Getting the ‘Super’ from your market

Some of us live off frozen pizzas, TV-dinners, and Ramen noodles and seem just fine. Others, with far more discriminating tastes, swear by the all-natural labels and certified-organic packaging.  Meanwhile, many more don’t know who to trust or what to think, and what’s even scarier is that most don’t think and just follow the trends.

So what’s the truth? What’s the deal? Or, more importantly: what is the reality behind products sold as whole and fresh food and is it sound? What’s best for your body? Is it backed by science? As lame as it sounds, will food in a can or frozen sack suffice?

Or, do you need to pay more and go fresh, organic, and natural as advertized in packaging promising a less-processed, more nutritionally sound, and healthier product, overall, in order to achieve a higher operating function?

Not necessarily.

With most of us still in school, we have to manage a tight a regimen. Figuring out meals and planning them out amidst the daily (split btwn academics, work, and play) rigamarole/routine is often forgotten/lost in our list of priorities.

Not to mention that cooking can be tricky and intimidating (and not to mention expensive) for newbs. Sure, who wouldn’t pay a little more for higher quality food if the underlying benefits included a better flavor profile and a multitude of health benefits, however, that’s not the case for everyone.

Once you sift through the science, what the trend-setters are saying isn’t half bad. Exotic herbs, infused in oil, sauteed w/ locally grown organics and some seared protein, simply makes my mouth melt like Alaskan ridge at the sight of summer. Of course, half is advertiser talk and the other half is (simply) science.

Unfortunately, the fact remains the same: not everyone can afford to shop and eat like the one-percent. Not everyone fits into to foodie/food snob profile either. Hell, I don’t and I’ve been in the food industry for almost ten years (as a server and cook), my friends.

I believe in eating well, creating a diverse yet complete diet, and I’m here to tell you that it can all be done at your corner chain grocer, albeit at a one-stop shop under a big top or the little local mom-and-pop coop. Just stick with me, follow these tips and you’ll be off to eating healthy in no time, and for dimes on the dollar.

Dairy and Proteins: the Nuts and Bolts

As far as dairy and proteins, calcium and vitamin D are key, but you should watch and try to limit your intake. Be careful not to over-portion as excesses can contribute to higher cholesterol levels and an increase in high blood pressure, while unburned calories eventually settle, stored in your love handles and other sections of your bella figura (Italian for beautiful figure) in body fat.

But if you’re a true carnivore, keep the portions down to 6-oz if you’re eating red meat, pork, or poultry. Also, try to eat fish as an alternative at least once a week—and eggs in the morning—as they both have healthy/high dose of Omega-3’s and linoleic acids (which are known to boost and assist us on higher cognitive functions).

Also, believe it or not, the standard 6-oz. can of tuna has all the same omega-3’s as the frozen or fresh offerings from the butcher, but at a fraction of the cost, but you probably already knew that.

You should consider eating less “fatty proteins” and search for sources outside of the animal kingdom like legumes, nuts, whole grains, and cultures. In a recent study concerning protein content across the board, the USDA found that there is more protein in poultry and fish than in animal sources; they also found that chickpea, kidney, pinto, red, and black beans all to contain 15 grams of protein per cup, while rice, yogurt and even spinach (when cooked) boast over 10 grams of protein per cup.

Then there are superfoods like peanut butter–rich in omega 3’s, LDLs (Low-density Lipids, or healthier oils), protein and potassium–that can get you through those days when you’re in a pinch and “there’s just no time.”

It gives your body the fuel that goes for a fraction of the price of the gourmet brands. Some go for as little as a dollar and change whereas the gourmet/premium brands will fetch at least five buck and upwards.

Produce: Let Fruit and Veggies Dominate the Plate

If you really want to avoid consuming anything non-food, you should look for organic-certified labels on produce containing skin that you will consume, like apples, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, lettuces, although, colored varieties contain more vitamins and minerals than the green varieties, but none more than kale, spinach and collards.

You should also be cautious of those which grow in the ground as these have a tendency to leach harmful metals from the soil, like potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, radishes, and so on.

Save yourself a couple bucks if you’re planning on eating produce without skins (or those that you will discard), as these don’t necessarily have to be organic, and can be purchased for less, such as oranges and pomegranates.

I hear a few of you out there already “OMG, it’s not organic, I can’t eat it?”

Here’s the truth: OMRI (Organic Material Review Insistute) and other organic and all-natural certifiers promise fewer pesticides and residual fertilizer in the produce they sell, unfortunately, there’s no proof of these products retaining any less contaminants than their counterparts.

At this point, it’s merely a marketing scheme/process, that allows farmers and companies to label their products as such.  It requires farms/farmers to undergo a rigid and costly inspection process–a process essentially limited to the larger (and wealthier) producers. But if you want to play it safe, then “going-organic” might be for you.

On another note, unless you’re consuming produce within an hour from harvest, the nutritional content begins to break down. By the time your main ingredients reach the market, they offer only portions the original beneficial properties.

The best you can do is to grow you own produce, fruit and veggies in accord w/ the seasons. Nothing is more nutritious or flavor filled that fresh produce picked/harvested on the farm and brought directly to the kitchen table.

This, no doubt, brings us to our next point about how brilliant our agrarian predecessors were in keeping a constant food supply through the ingenuity of processing. No, it’s not fresh, but thanks to these conventional means of preservation, there are far more cost-effective/affordable alternatives to the fresh goods in the refrigerated section.

You have three options for cheap(er) produce: (1) canned (in juices), (2) jarred (in oils and vinegars) or (3) frozen by micro flash. Frozen fruit and veggies are typically available at a fraction of the cost as their fresh counterparts, yet they (get this) offer the exact same nutritional content, if not more; thanks to Clarence Birdseye’s ingenuity and the integration of micro flash freezing to the food industry.

In regard to frozen foods, there really aren’t any drawbacks. In fact, the positives aspects are manifold. First off, veggies and fruit are frozen at peak ripeness, ultimately, making them as healthy, and sometimes more favorable than what’s available fresh, especially if finances are a motivating factor.

But if you’re looking to save even more, then you don’t have to look far beyond the contents of a can or jar. Canning (which entails the pasteurization process) was developed and made popular by the Navy. This process is allows for food to take on a longer shelf life, whether out at sea, or backups when your favorites are out of season.

Granted these processed foods may be bland by comparison to fresh food, but they’re nothing like the dry goods (snacks, chips, pastas, etc) that come off the shelves. Just be aware of the sodium and sugar content of each can.

Often, a good measure to take includes a quick rinse of canned contents before any preparation is in order and will cut down your intake of excess oils, sugars, and salt. Also, limit your intake of these as the plastic lining in the cans contain (blah blah blah) and they (link).

Grains: Power plant

As far as grains, go whole! Stay away from excess semolina pastas, and bleached-white grains. Eat potatoes and yucca; they are an excellent source of carbs and have the added bonus of cleansing the body of toxins. Eat lots of rice.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “All rice varieties contain carbohydrates, protein, trace amounts of fat and sodium, and are gluten free. Whole-grain rice contains more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals than white rice, and colored varieties boast more antioxidants.” So, eat brown rice!

Stop eating processed and enriched white bread! Forget all the white and wheat, sold in a sack and pre-sliced. Theses all have expiration dates, but still seem to go a month or two beyond the expiration date which leads me to suspect that there’s more than just grain going in the mix.

These are the things you want to stay away from. Can you say over-processed? Do yourself a favor: go to the deli; that, or select a recipe, get fresh grains, yeast, salt, sugar, a couple eggs and bake your own.

You’re in college, how hard could it be? Get a lab partner if you need to, or better find a special somebody and turn it into a date. You can freeze the excess loaf or loaves, and pull out what you’ll consume as you need to. Invite some friends over and break some bread!

Essential Oils: Function and Flavor For Every Occasion

Avoid trans fat, sodium, and excess cholesterol when possible. Check the label—if it says hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated it contains trans fat and High Density Lipids (or HDLs). Opt for Low Density Lipids (LDLs) like canola, sunflower and olive oils when possible; and monitor your indulgence of fried foods in order to help regulate plaque build-up in your arteries, which eventually could lead to heart disease and higher blood pressure.

Again, you don’t have to be in the one-percentile to afford the LDLs. Sure you can pay upwards of $20/qt for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but the Virgin is comparable in flavor and just as lean and a quarter of the price.

FINITE: Fine-ITE: Fine, In the End

Look at all the classes/types of food prescribed in our everyday diets. By now, I know we all understand the difference between getting by and eating well.

As the proverb goes, you are what you eat and only feel as healthy as you are; yet the fact remains the same: food is a primary source of energy, sustenance and vitality for all creatures of Earth, but none with the complexity demanded by the as the human species.

Granted, the foodie options sound good to a lot of us out there who are starved/hungry to find something new to fill their plate, as well as something more pleasing to their palate, but without relinquishing their wallet/purses/meal tickets in a single sitting, or spree to the local supermarket.

Ultimately, you have many options. If you are trapped into a tight schedule that has you eating leftover meals, raw snacks on the go, or a slow-cooked crock pot of chili on a school night, there are healthy alternatives for you that won’t break the bank, thinning your wallet, and in the end, leave you threadbare. Hope is out there. Just take it one meal at a time.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates (400 BC)

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