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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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.

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something that scares you

When I first heard about the Warrior Dash, I laughed and said “no way.”
Months later, I found myself drenched in mud at the finish line of the Carrolton, OH Warrior Dash in September 2010 thinking that it really had been “the craziest fricken day” of my life.

In winter of 2011, when I first heard about Crossfit, I also wasn’t sure if it was for me. But I was growing tired of swimming, running and my weight room routine, and by February I had decided to give it a try.

At first I only went once a week in addition to my old routines, and I was usually sore that entire week between workouts. By April I was completely hooked. Today (2/17/13) is my first year anniversary of Crossfitting and now I WOD almost every day and can’t get enough of it (still sometimes with the soreness, but to a somewhat lesser degree).

Competitions on competitions on competitions

It has been said: “If your workout doesn’t scare you, it isn’t hard enough.” Crossfit workouts are different every day, making it pretty hard to get complacent. A year later and they still get me nervous sometimes.

What I like most about Crossfit is that there’s a never-ending list of goals you can push yourself toward on so many levels. Mostly, I want to do well in the metcon- get a good score while maintaining good form. Usually for me that means scaling back the weight. There’s so many movements that I currently scale and modify that I want to work up to and complete Rx.  Beyond that are  lifting PRs. There are so many opportunities to reach a goal as opposed to a more singular sport like swimming or running for a certain time (both of which I have much experience with…it took me about 3 years to break a minute in the 100 freestyle, talk about frustrating,) or a team sport where personal goals are often dependent on teammates and are more difficult to define and measure. But beating your best time applies to Crossfit too– repeating workouts is a great way to check your progress, and every workout is you against the clock.

365 days ago, I stepped into Crossfit SEO in Athens, Ohio, wearing my Asics and not knowing what a power clean was. Today, I’ve just registered for the Open and have begun my second Paleo challenge. What I’m trying to say is don’t ever let intimidation prevent you from trying something new. Most of the time, the attempt turns out to be more rewarding than not. And maybe you’ll even find your new favorite hobby.

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Lessons from Paleo: Ingredients List is most important

We are trained to check the nutrition labels of the foods we eat, and we tend to focus on calories, fat and sugar. But what I’ve learned from “eating clean” is that the ingredients list is arguably more important than the nutrition facts label above it. A “low fat” product can and often has a mile-long ingredient list full of chemicals and foreign substances. At the same time, a food with a little more calories and a lot more nutrients gets a bad reputation.


Exhibit A: Bars

Beside each other on the snack bar shelf of the “organic section” of a grocery store are two random choices. B0th would appear to be decent choices. Bar 2 Bar 1

Flip them over, and see the difference in the ingredients. Not only what the ingredients are, but the sheer number of them. 6 identifiable ingredients compared to….a lot. A lot of things that were possibly once recognizable as natural but now have been chemically altered.

Bar 2 back

Bar 1 Back

A rule of thumb: the less ingredients, the better. I’ve gotten to a point where if the ingredients list is more than a few lines, I just put whatever it is right back down. The best foods are the ones without an ingredients list at all (think produce aisle or farmer’s market!)

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REBLOG: “Just give me some truth”

There are hundreds of niche health and fitness blogs, websites, and books out there spouting nutritional and exercise advice; some with the factual basis to back their claims but without the popularity to reach a wider audience, and many others with little to no credentials or with an ulterior motive of making money. At the same time, established mainstream publications post content from trusted sources like doctors but without solid backing of their claims.

So for someone looking for guidance on how or what or when to eat, it can be excessively frustrating to find both a reliable source and reliable information. There are a lot of myths that have been repeated so many times that they have fooled even the most careful consumer (i.e. the egg debate). So when I see a myth-busting article based off of findings from a scientific study like this come along in the New York Times, I as both a health-conscious person and a journalist get excited. Finally making its way into the mainstream is something with real research behind its dietary claims, even and most especially ones that have been generally regarded as good advice (such as the benefits of eating breakfast.)

But then you run into this problem: restricted information access. This could be in the form of paywalls, omissions or study abstracts available to but not written for the everyday reader and consumer. In this case, The New England Journal of Medicine and the specific content relevant to readers of this article is only available to subscribers. Plenty of publications don’t give their content away for free online, and understandably so, but the point is that the information remains available only to that target audience. So scientists, doctors and scholars may get that information, but the average person who needs it (arguably more so than those already invested in the material) does not.

It’s a personal interest of mine to actively seek out nutritional information from those small, under-the-radar publications, but not everyone has the time, energy or interest to do so. Many of those publications/organizations/websites have great information, but are either largely unknown (I am still discovering new ones daily) or exclude segments of the population because they don’t identify with weightlifters or vegans (to name a few). Convenience will win every time when it comes to food. That’s why I believe it’s so important to make that elusive, factual information convenient for the everyday consumer. In time, I think these tidbits of truth will make their way into the mainstream media.  But for now, I think the most important thing a person can do is be a critical reader and see where your information is coming from. Evaluate the source of the material and check who is paying for the study before you make any drastic conclusions.

And, take everything in stride. Only you will know what works for you. Everyone has different dietary needs based on medical conditions, daily activities, allergies, religion, moral beliefs and simple likes and dislikes. I’ve quoted him before and I’ll quote him again because so much of what The Institute for the Psychology of Eating is about aligns with what I believe in:

“There’s no “one size fits all” in the diet business…. every nutritional system or expert has at least one nugget of wisdom to offer us. In other words, what’s good for the Okinawans, the French, the Mediterraneans, the Hunzas, the Paleolithics, or the bikini-clad inhabitants of South Beach isn’t necessarily what’s good for us. Just take the nugget of truth that works for you, and that works for the people you love and serve.” – Marc David

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REBLOG: PepsiCo removes controversial ingredient from Gatorade

It seems Pepsi Co is taking a step in the right direction. After hearing one teenage consumer’s concerns about brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade, the company has announced that it will remove the ingredient from their product. In a previous post, I mentioned that many ingredients allowed by law for use in food in the US are banned by other countries. This is one of them.

Pepsi Co will instead use sucrose acetate isobutyrate, “an emulsifier that is “generally recognized as safe” as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration.” A quick google search for the term suggests this ingredient is used in lacquers and printing ink and in a study was found to cause liver problems in dogs.

It would appear that the company just switched out one bad ingredient for another. But the good point here is that action was taken in response to consumer concern. In the article, the promoters of this effort have been trying to get the substance out of many products for some time now, and have been turned down by the FDA due to “budgetary constraints.” Going directly to the company seems to offer the best shot at success.