“Healthy” foods that aren’t so healthy

healthy foods that aren't healthyThere are countless products that are promoted as “healthy” but could really be holding you back from your health goals. I want to share a few examples with you and offer suggestions to swap for better options.

Activia has a great marketing strategy: their advertisements and packaging talk about probiotics, how good they are for you, and that Activia is full of them. Their clever advertising has led consumers to think that only certain brands of yogurt contain probiotics when in reality all yogurt has probiotics in it. The cultures are what make yogurt yogurt!

With that knowledge, the down side to flavored yogurt (not just Activia) is that they are full of added sugar. To be clear: the naturally occurring sugar in milk is called lactose. I’m taking about there non-naturally occurring sugar that is ADDED to the yogurt. When you look at the ingredient list which is listed in order of most to least weight you’ll find that sugar is often the SECOND ingredient behind milk, not fruit. The amount of sugar in yogurt in many flavors yogurt brands is pretty close to the amount you’d consume in a can of pop as we call soda in the Midwest. You don’t do yourself any favors by buying light/lite yogurt since artificial sweeteners ironically promote fat storage, not fat loss.

Alternative: Have you tried plain Greek yogurt? It’s the better option but has a bit of a sour taste to it. Some might suggest adding fresh fruit to it but to me it still tastes like a scoop of sour cream with a strawberry on top. Add frozen fruit instead. Throw some cinnamon & nuts in there for good measure. As the fruit thaws there juices ooze out so when you stir your yogurt at lunch time you’ve got strawberry flavored yogurt with strawberries in it.

Nut butter
Check the ingredient list because the term “natural” has no definition tied to it. Processed nut butters have added sugar and added cheaply made oils.

Alternative: Look for two ingredients –> nuts and salt. A little trick you can try: after you get your arm workout stirring your nut butter after opening the first time, store it upside down in your pantry. No need to refrigerate. This way you won’t have to stir it every time you open after that initial stir.

Costco has this beautiful, delicious salad mix that comes with a blend of kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a poppyseed dressing. What starts out as a nutrition powerhouse is brought down by dressing loaded with, again, cheap oil and sugar. You’ll find the same in store-bought dressing, even the kind that say “made with olive oil.” If you look at the ingredient list, olive oil is often AFTER the cheap oil like canola. A company can say a product is made with olive oil to sound healthier but there could be a teaspoon of it in the entire bottle and technically they could still say it’s made with olive oil.

Alternative: make your own. Don’t be intimidated; a mixture of balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil takes seconds to pour. Use a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil and store in a used dressing bottle or buy one of those dressing shakers with a pour spout.

Protein cereal/granola bars/drinks
Companies found a way to sell products by adding protein to it making it “healthier.” Three products that comes to mind are Kashi Go Lean Protein cereal, Nature Valley protein granola bars, and Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus drinks. More often than not, products that promote a high protein content are soy-based.

bolthouse protein plus ingredients

If you look at the ingredients of Bolthouse Protein Plus drinks you will likely find the starting line up of ingredients: low-fat milk, sugar, another kind of sugar, and a blend of whey & soy protein. They put a big sticker on the front bragging about the 30g of protein in a 15oz bottle but they forgot the bigger sticker that should say “AND 60 grams of sugar.” That’s almost a 1/3 cup of sugar.

If you are familiar with the balanced eating concept I refer to often you know that both cereal and milk both count as carbs in my book. With Kashi cereal, you get 6-9 grams per serving (3/4 cup) but that’s not enough protein for a meal (our protein needs vary but this is still too low for most adults) and you get 38g of carbs which is typically more than I’d recommend at a meal. Plus, who really only pours a 3/4 cup serving of cereal? Overall; you go under on protein and over on carbs for a meal. Instead of pouring milk over this and eating it as a cereal you could sprinkle 1/2 cup over plain Greek yogurt and add a handful of nuts for a more well-balanced PFC meal. That’s an option but I’m still a big advocate for getting your carbs from naturally nutrient-dense veggies which I assume you wouldn’t top on your bowl of yogurt… another reason why I’m such a fan of eggs for breakfast 😉

Alternative: Eggs, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt made as suggested above. These are all great, budget-friendly protein options to add to breakfast. If you claim you don’t have time to make eggs for breakfast, make egg muffins to keep in the freezer so you can pop one it two in the microwave before you run out the door. Simply crack an egg, cheese, and add chopped veggies to a muffin tin (or these silicone liners for super easy clean up) and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Think of cereal as a side dish if you choose to have it and prioritize colorful veggies for your carb choice most of the time.

Don’t feel like you need to do a complete overhaul and start making everything from scratch. You’ll get overwhelmed and feel defeated you can’t keep up. Instead, pick one change you want to make this week. When that becomes a habit and you don’t even think about doing it anymore, add another swap. No need for overkill and refuse dressing at a party because it’s the processed store-bought kind. It’s the majority of what you do, not the minority, that will lead to a LIFESTYLE of healthy choices.

What other swaps have you made?

If you would like help making swaps and upgrading your pantry while respecting your grocery budget I’m just a message away. Contact me budgetforhealth@gmail.com with the subject line “healthy food swaps” and we can chat.

How I get free shipping with Amazon’s Subscribe and Save

No endorsement by Amazon for this post, I’m just sharing an awesome tip if you want free shipping on products.

Amazon Subscribe and Save
Have you heard of Amazon’s Subscribe and Save option? All you need to do is sign up to get an item shipped on a reoccurring basis. There is no commitment so you can cancel anytime. The best part? FREE shipping! No need to worry about spending $50 to get free shipping anymore! You won’t get charged until the shipment is sent so you can change the delivery frequency whenever you want or however many times you want. When I first ordered peanut butter (one unit includes three 26-ounce jars of Teddie’s, our favorite!) I signed up to get one unit delivered every two months. After we plowed through the first order in under a month, I switched the delivery frequency to once a month (Yes, that is a ton of peanut butter for two people to consume…we shamelessly admit our peanut butter addiction). As an added bonus, you get 5% off your order every time just for subscribing!


How to save 15% on your order
If you subscribe to 5 or more items, you get 15% off the entire order when they get delivered together. For example, if you subscribe to 5 items that you want delivered monthly then you’ll get 15% off the total order every month. If you have 3 items that are ordered monthly and two items ordered every three months then every three months you’d get 15% off your total order because all five items will be shipped together. Make sense? If you don’t have all 5 items shipped in the same month you’ll still get 5% off just because it’s a subscribed item.

What can I subscribe to?
So many things! Your options range from diapers, groceries, household supplies, makeup, skin care, vitamins, beverages, pet supplies, automotive supplies… If you aren’t sure how fast you go through toothpaste then you can start by setting up your toothpaste shipment to come every 6 months and then adjust it more frequently once you figure out how often you’d need it shipped. I suggest making a list of foods or items you buy on a regular basis and then see if it’s available for Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. Then check out the price to see if it’s a better deal than what you normally pay.

Things on my list include walnuts, laundry detergent, peanut butter, tuna, bread, butter, Teeccino tea, and toilet paper. After checking Amazon’s prices I ruled some items out. For example, I get bread at the Aunt Millie’s outlet store nearby for less than a dollar per loaf so I wouldn’t need to bother with bread on Amazon. I didn’t see any brand of tuna that was cheaper than Chicken of the Sea I buy at Costco so I scratched that one off the list as well. Consider this though- you might pay a little extra with Amazon’s prices but it could pay off since you’re saving time by not driving to a store or spending money on the gas to get you there.

Check unit prices first
Before you jump on board and sign up for everything you need, I recommend comparing unit prices to get the best deals. Often Amazon does the math for you and will even tell you the unit price after the 5% or 15% discount. I’ve found that sometimes their prices aren’t as good as what I can find at my local store so I don’t bother subscribing.

Don’t be a cheater
To be dishonest, you could subscribe to a product, get it shipped once, and then cancel your subscription. I’m sure people do this to avoid the annual fee for using Amazon Prime. Please don’t abuse the system; it kind of baffles me that they allow you to cancel at any time but that’s how it is!

Do you use Amazon’s Subscribe and Save? What items do you subscribe to?

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Hey folks! I got to contribute an article that was featured on BadCredit.org today. I blended my expertise in nutrition with budgeting to show how easy eating healthy on a budget can be. I’ve included a little snippet below. Be sure to visit BadCredit.org to read the rest!

I graduated from college with $30,000 in student loans. I got married two weeks after graduation but had one more year to survive before I’d see any form of income.

My husband had a fifth year of school to finish, and I had to complete an internship program before I could become a registered dietitian.

Needless to say, life as broke college students continued after college. We read Dave Ramsey’s book “Total Money Makeover” and learned how to set up a budget.

We tracked every penny, which meant we paid a LOT of attention to food prices. Since I had a background in nutrition I knew which foods could get us the best bang for our buck, both nutritionally and financially.

If you’re looking for healthy food that won’t break the budget, I’ll share my top three favorites to help you get started.

1. Peanut butter…

Head over to BadCredit.org to read the rest of my article!

Make Your Own Peanut Butter

20130318-094813.jpgFun fact about me: My favorite food is peanut butter. Oddly enough, it’s one of Dave’s top favorites as well. Needless to say, we go through a lot of PB in our home.
Have you realized that there’s more than just peanuts in store bought peanut butter? To use an example, here is the ingredient list for Jif Creamy Peanut Butter.


If you’re thinking about buying reduced fat peanut butter, PUT IT BACK NOW. All that does is remove good fat and replace it with carbs & more processed stuff.


While there are better choices of store-bought peanut butter than others, you’d be amazed at how easy it is to make your own peanut butter!

20130318-094820.jpgHomemade Peanut Butter
Ingredients: Peanuts.

How about that for simple?

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
2. If you purchased nuts with the skin still on, rub the peanuts together in your hands over a salad bowl and let the skins fall in the bowl. Once the skin has been loosened, put the lid on the spinner and spin until all of the skin is separated from the nuts.
3. Spread out nuts in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through cooking.4. Allow peanuts to cool slightly before putting them in the food processor.
5. Process peanuts for about 1 minute, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and repeat as necessary until you get the consistency desired.

Side notes:
*It will initially look like you’re just making chopped nuts. Be patient and allow the oils to come out during the processing and you’ll eventually see the mixture become buttery.
*Apparently Spanish peanuts are the best to use for making peanut butter because they have a higher oil content.
*Check the peanuts frequently! Each oven distributes heat differently. Mine ended up being done after about 20 minutes and the nuts left in the back corner of the oven ended up a little burnt. I did NOT add the burnt nuts to the food processor.

What’s your favorite way to use peanut butter?

Nutrition Claims: Learning the Language of the Label

Nutrition claims on food labels can be confusing and will trick you into believing an item is healthy when it’s really not. What’s the difference between light, reduced fat and low fat? Is there even a difference? If you walk down any aisle in the grocery store, I doubt you will find a food item that does not have some kind of nutrition claim on it. To name a few…

In order to decipher the language of the labels, you need a legend. The following is the legal criteria a food must have in order to post the nutrition claim on the packaging:

Fat Free: < 0.5g fat per serving.
Low Fat: < or equal to 3g fat per servings.
Lean: < 10g fat per serving.
Extra Lean: < 5g fat per serving
Reduced Fat: at least 50% less fat than the highest fat version, and a 3 gram (or more) reduction in fat content.
Less Fat: at least 25% less fat than the food to which it is being compared.
Light: ⅓ less calories and no more than ½ the fat of the higher calorie, higher fat version.

Now you’re educated on what these claims mean, but will knowing help you make healthier choices? Here’s what I recommend when interpreting these claims:

Choose nutrient dense foods
If you think that 100-calorie pack of “Oreos” will fill you up, you’re fooling yourself. That bag of potato chips may say “light” and has less calories than the original bag of potato chips, but what will fill you up and give you more nutrients: 100 calories worth of potato chips, or a 100-calorie medium orange that will provide fiber, vitamin C, and all natural ingredients (make that ONE natural ingredient). Remember the potato chips that were low fat because they were made with the food additive Olestra? Sure it removed unwanted fat from foods but also negated the body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins. Side effects included cramps, gas, loose stools, and even anal leakage. Whaaat? That’s awkward just to say. No low-fat potato chip is worth anal leakage.

Watch your portions
Many of the Girl Scout Cookies are considered trans fat free if you eat one serving. One serving is often two cookies. If you have the self control to only eat girl scout cookies then that probably means you just didn’t like them. Read the serving size and don’t be fooled by the silly “only 1g of fat per serving” otherwise known as “only 1g of fat for every 5 of the 50 chips you just demolished.”

Read the ingredient list
One of the frequent examples I use to explain this argument is with peanut butter. Reduced fat takes out good fat (of course) and it adds artificial carbs, leaving you with nearly the same amount of calories and a more fake product with a longer list of ingredients.

I hope I’ve made this message clear if you’ve followed my posts for any length of time- there is no magic health food. Many foods have many good things about them so we should strive for variety and watch our portions. ‘Nuff said.

How much influence do nutrition claims on food packaging have on you?

How Much Protein Do You Need?

This is a guest post from my co-worker (another Registered Dietitian!) He’s pretty savvy when it comes to nutrition and fitness, so listen up!

So, you’re tired of being a girly man? (Sorry ladies, I promise there will be plenty of good information in here for you too. I just had to make sure I had the guy’s attention.) You picked up this month’s latest copy of your favorite muscle magazine. Your pantry looks more like a mini billboard for every hot new supplement on the market rather than a place where actual, real, nutritious food might reside. You even joined your local gym and started pumping some serious iron.  At this point, you’re ready to start watching those muscles grow faster than the national debt!

Now I’m not here to bash on supplements. In fact scientific research has even proven some supplements to be beneficial for muscle growth and recovery. I personally use protein to help assist in my recovery from weight training. I think that protein is one of the most beneficial nutrients for exercise success and it’s what I’d like to focus on today.

First, I want to break down some myths about how much protein we actually need each day. I’ve overheard many muscleheads in the gym trying to give advice to beginners, telling them they need at least 2 to 3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to build the muscles they want. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your body will just not need that much protein. The excess protein that it doesn’t use will either get converted for energy or stored as fat.

So how much protein do you need? The average active adult will only need about 0.8-1 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. For endurance and weight training athletes about 1.2-1.7 grams/kg of body weight. The highest level being about 2grams/kg of body weight. Or, to make it simple, a maximum of about 1gram per pound of body weight per day.

Timing of protein consumption is also very important when resistance training. Research has shown benefits of consuming a carbohydrate and protein combination just before and after exercise. About 10-20 grams of high quality protein before and after exercise should be sufficient for most individuals. Quantity will vary depending on body weight, sex and personal goals. Here are some sample ideas for pre and post-workout snacks.

They pack about 7 g of protein, about half of that if you consume just the white. Put an egg prepared low fat on a whole-wheat English muffin with a slice of cheese and enjoy a great pre or post-workout snack.

Greek Yogurt
Averages about 16-18 g of protein per 6oz serving. Combine with fruit of your choice.

Peanut Butter and Jelly or fresh sliced fruit
Provides the carbohydrate and protein needed after a hard workout.

Protein Shake
Probably the most convenient pre or post-workout snack. Find a good quality protein powder that averages anywhere from 10-20 g per serving and mix it with a low sugar beverage of your choice.

Although adequate protein is crucial for exercise success, it’s important not to forget to consume a diet well balanced in carbohydrate, fat and protein. Adequate fluid intake is also highly important throughout the day, before, during and after exercise. For further information you can consult a registered dietitian to calculate your specific nutrient needs.

What are your favorite pre- and post-workout foods?

Quick, healthy ideas for breakfast on the go

Fact: breakfast skippers tend to consume more calories per day than non-skippers. Breakfast offers a great opportunity to get a head start on our fruit and fiber intake and prevents overeating later on in the day.  Below you’ll find a few ideas for breakfast on the go so you don’t miss out on the most important meal of the day!

The night before:
– Fill a mini Ziploc bag with some homemade trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, even dark chocolate chips)
– Hard boil a half dozen eggs
– Throw some full fat Greek yogurt, frozen or fresh fruit, and a couple ice cubes in a blender (or even easier, a Magic Bullet) so you’ve got the preparation done and you can just push the blend button and run out the door once it’s blended or carry it around with you while you’re getting ready in the morning.
– Soak steel cut oats over night (1 part oats to 2 parts water). Microwave them for 2 minutes when you wake up and add some nuts & a few dark chocolate chips (my healthy version of Cocoa Wheats!)
– Scoop a ½ cup of quick oats into a Tupperware bowl or glass container with a lid. Add a few toasted nuts, cinnamon, & raisins. Add water & microwave it (~2 minutes) when you get to work.

As much as we’d love to plan ahead, some nights we just forget to prepare what we need for the upcoming day and you might find yourself utilizing one of these options:

Kind of in a hurry but I can eat something quickly:
– Banana & peanut butter, and a hardboiled egg
– Take a Ziploc bag of homemade granola or non-sugary cereal with you to munch on
– Leftovers (who said breakfast has to be “breakfast” food?)
– Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with cut up fruit
– Crack an egg in a coffee mug, microwave for 30-second intervals until cooked and top it with some salsa

No time to eat now, I’ve gotta go!
– A piece of fruit & a handful of almonds, walnuts, or string cheese
– Greek yogurt and a handful of nuts
– A granola bar. Larabar has great options made with real food or you can make your own.
– String cheese and dried fruit

What are your quick, healthy ideas for breakfast on the go?