The Novice Foodie

Just eating real foods, lifting heavy things and learning about it along the way


Just because your food is from a health food store doesn’t mean your food is healthy

Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great resources for healthy eating. Many products are truly organic, free from artificial ingredients, minimally processed and better for you, unlike many foods found in traditional grocery stores. But simply shopping at a “healthy store” does not mean it’s a free for all. A processed food is a processed food, whether you buy it at Whole Foods or you buy it at Kroger.

This post from Food Babe highlights some specific products at Trader Joe’s that are examples of some unhealthy foods found at a health food store. Like the front of a product’s package, the promises of a store like Trader Joe’s and Whole foods are not necessarily followed through in every product. The best and only way to know for sure if what you’re buying is indeed as healthy as it claims to be is to read the ingredients list.

Don’t get me wrong- Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are some of my favorite places to shop. They have some hard-to-find products that certain recipes call for (often at cheaper prices than a regular supermarket,) and they carry good brands of meats and certified organic produce. But for certain foods (frozen vegetables, for instance) you may be able to purchase an equivalent product at a regular grocery store for less money.

Some good rules to follow when navigating any store:

  • Look for products with the official logos for non-GMO/organic/gluten free. Companies can pretty much claim anything they want out front to get you to pick it up in the store, but they can’t put a certified logo on their product unless it’s true.foodlogos
  • Look for products with the least amount of ingredients. You think those “mixed frozen veggies tossed in olive oil and seasonings” is just that? Think again. Lots of other chemicals and ingredients are included that the front label says nothing about.
  • Shop towards the perimeters of the store. Avoid the aisles with boxes and bags and opt for the fresh fruits, vegetables and meats–items that don’t have nutrition labels at all. A bag of chips at Trader Joe’s isn’t necessarily that much better than a bag of chips from Walmart, so focus on the foods that are worth the trip.

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3 Ingredient Paleo quick dish

Sausage Pepper Skillet

One of my favorite quick meals to make: Simply toss some peppers and onions (fresh sliced or frozen) and pre-cooked sausage sliced in a skillet with some olive oil. Because you’re essentially just re-heating and sautéing, the olive oil will hold up safely at the medium to low temperature.
I like Applegate brand chicken sausage, but any natural kind will do. Applegate is a good brand with a short list of ingredients and humane, organic practices. It is pre-seasoned and pre-cooked, which cuts meal prep time down significantly. There are also several different flavors to choose from!

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REBLOG: PepsiCo Naked Juices sued for misleading labels

It seems PepsiCo is in hot water once again in relation to one of its “healthier” beverages. In January, the company removed a controversial ingredient in Gatorade. This time, they must drop the “All Natural” label on their line of Naked Juices because (surprise) the drinks are far from “all natural.”


The label gives “the false impression that the beverages’ vitamin content is due to the nutritious fruits and juices, rather than the added synthetic compounds such as calcium pantothenate (synthetically produced from formaldehyde)” and “Fibersol-2 (a proprietary synthetic digestion-resistant fiber produced by Archer Daniels Midland and developed by a Japanese chemical company), fructooligosaccharides (a synthetic fiber and sweetener) and inulin (an artificial and invisible fiber added to foods to … increase fiber content without the typical fiber mouth-feel).”

For example, “there is more Fibersol-2 than … any ingredient derived from blackberries” in Naked Juice’s Blue Machine drink which is labeled as an “all-natural blueberry and blackberry 100 percent Juice Smoothie.” The beverages also contain GMO ingredients.


PepsiCo settled the suit for $9 million.

The case should serve as a reminder for people to be careful consumers, and read the ingredients list of every product carefully (like so)

The packaging (especially the front,) is simply a way for a company to advertise the product, and use false claims to catch a consumer’s eye.  The true testament of a product is the list of ingredients, or lack thereof. The less ingredients, the better, and if you can’t pronounce something, it’s probably best to avoid it.

Not to mention the alarming statistics on the nutrition facts label. The Blue Machine smoothie, for example, has 29 grams of sugar and 40 grams of carbohydrates. This drink will drive blood sugar levels through the roof, and if the extra energy isn’t used, it will be stored as fat. Blood sugar levels will drop, and you’ll feel hungry again.

A better choice would be juicing your own fruits and vegetables, which has many health benefits including better and faster vitamin and mineral absorption. In your own kitchen, you know exactly what’s going into your drink.

Bottom line: Face the facts, (nutrition facts and ingredients lists, that is) and don’t be fooled by label lies!


“Carbs” are not a food group

Trending lately in the food blogosphere are carbohydrates: to eat them or not to eat them, when to eat them and where to get them from.

– A generally widespread opinion is that grains should be avoided. A common misconception with Paleo/primal/grain-free diets is that the diet doesn’t include enough carbs. But carbohydrates and grains are two different things, and you can get carbohydrates from foods like fruits and vegetables that are far more nutritionally dense than breads and pasta. So while Paleo diets are “low-carb” compared to the Standard Western Diet, they aren’t carbohydrate free. Instead, the carbs are ingested along with higher amounts of bio-available fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals instead of with inflammation-causing gluten and lectins.

-“But I love bread and pasta” you say? I will admit the smell of bread is sometimes hard to resist, almost like a dessert. It might not seem like it, but bread and desserts are more alike than they may seem, at least to your body. 

When you break down bread, even 100% whole wheat or “healthy whole grain” bread, the starches get broken down and turned into glucose, just as if you had eaten a candy bar or a bowl of pasta. This rise in glucose spikes blood sugar levels, which will fall as quickly as they climbed.  Low blood sugar makes us feel hungry, leading to overeating.

– “But I like the taste of bread and pasta”

Is it really the bread that you enjoy, or is it the bacon, lettuce and tomato on that sandwich that tastes good? And is it really the pasta that you love, or is it the tomato, basil and garlic sauce and meatballs that tastes the best? Eventually, I realized that breads and pastas are just vehicles for tastier things. While they might be quick and convenient to prepare and to consume, there are better alternatives for your favorite meals, such as spaghetti squash or sliced zucchini in place of spaghetti noodles, topped with the same tomato, basil and garlic sauce and meatballs you love. “Pasta night” just got a whole lot healthier: the protein in the meatballs helps to stabilize blood sugar, and the healthy fats help keep you feeling full. Vegetables like spaghetti squash and zucchini offer fiber, which also curbs the appetite.

– It’s no secret that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. This is the reason endurance athletes load up on pasta and other easily digestible carbs before events. And it’s also true that it takes longer to use fat for energy, which may hinder the performance of some endurance athletes. But recently, research is showing that given the time to adapt to using fat as an energy source, endurance athletes too can thrive on a Paleo/primal/grain-free diet. “The mainstream consensus has been that you need carbs to do anything other than very moderate intensity exercise. But after a period of adaptation, the body will switch over from carbohydrate to fat as its main fuel for exercise with equal or better performance.” The adaption period can take weeks or even months.

– I am definitely a believer in cheat days for a mentally sustainable diet, and some sources are going so far as to advise them for fat loss. The concept of carb-cycling is to alternate high-carbohydrate days and low-carbohydrate days. The high-carb days or “cheat days” should be made up of “good”, complex sources of carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes and oatmeal. The idea is the high carbohydrate days will aid in recovery and replenish glycogen, providing performance benefits and boosting fat loss by revving metabolism.

So, what to take away from all of this? I’d conclude that due to the mounting evidence against grains, most people should consider them a “sometimes” food at best, and NOT the focus of your meals. You should base meals around protein (preferably grass-fed meats/animal products, if your beliefs allow it) and vegetables instead, and aim to get both of those in at every meal. As for carbohydrates, they should be mostly from nutrient dense sources like starchy vegetables and fruits.

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MEAL PREP: Quick, easy chicken marinade

One of the quickest, easiest, tastiest way to make chicken is to marinade it. The only catch is that you need to allow time for the chicken to absorb the juicy goodness, so meal planning is key.

I buy individually wrapped chicken breasts and keep them frozen.

Every once in awhile I take one out and throw it in the fridge to defrost.


Once it’s defrosted, I rinse it, throw it in a ziplock bag and add some olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper/whatever spices I’m feelin that day and stick it back in the fridge. Some good options are rosemary, garlic powder, basil, cilantro or other herbs that strike your fancy. I usually leave it at least overnight but I bet a few hours would still do the trick.


Makes for a juicy, flavorful chicken breast that I throw on the grill for a quick meal later in the week.

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2013 Part Two

So here we are, July 1, halfway through 2013. How about those new year’s resolutions everyone made 6 months ago? Obviously at least one of mine fell off the wagon (cough blogging cough.) I’d say it all started falling apart in March, when I was more focused on eating to perform well in the Crossfit Open and road race series I was in (and battling a cold on top of it) than staying perfectly Paleo (and keeping up with posting about it). For whatever reason, I never really got totally back on track after that.

At this halfway point, I think it’s a perfect time for everyone to reevaluate and refocus on those resolutions we all made back in the December/January, and remember why we made them.  Before competition season derailed my record, I was really doing well. I remembered all of my medicines and vitamins, I was eating clean, drinking lots of water, keeping up on my training and even blogging once a week. I am a believer in cheat days for a sustainable diet, but I got to a point where I didn’t even want them anymore– my cravings were nearly nonexistent. I feel like that was a huge milestone, and it makes me that much more eager to get back on track and try to cross that line again.

Today I begin a Paleo challenge, and I’ll hold myself accountable by chronicling here anything useful that I stumble upon, and update my growing collection of recipes on my Pinterest board, pinned there done that.

Tonight, I am attempting Spaghetti Squash and tomato bake (minus the cheese) with some local tomatoes I picked up from the farmers market along with some chicken and then maybe some sweet potato brownies for dessert.

Here’s to re-committing to our goals for the rest of 2013!


*UPDATE: delicious success on both accounts:

Spaghetti Squash tomato bake

Spaghetti Squash tomato bake

Sweet Potato brownies

Sweet Potato brownies

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Lessons from Paleo: Get comfortable buying meat

Protein is an essential part of any diet, and the good news is there are lots of ways to get it. Some of the most delicious ways are through natural, unprocessed meats.

But for a new cook, tackling a dish with meat products is pretty intimidating! There is high potential for disaster, from undercooking and contracting food borne illnesses to overcooking and ending up with dry, tough meat.  For the longest time, the only meat I would cook on my own was boneless, skinless chicken breast for a few reasons. 1. It comes all nice and ready to go, 2. it’s generally agreed upon as a healthy food choice, 3. it’s versatile,  and 4. it’s pretty hard to screw up even for the most inexperienced cook.

After a while, though, I got bored with my meals. I’m gonna go ahead and say that diet rule number one for anyone on any kind of diet should be “always be excited about your food.” This may be the singular most important thing to making a diet sustainable long-term.

So after I got bored with chicken, I began to experiment with ground beef, another relatively easy and versatile meat to conquer. More importantly, it’s all packaged for you and you don’t have to make a whole lot of decisions.

But that got old, too, so I decided to broaden my horizons. There’s a whole new delicious world of possibilities right behind your deli counter/butcher shop, if you can just get yourself over there. This, too, is an intimidating place for a new cook/meat purchaser. You gotta know the proper names of cuts you want and how much you want in pounds. It’s really not so bad, but for a newbie it can get a little overwhelming. So start small.

Some tips for first-time meat buyers: Find something familiar to you and start there. One day on my way to the pre-packaged section of Whole Foods, I noticed that they had kielbasa behind the counter.  I’ve had kielbasa many times in my 50% Polish life, so I pretty much know what to expect when cooking it, and decided that day to get me some. You gotta start somewhere.

kielbasa and sauerkraut

And then I had a nice kielbasa and sauerkraut dinner at work!

Some other tips: Look things up before you get there so you know what to ask for and how much. Follow a recipe! Following recipes are a great way to be introduced to new ingredients and methods of cooking. Soon enough, you won’t need a recipe and you can concoct your own masterpieces. As for the meat preparation itself, there are step-by-step instructions and even videos to guide you through it. And for even more convenience, many grocery stores will even have pre-seasoned meats that are basically dinner-to-go.  (**But check those ingredients lists–it is always better to do the seasoning yourself so you know exactly what all went on there.)

And then, after all of those doors opened, an even greater thing happened. I discovered U.S. Wellness Meats. And I was beyond sold. The trickiest part of purchasing meat is finding the kind that isn’t loaded with fake, scary ingredients, and this place made that pretty simple. All products are grass-fed, humanely raised, nitrate-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free. And it comes right to your doorstep.

My order from US Wellness Meats

My order from US Wellness Meats

How cool is that? I instantly (well, after they were defrosted) had dozens of meal opportunities without leaving my apartment. But there’s no rush–meat kept frozen will last for years because it comes vacuum-sealed.