"What Kind of Yogurt Should I Buy?"

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This is one question I am frequently asked to answer and I can understand why.  Navigating the yogurt aisle at the grocery store can be stressful. There are dozens of brands and variations of yogurt formulations. You’ll see mainstream brands like Danon and Yoplait and options like Greek yogurts, sheep’s milk yogurt, soy and almond milk yogurts. You can even find yogurt spin-off’s like kefir and lassi.

Before we get to which type of yogurt I recommend, let’s first take a look at why you should include yogurt in your diet and what an authentic, good quality yogurt looks like.

Yogurt is a food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk. The bacteria are known as yogurt cultures, of which there are a few varieties. Yogurt has been around for thousands of years and thus considered a “traditional fermented food” when properly made. The benefits of eating yogurt lie in the key word: fermented.  It is through fermentation that our body gets vital probiotic strains that aid digestion, support gut-health and help fight infection (1).  It can even help reduce cholesterol and aid in weight loss. 

But here’s the thing . . . you need to be eating the RIGHT kind of yogurt products to get these benefits! Much of our commercial yogurts do not make the cut. The key component to any yogurt worthy of your spoon is the presence of live active cultures (verifed by reading the ingredients list and looking for words like L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, bifidus, L. paracasei). 

Other components to look for when shopping for a quality yogurt are that it’s made from whole milk, or worse case, 2% (NO Fat Free products allowed!). Also check that there are no added sugars (or artificial sugars). Milk has some naturally occurring sugars, so what you’re looking for is an ingredients list that does not include sugar in any form.  If you’re still with me, then Yes, I’m saying you need to buy plain, whole milk yogurt with live active cultures and then sweeten it yourself.  Self-sweetening allows you to control the level and source of sugar. Fresh fruit, a teaspoon of raw honey or 100% maple syrup, even a ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract, are all delicious ways to customize your flavor profile while keeping sugar, artificial ingredients and calories in check.  If you want to up your protein intake, then reach for Greek yogurt, which, when made authentically, is strained and creates a higher protein content and a thicker consistency.

My favorite yogurt is the homemade version I make, but for those times I need to purchase, my go-to brands are Wallaby Organic Whole Milk Yogurt, Siggi, Stoneyfield Organic Grass Fed yogurt and Organic Valley.

If you typically reach for Yoplait, Danon, Activia, or even Chobani, then it’s time to make the switch. The Cornucopia Institute has a rating sheet on their site that lets dozens of brands rated for the quality of ingredients including live active cultures.  Here’s the link to see how your favorites fared.

 

(1) site source Dr. Axehttps://draxe.com/probiotic-yogurt/

Shop Healthy at Costco - 16 Picks

Costco, the ultimate bulk-buying store. Traditionally, bulk-buying doesn’t translate to healthy eating, but things, they are a-changing at Costco these days!

I will confess that I am not a regular Costco shopper. I go there a couple of times a year to stock up on paper towels and toilet paper, but since we are mostly empty nesters, it’s not often we need apples that come in packages big enough to feed a small village or artichoke dip that can feed 50 people.  That being said, I have a lot of friends who love to shop there and they have asked me to please tell them what they can buy that is healthy.

I was skeptical that Costco had anything that could be considered healthy by my holistic, culinary nutritionist standards because bulk food is often highly processed (translation: stripped of nutrients, added chemicals to improve shelf life) and rarely organic or fresh. It is even sometimes wasteful - - even when you buy a bag of thirty organic pears at a great price, if you can’t eat all of them before they go bad, then you’re just being wasteful and no money is really saved.  Okay, back on track . . .

I rose to the challenge of “what can I buy at Costco that is healthy?” and headed off to Costco to see if I could answer that question in a meaningful way.  After spending longer than I planned cruising through the warehouse, I was surprised to find that not only did they have healthy options, but enough of them that I could come up with a list. I chose the least processed items I could find and selected only those I would actually buy. So for my Costco junkie friends and anyone else who loves to shop there, enough waiting, here you go:  

1.   Kerrygold grass fed butter

2.   Perfect Bar protein bar multi pack (see my review on Perfect Bar here)

3.   Okami Organic Edamame

4.   Fresh organic blueberries, raspberries and blackberries

5.   Earthbound Farm Organics vegetables (various options to choose from)

6.   Suja organic fresh pressed juices

7.   Silk Almond Milk

8.   Dave’s Killer Bread- organic, 21 whole grains and seeds

9.   Frozen organic blueberries

10.    Kirkland organic extra virgin Olive Oil

11.      Kirkland 100% real maple syrup

12.     Nutiva chia Seeds

13.     Seeds of Change pre-cooked quinoa and brown rice packets

14.     Wild Planet sustainably pole and line caught wild albacore tuna

15.     Organic Tortilla Chips

16.     Clif Kid Organic Z Bar multi pack 

All Costco stores have a little variety in what they carry; this list is not comprehensive and I’m sure there are more possibilities that could be added. 

Do you see any of your favorites on this list? Is there something you’d like to see on this list, but isn’t there? Let me know in the comments below. 

Head to the Farm!

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One of the best things to happen to the healthy, casual restaurant scene in Orange County lately is the addition of L.A.'s popular Mendocino Farms. My first taste of this awesome sandwich and salad shop was while visiting my oldest, who attended college near the Marina Del Rey location. It is more than just a trendy place for college kids to grab a sandwich or salad; it is a great place to dine on fresh ingredients with awesome flavors.

It's an “order first, sit down, have your food delivered to you” kind of place.  Concrete floors and rustic wood planking add charm to the atmosphere, right down to the “Eat Happy” Sign.

Mendocino Farms partners with regional farms to keep The Mendocino Farms menu full of seasonally fresh ingredients. They use artisan breads for their sandwiches and their chicken comes exclusively from free-range providers Pitman Farms and Petaluma Poultry.  Their pork and turkey are antibiotic free and humanely raised. They have vegan and vegetarian options and they offer gluten free bread. Drake Family Farms supplies their dairy related items. They use organic produce whenever possible. These key components not only support a healthy body, they support local farms and a movement toward conscientious eating.

The menu has a variety of choices with creations that reflect the foods of faraway places (how about a Thai Spring Salad, Samosa Dosa or Pork Belly Bahn Mi?) as well as more familiar favorites that have been creatively upgraded with great ingredients: the Sophisticated Chicken & Prosciutto Salad adds market roasted vegetables and fresh mozzarella and their version of a BLT involves carved balsamic-glazed steak and roasted tomatoes on pretzel bread.  There is a weekly Chef’s Pick and they rotate a portion of their menu seasonally to take advantage of each growing season.

Thank goodness they expanded to the OC so I could get my “Mendo” fix a little more often. What are my go-to favorites? If it’s a sandwich, it’s the Chicken MBT (shaved chicken breast, fresh mozzarella, pesto, balsamic vinegar tossed greens on ciabatta) or if I’m in the mood for a salad, it’s the Modern Caesar (kale, romaine, butter lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, crispy wheatberries and Grana Padano cheese, shaved chicken optional). Mouth watering goodness.  Hungry yet? Head to the Farm and share in the comments what your favorites are!

 

(If you like knowing about healthy restaurants in Orange County, California, stay tuned . . .  Grow in Wellness has a big announcement coming this summer!)

Grow in Wellness Wants to Hear From You!

Photo by gerenme/iStock / Getty Images

Let's face it, it's tough to navigate the world of healthy eating.  There are a multitude of messages touting everything from heart healthy foods to promised weight loss. Nearly every product on the store shelves has a label filled with buzzwords designed to make you choose them to spend your dollars on, whether or not it's truly good for you.  Choosing meals at a restaurant is even trickier since it's rare to know the source of ingredients in each dish or what kinds of oils are used to prepare them. Cooking at home is always the best choice, but finding new, healthier recipes and learning how to cook with unusual ingredients can be overwhelming.  And if you want to go a step further and choose better-for-your-body skin products, then knowing which way to go can make you freeze in your tracks from all the confusion.

If you can relate to any of the above scenarios, then Grow in Wellness wants to hear from you. What are your biggest frustrations with grocery store shopping? What is hardest about choosing a restaurant when you want to eat out? How easy is it to sort through menu options and know which dishes are better than others? Are you bored of your home recipe collection? Do you wish you could bring healthier meals to your family dinner table? Have you ever considered the effects of what body care products you use and want to make improvements?  

Grow in Wellness wants to help you make healthier choices and the best way to do that is to have you tell us what your biggest struggles are.  Please share your thoughts through the comments section or email them directly to growinwellness@gmail.com.  Can't wait to hear what you have to say! 

Score a FREE jar of Justin’s Almond Butter

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Peanut butter lovers, rejoice—there’s a new nut butter on the scene. Meet Justin’s Classic Almond Butter, a delightfully simple spread that will win over even the most devout PB&J fans. An added bonus? It’s naturally gluten-free, vegan, and Paleo-friendly.

Whether spread on toast, or drizzled over apple slices, Justin’s Classic Almond Butter

is the MVP of snack time. Made from just two ingredients—almonds and sustainably sourced red palm fruit oil—this almond butter is as wholesome as it is delicious.

Often, manufacturers try to jazz up nut butters by adding sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Justin’s, on the other hand, is the real deal—this almond butter doesn’t need any sweeteners or fillers to make it palatable. The great taste comes from the naturally delicious almonds. Since every spoonful includes a solid serving of protein and healthy fats, you can feel good about indulging in this creamy spread.  Plus, Paleo eaters or people with peanut allergies can safely enjoy Justin’s almond butter as a peanut butter substitute!

Once you try almond butter, you’ll never want to go back to sugary peanut butter again. For a limited time, Thrive Market is offering a free jar of Justin’s Classic Almond Butter!

 

 

>>>>>>> GET YOUR FREE GIFT NOW! <<<<<<<

 

 

Do You Grill Your Guac?

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There is a certain kind of excitement that comes with getting something new, whether it be a new pair of shoes, new gadget (like an iPad) or even a new favorite show on TV.  For me, the excitement over our new Big Green Egg (BGE) grill is motivating me to put close to anything I can “over the coals”. I’ll save the long explanation of the Big Green Egg, but let’s just say it’s the most amazing grill we’ve ever owned - long cook times, fantastic flavor for everything we’ve cooked, and easy to use. 

This BGE enthusiasm led me to experiment with making guacamole recently.  Avocadoes are quite possibly my most favorite food and avocado season is upon us! I love a delicious, fresh guacamole, but to add an authentically roasted flavor to it seemed like a perfect way to up the guac game. 

I prepped (aka: washed, sliced and lightly brushed with coconut oil) my organic ingredients: red onion, red pepper, Serrano chili, heirloom tomatoes, limes and avocadoes (pitted, with skin on). Then placed them face down on the grill over medium heat and cooked each until they were just starting to char and blister.  As they finished cooking, I took them off to cool.  Once they were done, I scooped out the avocado, chopped the peppers and onions and combined everything except the limes in a bowl and mashed until they came together in perfect union.  I added fresh crushed garlic, sea salt and squeezed one lime at a time until the flavor was just right.  It was a perfect compliment to our turkey burgers and doubled as a tasty dip for the grilled sweet potato fries.  A 100% cooked outdoors meal - - tastes great and keeps the heat out of the kitchen! 

You could easily adapt this concept and grill your mango salsa or grill tomatoes and bread for a twist on the traditional Italian tomato-bread salad.  How will you up your grilling game this summer?  Share your inspiration in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

 

*note: Grilling slightly changes the texture of avocadoes.  If that does not appeal to you, then grill all the ingredients except the avocado and then add them to a bowl with (un-grilled) avocado and mash together for a still-delicious guacamole.

Upgrade What Goes on the Outside - Products for Our Skin

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There is a lot of time spent on this blog talking about food and how to make the healthiest choices, but there is more to good health than just what we eat. What goes on our skin matters, too. If you think about how a nicotine patch curbs smoking addiction and pain patches control pain, you’ll realize our skin absorbs what is put onto it – for better or worse.  We are exposed to thousands of chemicals through our hair, make up and body care products and we are not as protected as you might think. 

A 2015 study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reported these findings: 

“Women whose bodies have high levels of chemicals found in plastics, personal-care products, common household items and the environment experience menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals.” 

The 40-year-old law, The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, is outdated.  Many harmful chemicals do not have to be revealed if they are considered “trade secret”, so don’t think the EPA is out there with a shield and sword coming to our defense.  Here's what a report from the Environmental Working Group has to say:

“Current law requires companies to inform EPA when their chemicals are shown to pose substantial risks. EPA must publish this information, but the companies can request that the company’s name, production volumes and even the chemical’s identity be kept secret. Half of the more than 250 “substantial risk” reports filed to EPA since October of (2015) masked the chemicals’ identity.”  

It’s a sticky mess for sure and so, short of becoming a chemist, how are we supposed to know which brands and products pose the least threat?  The Environmental Working Group has a great section to their website called Skin Deep. It’s a searchable database of toxic ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products.  If you find some of your favorites get a failing grade and you want to make some changes, then here is a good place to start . . . with five of my favorite ("passing grade") skin care products: 

1.   Face Cleanser – MyChelle Refining Sugar Cleanser. This gentle cleanser starts out sugary, but melts into a nice cream that is effective without drying out your skin. 

2.   Face Moisturizer and Serums – Odacite is my favorite for serums and moisturizers, especially when used together. Available online, these formulations are so fresh, they actually have an expiration date. Not sure which products to start with? Try their 10-day discovery kit.  

3.   Sunscreen – the key ingredient for optimal sun defense is zinc.  MyChelle makes a great clear spray Sun Shield Clear Spray (that is also reef safe) and Suntegrity makes a good option for your face in both clear and tinted formulations. 

4.   Hand and Body Lotion – The Naked Bee Hand and Body Lotion and Seaweed Bath Co. are my current favorites. They go on nicely, smell good and don’t leave an oily residue. Both available on Amazon.

5.   Nail Polish – yes, our nails absorb chemicals from nail polish, so choose wisely.  OPI and Deborah Lippmann both get passing grades. 

While it is impossible to live a life completely free of exposure to unwanted chemicals and toxins, it IS possible to reduce our exposure to them. And why wouldn’t anyone want to do that? Upgrade your products, one purchase at a time and improve your health from the outside in.

Where will you start making changes? 

Berry Important News

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Spring. Strawberries. Bright, plump, red. Sweet and juicy. Laden with pesticides. Move over apples, strawberries have stolen your spot as number one on the top of EWG’s dirty dozen list. 

What am I talking about?  Since 2004, the Environmental Working Group has been ranking pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables from over 35,000 samples tested by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.   They call it the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, or as it’s more commonly known: "The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15”  lists. This is the go-to guide for how to prioritize your dollars on organic produce if you cannot afford to buy (or don't always have access to) organic produce all the time.  While there are several repeat offenders each year (apples, zucchini, strawberries, tomatoes and grapes), apples have been taking home the top prize until this year's list was released and strawberries came out on top.

(Want to know more? Read all about it here)

That's all fine and good, but how does this strawberry news affect you as a consumer? This is your cue to make sure the strawberries you eat are certified organic. Bonus if they come from local farmers. And with strawberries just coming into peak season, this is the time to indulge.  If you want to really stock up, then purchase a flat of strawberries, wash, trim and slice some for immediate eating and then prep the extras for later with my berry preservation method: 

Wash, dry and cut strawberries into slices or small pieces.  Spread them out onto a cookie sheet and place in your freezer until they are frozen.  Once frozen, scoop them up into a zip top plastic bag and store in your freezer for later use.  They are great added to smoothies, stirred into hot oatmeal or tossed into salad. This works great with blueberries and raspberries, too.

Strawberries are worth the extra cost of going organic and not just to avoid pesticides. They offer a great dose of nutrition! They offer plenty of vitamin C, fiber, they support heart health and are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

The possibilities of what to do with strawberries are (almost) endless.  How about a strawberry-cucumber smoothie? Or a chia seed pudding?  You can add them to your overnight oats, infuse your water with a few fresh sliced berries or even try them with my pesto chicken salad recipe.

So make the most of strawberry season – buy organic – and enjoy every sweet bite!

What’s your favorite way to eat strawberries?

A Bowl Full of Spring

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While the calendar may say spring has arrived, for many of you the weather outside says otherwise. Do not let that discourage you from enjoying the 'other' things spring has to offer. The gifts of spring go beyond sunny days and cherry blossoms starting to bloom.  Your produce department – or your favorite Farmer’s Market – should be filling up with an abundance of spring’s best gifts: strawberries, sugar snap peas, arugula, sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, radishes, avocados and more.  These produce stars are not just beautiful to look at, they taste great, too.

Picking produce at its peak freshness and eating it right away is the key to maximum flavor and nutrients.  Combining spring’s bounty into a salad is a simple, easy way to enjoy them. One of my favorites is my Grow in Wellness Spring Salad, where I simply toss my favorite spring offerings with mixed greens and a homemade balsamic dressing. {recipe here}

Want a few more options? The no-recipe method is one way to go; simply chop your favorite produce and toss with a tangy vinaigrette. You can even make a warm, roasted vegetable salad and toss with a lemony, tahini dressing for something a little less ordinary.  And if a more formal recipe is your style, then here are a few from some of my favorite websites:

Spring Salad with Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Warm Spring Salad

What is your favorite way to eat the freshest veggies and fruits of the season? Grow in Wellness would love to hear from you! 

 

“Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘let’s party!’” – Robin Williams

New Things From Old Favorites

I recently spent three days at the annual Natural Products Expo here in California. With hundreds and hundreds of vendors promoting their products, the truth of the matter is that most of the products are processed in some way; many of them are not quite healthy and even fewer are formulated with real, organic, recognizable ingredients.  A great representation of the food world we all have to navigate on a daily basis. But that does not mean all hope is lost!

Amidst the chaos of product pushing, I did find some great products I want to share with you. These products are a mix of new offerings from my tried-and-true favorites or new and promising products that I hope to find on store shelves, soon. 

One of the things I learned after talking to reps from these companies and asking my standard question, “what stores carry your product?” is that getting a product to the shelf of a store you shop at is quite an arduous process. Talking to your store manager and asking them to bring in your favorites can help a new product get to shelf much quicker.  So speak up if your store doesn’t have something you want to buy.  While you’re waiting, order online whenever you can so you don’t have to miss out.  Remember… we vote with our dollars, so vote for good things! 

New products from my favorite brands:

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Sunflower Butter from Bliss Nut Butters.  Delicious! Great for someone with a nut allergy. Not yet on store shelves in southern California, but always available on their website www.blissnutbutters.com. My all time favorite of theirs is the Cinnamon Chia Seed Peanut Butter. Give both a try.

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Sprouted Artisan Bread and Baguettes by Alvarado St. Bakery. I am already a fan of their sprouted sliced bread line and the addition of a frozen sprouted grain baguette that will go from freezer to oven to table in less than 15 minutes is worth a smile or two.  You can use this baguette to make crostini, garlic bread or, if you’re feeling really indulgent, eat it warm from the oven with a little Brie spread on it.  Another new offering is their energy squares packed with organic seeds and nuts. Both should be on store shelves this summer.

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Hope Foods Guacamole.  Known for their flavorful line of hummus, Hope Foods is coming out with a guacamole in both mild and hot flavors. Perfect for when you can’t find ripe enough avocados to make your own.  Look for it in the refrigerated foods section of your market by summertime

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Organic Valley has two new products out: Grassmilk Yogurt from 100% grass fed cows and Hazelnut and Vanilla half-an-half. The yogurt is creamy, full fat (exactly what you should be eating. . . fat-free foods will make you fat!) and comes in vanilla and plain. Try the half-and-half in your cup of coffee. 

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I blogged about Tava Life Ghee a while ago and love their green chili flavored ghee. They were back at the Expo this year rebranded as 4th & Heart (named after the heart chakra).  They may have a new name and logo, but they haven’t changed their delicious grass-fed ghee.  While I’m sad they discontinued the chili flavor, they added two amazing new flavors, garlic and while truffle sea salt. Is your mouth watering yet? Look for them at Whole Foods, Central Market and Thrive online market.

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I know this post is long, but before I go, I have to share one last favorite brand and their new offering.  The band is The Bu Kombucha and their certified organic, 100% kombuchas come in some fantastic flavors, like chai spice, lavender and honey dew. They are adding new flavors with ginger and peach to their line, so keep an eye out for them!

A few new things without pictures include:  New flavors from Perfect Bar protein bars: coconut almond and blueberry cashew. . . New addition to the supplement drink line from Oxylent, 3-in-1 Supplement drink. . . Justin's Nut Butter will be releasing almond butter and pretzel snack packs. . . Suja pressed juices is introducing probiotic waters and Bob's Red Mill is getting in the protein powder ring with several flavors including chai flavored protein that has chia and probiotics!

Whew, that’s a lot, just from my favorite brands.  New products to share are coming soon.  In the mean time, which of these are you going to try first? Let me know in the comments below.  Have a happy, healthy day!