From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Archive for the ‘grocery shopping’ Category

The Truth About Whole Grains

In grocery shopping, Nutrition Basics on June 9, 2011 at 9:26 AM

I receive many inquiries regarding all the “whole grain” claims out there.  Are all whole grains good for you?  100% whole grain products are certainly known for a variety of health benefits—reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, as well as keeping our plumbing humming along.  But packaging can be very deceiving—phrases such as “made with whole grains”, “wheat”, “12-grain” or “multi-grain” don’t necessarily mean the product is a good source of whole grain.  A so-called “12-grain bread” may contain a little wheat, a little rye, a little corn, a little millet, a little spelt, a little oat, etc… but if all these grains are refined ones, what good does that do?  Look for whole grains to be the first ingredient, and watch out for whole grain junk foods, such as snacks, cookies, and even children’s cereals, that toss in just a pinch of whole grain and then brag about it on front of the package. Better yet, look for products that say “100% whole grain” (can be a single grain or multiple grains) to be sure you are getting the true whole grain benefit.  Also, pay attention to the ingredient listing.  Many so-called “high fiber” breads are not necessarily made from natural whole grains, but rather, include added fibers in the form of inulin, amylopectin, and other forms of “resistant starch”.  These added fibers do not count as whole grain.

Have you seen the new Whole Grain Stamp popping up on a variety of different food packages lately?  This stamp was developed by The Whole Grain Council, a consumer advocacy group dedicated to helping consumers identify whole grain foods.  With current healthy eating guidelines recommending we all consume at least 3 servings of whole grains each day, this is a useful little piece of information, provided you know what to do with it.  A food containing a  full serving worth of whole grains will contain 16 or more grams of whole grain, as identified on the stamp.  To get our three servings, this means we must shoot for at least 48 grams of whole grain per day.  It is smart to seek out foods with a stamp revealing the presence of at least 16 grams of whole grain.  (A food item containing 8 grams is considered a half serving.)  Using the stamp for comparing granola bars, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, frozen entrees, side dishes, pizza, snacks, and baked goods makes sense, but be aware that a cookie containing whole grains is still a junk food loaded with sugar, fat, and calories.  For example, the virtuous sounding Kashi TLC cookies bear a Whole Grain Stamp reporting 12 grams of whole grain per cookie (almost a full serving), but also contain 130 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 8 grams of sugar.  One cookie is all you get if you are watching your waistline.  Thinking you can eat two, three, or four of these cookies at one time, in the effort to get all your whole grain servings in one fell swoop, is simply ridiculous.  Plus, if you examine the ingredient list, you see a whole bunch of added, isolated fibers in the mix.  Granted, these “Tasty Little Cookies” are a BETTER choice than those made with all refined flours, but they are most certainly not a health food.

By reading the ingredient list for the presence of whole, natural grains as well as searching for stamps reflecting 16 grams or more of whole grain is the ideal way to learn which food products are better than others.  Food manufacturers claim all kinds of things in the effort to increase sales, but an informed consumer, such as yourself, can not be fooled!

Any other questions?  Feel free to ask!


Fruit selection, ripening, and storage tips

In grocery shopping on April 13, 2010 at 10:35 PM

Ahhh…summer fruit season is almost here.  The thought of biting into a perfectly sweet, juicy peach stirs my senses.  On the flip side, the idea of  biting into one that is all dry and “mealy” sends chills up my spine.  YUCK!  No thank you.  After years of disappointment and aggravation in the summer produce department, I have finally figured out how to select and properly ripen peaches to my tastebuds’ satisfaction.  I am going to share my secrets with you regarding the most effective way to land a “perfect peach” as well as suggestions that will decrease your chances of biting into an over or under-ripe piece of fruit ever again!  Being a successful shopper in the produce department will increase the likelihood that you will meet the healthy eating recommendation of  3-4 servings of fruit each day.  Here’s to your health:

Apricots:  pick uniform golden-orange plump apricots, or ones with a slight red “blush” to them.  Avoid ones that are too soft, pale, or greenish-yellow.   Ripen  at room temperature in a closed paper bag until the flesh yields to gentle pressure, but not mushy.  Then you can store them in the fridge for up to one week.

Berries:  choose plump berries with vibrant color.  Check entire package for evidence of moldy or spoiled fruit.  Raspberries and strawberries should be eaten within 2-3 days—store them in fridge in the original container they were sold in (allows for moisture to escape to prevent mold).  Do not wash until ready to serve.  Blueberries can be stored in original container for up to 10 days—so eat the other berries you buy first.

Cantaloupe/Honeydew Melon:  choose melons with a strong aroma—yes, it is smart to put them up to your sniffer right in the store.  The blossom end should yield to gentle pressure (opposite the indented end where the stem used to be…)  Store melon at room temperature until ripe—again the stronger the smell and more yielding the blossom end, the riper it will be.  (A ripe cantaloupe has a yellowish cast to its rind, NOT green. ) Thereafter, you can store it up to 3 days whole in the fridge, or in a covered container for up to 2 days, cut.

Cherries:  look for very dark color with smooth, glossy skins and stems attached.  It is best to buy cherries when you can select them one-by-one, rather than getting a pre-packaged container… Store in fridge in a closed plastic bag or container for up to 5 days.  Don’t wash until ready to serve.  Cherries will absorb odors from leeks, onions, and peppers, so it is best to store fruits and vegetables in separate bins.

Guava: look for soft green fruit with a fragrant aroma.  Store at room temperature until ripe.  Then you can store in the fridge for 3-4 days.  There is no need to peel—the edible rind is a rich source of Vitamin C!

Mango:  Full, somewhat firm fruit with a strong aroma.   Store at room temperature, in a paper bag, until ripe. The most common mangoes will turn from green to yellow/red as they ripen, along with softening to the point of yielding to gentle pressure.  Champagne mangoes are smaller and are ripe when uniformly yellow.  After ripening, you can store whole mangoes in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Papaya: look for firm fruit with unblemished skin.  Ripen at room temperature—rind color will turn from green to yellow-orange during this time.  You can then store a whole papaya in the fridge for up to one week, but only 2-3 days if cut.

Peaches/Nectarines: look for richly colored yellow/orange fruit, with minimal amounts of dark red.  It should be fairly firm (but not hard) or a little soft.  Ripen at room temperature in a closed paper bag, making sure you check on them every day as they can ripen quickly.  They will get softer and more fragrant as they ripen—take a whiff in the bag and press them lightly with your fingers.  Once ripe, you can store them in the fridge, in a single layer, for up to a week.  NOTHING beats an icy cold juicy peach on a hot summer’s day 😉  Peaches get juicer, not sweeter, as they ripen.

Plums: choose fairly firm to slightly soft, plump fruit—avoid plums that are too hard or too soft.  Ripen in a closed paper bag at room temperature and then in fridge for up to 3-5 days.

Watermelon:  you want whole melons that are symmetrical and the underbelly should be creamy, not yellowish; pre-cut melon should have a deep red color that is free from white streaks.  These melons will not ripen further at home so you can store them at room temperature if you eat them up in 1-2 days, or store in fridge for up to a week if whole, or in a covered container for 2-3 days if cut.

A final note:  only buy as much fruit  as you expect to eat over the upcoming week.  Unlike the longer-lasting winter fruit options such as apples, oranges, and grapefruit, summer fruits will spoil more quickly, even under refridgeration.   If you or your family desire a large variety of fruit, buy only a few of each type to prevent waste.  An even more conservative approach would be to buy only the fruits that look “best” on any given day, and avoid the rest until you find those that are going to be worth your while in terms of taste, texture, and enjoyment.


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