  Ingredients such as endocrine disruptors, toxic preservatives, highly allergenic ingredients, and more.  These are things that we don’t want in our food so why would we want them in our sunscreen.  Especially when we stop to consider that the skin is the largest body organ and that it absorbs whatever we put on it.

As the author of The Pantry Principle I am passionate about helping people understand what’s really in their food.  That it’s not just what you eat, it’s what’s in what you eat.  The next logical step is to consider what we put on our body.  At this time of year sunscreen is certainly a big player in the personal care product department.

I was amazed, therefore, when I had the opportunity to test a sample of a new sunblock that is…get this…food grade edible.*  It turns out that it’s also the only FDA approved sunblock currently on the market that protects again UV-B and UV-A.  UV-B is what causes sunburn.  UV-A is what causes aging, wrinkles, suppression of the immune system, and can, potentially, lead to cancer.  So even though you’re using sunscreen, if you’re not using one which is effective against UV-A you could still get cancer and suffer other negative effects.

Developed by a Ph.D. research chemist with a crazy passion for safe ingredients this sunblock is unlike any other on the market.  Highly water resistant, no endocrine disruptors, no fillers or other garbage, it’s also high in antioxidants and provides optimal pH for skin protection.  The absence of endocrine disruptors is huge; we are so surrounded by them in our environment (think BPA in receipt paper, cans, and more) that any lessening of this toxin in the environment is a good thing.  According to a study published in the Journal of the Society of Toxicology there is a distinct difference between 3rd Rock Sunblock and mainstream competitors when it comes to endocrine disruptors.

Screenshot 2014-03-23 20.56.43

And it’s food grade edible.  In my book that’s pretty amazing given all of the chemical adulterants used in many products currently on the market.  Not that I’m going to eat it mind you, but I’m glad that it’s such a clean product.

I’ve been using it for a while now and find that it takes just a tiny bit to provide coverage.  Honestly the bottle seems generously sized when you realize how little of the product you actually need for coverage.  It seems to go on smoothly and so far I have not had any issues with uneven coverage even though in the beginning I thought I wasn’t using enough.  The website claims it’s a one time application and you’re done for the day; so far I have not reapplied at all, even on those days when I am outdoors more, and have not noticed a problem.

Overall I think this a great product and am excited to see sunblock of this quality and ingredient safety available to everyone.

*full disclosure:  I did receive a free sample of this product to try however I was not paid for my opinion and was under no obligation to give a positive review of this product.

Fresh – A Review

by ana sofia joanes

Almost every day we are learning more and more about our food. Sadly much of the time the news is not good. Headlines blare about contamination of packaged foods, the bad health effects of artificial colors or artificial sweeteners are highlighted. The media loves to play up the bad news.

Luckily for us there is a small but growing movement pushing for change regarding our food. Fresh is the latest in this genre of movies providing us with a look at what organic, sustainable agriculture can to do help promote a better impact on the environment and on our health.

Fresh is a documentary film that highlights food activists all around the country and their efforts to make a positive change. Featured in the movie are people like David Ball, who owns a chain of grocery stores in Kansas and Missouri; working with area farmers to bring local produce to the consumer. Or Will Allen, an environmental activist who is working hard to highlight the need for urban agriculture to bring good, clean, healthy food to those in the poorest neighborhoods who frequently don’t have access to them.

Providing a look at the differences between conventional agriculture and the growing movement toward sustainability this movie represents an important look at all of the different ways that a positive change, a change for health, can be made.

Watch the trailer and then check out the link below to find a screening near you.

The movie is being distributed grassroots style through small artfilm and community sponsored screenings. To find a screening near you visit the website.

I originally wrote this for a private client. They are no longer publishing their newsletter and I am now able to share this review with you.


Supersize Me – A Review

Supersize Me
Directed and Produced
  by Morgan Spurlock
Samuel Goldwyn Films,
  Roadside Attractions

Although this film came out in 2004 the information in it is still relevant today. The basic premise of this documentary film is what would happen if you only ate at McDonald’s for one month.

Director Morgan Spurlock did exactly that. At the beginning of the film his personal trainer shows that he is in above average shape as compared to the majority of the American public. Some of the rules for Spurlock’s McDiet were that he must eat three full meals a day from McDonald’s, he could only eat food that came from McDonald’s, and that he could only supersize his meal if that option was offered to him (if it was not offered he was not allowed to make that choice on his own).

Within the first week Spurlock gained nearly 10 pounds and began to suffer health consequences. As you watch the documentary, and Spurlock’s decline, you are shown how nutritionally deficient fast food is for your body. The more processed the food the less it meets your body’s needs. The film is interspersed with some very sobering facts. One of the most eye-opening is that McDonald’s calls people who eat a lot of their food heavy users. People eating even more? They are the super heavy users. Heavy, of course, has a double connotation here and the sad choice of the word user speaks to how addictive and unhealthy this stuff really is.

At the end of the film Spurlock is in seriously bad health. It took Spurlock more than a year to lose the weight that he gained in 30 days and to return to a healthy state.

While the film is extreme in that he only ate at McDonald’s and did it continuously for 30 days, it clearly highlights not only how non-nutritious this food is but how well entrenched it is in our culture. Most children can recognize McDonald’s distinctive golden arches before they are able to talk complete sentences.

McDonald’s did remove their supersize option shortly after the movie came out. They also added salads and more grilled options. They claim that these changes had nothing to do with the movie. Whether it did or not the fact remains that this is still an unhealthy meal option that should be avoided. McDonald’s themselves states, any processing our foods undergo makes them more dangerous than unprocessed foods.”

 Watch the movie, avoid the food.

I originally wrote this for a private client. They are no longer publishing their newsletter and I am now able to share this review with you.


On My Mind Monday 08.27.12

news | photo: mconnors

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  This is a collection of what I find interesting in food, nutrition, and holistic health.  It’s what’s on my mind.

Re-homing chickens – Most people are not aware of the fact that chickens do not lay eggs their entire life.  Just for a few years; and  yet they can live to be as much as 15 years old.  So what happens to them when they are no longer “productive?”  In the case of a commercial egg operation they’re usually slaughtered.  But now an organization is finding new homes for chickens who are no longer laying eggs.  A very cool concept and definitely part of the ethical cycle of respect for the animal.

The undervalued superfood – I love the concept of superfoods, and there are many, which do not need to come from other continents.  There are so many wonderful, health-supporting foods all around us.  In this case the newest “super” food to get attention?  Beans.  High in fiber and protein, stabilizing for blood sugar, fabulous for intestinal health, these are just a few of the wonderful reasons to eat beans.

Consumers are bad at math – We are bad at shopping math and  marketers use this to their advantage.  While it’s harder to do this kind of math ‘on the fly’ when you’re shopping and in a hurry to get home with your purchases, I’ve realized it’s something I need to focus on more in order to make sure I am getting the best deals I can for my family.  My important addendum?  Make sure you are not hungry when you are shopping, that’s just going to make things worse.

Ten Year Old Convinces Corporation To Give Up Styrofoam – This is one of those stories that I love.  We are surrounded more and more by kid-advocates who are taking the lead in changing the world around them and changing it for the better.  Birke Baehr, a future farmer, spreading the word about sustainable agriculture, and Julia Bluhm, who convinced a major magazine to start using un-photoshopped pictures in their pages are among just a few of the young heros making a difference.  I think they are wonderful and amazing.

For today’s video we have a great one from my friend Julie Matthews – Making Veggie Latkes, a wonderful way to get more veggies into a picky eater.  This recipe also deals with issues for those whose bodies don’t handle starches well.

Julie also has a great cooking program available on her website.  If you’re looking to make changes to your diet, either because of Autism or because of a need to follows GAPS, SCD, Feingold, Body Ecology or other dietary protocols, this is the program for you.

What I’m Reading:

Drop Dead Healthy: One Mans Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs.  One man’s mission to learn how his body works, to lose weight, lower his cholesterol, and attempt to turn himself into the ultimately healthy person.  Mr. Jacobs took two years to learn everything he could about his body.  The book is a rather self-depreciating, humorous, fact-filled look at all the things we don’t know which impact our health.   Breaking the quest into 27 smaller tasks he focuses one-at-a-time on various parts of his body such as The Stomach, The Heart, The Ears, The Butt, etc.

Given his day job as the editor at large for Esquire magazine he had access to an astounding array of experts for support and information.  Each chapter has one or more experts that he consulted to learn the latest information about the science and theories behind what it takes to find health for that body part.

He didn’t limit himself to mainstream medicine and modern theory.  He was on a mission to try it all and to learn everything he could.  Along the way he submitted himself to various activities such as a Caveman Workout (running barefoot and bare chested through Central Park), a pole dancing class, neurofeedback, and joining a laughter club.  He also shared his thoughts and reflections on how he feels physically and/or emotionally after trying many of these, being mindfully aware of how his focus is affecting him.

Scattered throughout the book are checkups where he lists his weight, and a few other variable facts (such as how many pushups he can do).  The appendices at the end of the book is filled with tips, the highlights of what he learned during the year-long experiment.  It’s a quick and easy read, yet filled with fascinating facts and some good ideas about how to become healthier.

Killer At Large – A Review

Killer At Large 
Directed by Steven Greenstreet
ShineBox Media Productions

There is an epidemic in our country. A disease overtaking the population which is forecast to increase dramatically over the next decade. That disease? Diabetes. According to a November 2010 UnitedHealth report, by 2020 more than 50% of all Americans may be affected by diabetes. This disease could wind up costing our health care system over $3 trillion dollars. And that is simply the monetary cost. The cost to those suffering from this disease is much greater.

Diabetes is a progressive disease that can result in an overwhelming range of complications from fatigue, weakness and weight gain to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and more. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, and foot ulcers which often require amputation. Most often diabetes is tied hand-in-hand with obesity. As the rates of obesity in this country soar so do the rates of diabetes and other weight-related illnesses.

Sadly not enough is being done to educate people, especially our youth, about their health. It is a sobering thought that the current generation of youth most likely have a life expectancy that is shorter than that of their parents. It is disturbing to realize that we are surrounded by drugs and surgical procedures but not nutritional education, physical fitness and better food choices. We are assaulted by a host of negative nutritional choices, our physical activity levels have decreased dramatically, and rates for obesity continue to rise.

Killer At Large is a documentary film that looks at this issue. Filmed in 2008 the filmmakers interviewed many public figures including Former President Clinton, Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (who call obesity “the terror from within”), and best selling author Michael Pollan. Hearing the statistics, seeing the images, this film starkly highlights the overwhelming reality of this epidemic. It is truly disturbing to watch a 12 year old girl receiving liposuction because she believes it is the only way for her to control her weight. This is a tragedy. This epidemic is a crisis.

Watching this film will hopefully encourage people to make changes. To recognize that we make over 200 food choices every day, most of which are unconscious. This film highlights the toxic food environment that we live in and how it affects our society. This awareness is, I believe, the first step toward making healthier life choices which are critical for avoiding obesity and related diseases.

Watch the trailer below and then consider organizing a screening in your community to get started on making a change.

I originally wrote this for a private client. They are no longer publishing their newsletter and I am now able to share this review with you.


Two Angry Moms – A Review

Two Angry Moms
A-Ray Productions
Director: Amy Kafala

Do you know what your child eats at school for lunch every day? Are you sure? Maybe you are one of those moms who packs a healthy lunch for your kids. Perhaps you allow your child to occasionally get a snack or a special lunch from the cafeteria. Can you be sure that they are making the right choices? Are they trading for other food items with friends? Are they bringing their own money? Are they using the money you may give them for things that you don’t approve of?

Schools claim to want to promote “healthy eating” and “good choices.” Sadly all of that goes out the window when the Food Service Company walks in the door. Concerned with only one thing, profitability, they twist the message of healthy eating and then say it is the parents job to teach their kids to make good choices. How can they make good choices, even when taught to do so at home, if they are surrounded by bad ones?

Often the school cafeteria is full of fried foods, artificial colors, preservatives, sugary treats, flavored milks and low nutrition, often non-fresh food. School parties with candy, vending machines in the hallway, ice cream machines in the cafeteria, these all add to the lure of bad choices.

Two Angry Moms is a documentary about what happened when two women, both passionate about the heath of their kids and others, got together and attempted to change the system. Amy Kafala, a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and Dr. Susan Rubin, Founder of Better School Food, created a grass-roots movement. Going across the country raising important questions about school food and it’s impact on education, fitness, as a contributing factor to disease, and as part of forming lifelong health habits. According to their press release there are over 4.3 billion (stop and think about that number for a minute) school lunches served every year.  The two reached out to luminaries such as Chef Alice Waters, Creator of the Edible Schoolyard program, and Chef Tony Geraci, now the Director of Food and Nutrition in Baltimore, among others to highlight what is wrong with the current cafeteria setup and to show how we can all make a difference.  They share the message that it is possible to successfully get real food into the cafeteria and into our kids. Advocating to make a change and help others spread the word they are reaching out across the country.

As stated on their website,, “Texas Agricultural secretary Susan Combs said that it’s going to take 2 million angry moms to change the school lunch program. Please join us!” Want to learn more? Check out the following organizations, watch the movie trailer, take the School Junk Food Test (you’ll be surprised by what you learn).  Then become an Angry Mom (or Dad).

I originally wrote this for a private client. They are no longer publishing their newsletter and I am now able to share this review with you.