Healthier Packaged Foods When Cooking Isn’t An Option

Packaged FoodsI’m single, I’m busy, and I live in a small NYC apartment with a small NYC kitchen. I don’t cook much, but can you blame me?! I “put things together” I like to say (salads, smoothies, soups) and I prepare my own meals from whole food ingredients as much as possible. There’s no way around it, making your own food, whether that requires “cooking” in the technical sense or not, is hands down the best way to be sure you’re eating healthfully.

However, I will be the first to admit, there are times when stepping into the kitchen is not going to happen unless it’s to uncork a spectacular bottle of wine. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share my go-to brands for a quick bite. (You may notice that this list does NOT include brands like Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, or Healthy Choice. Low calorie does not equal healthy. That’s a whole other blog post for later.)

Amy’s Kitchen

Why I like them: Amy’s is non-GMO verified and mostly organic. They have a ton of options for diet-specific needs, vegetarian and gluten-free for example, and now use BPA-free lining in the canned products. Any dairy used comes from pasture raised cows not treated with hormones. And you won’t find any partially hydrogenated oils in their products.

Current favorite: Amy’s Gluten-Free Burrito.

Food For Life

Why I like them: If you’re going to do grains, do them right. Known for their Ezekiel breads, Food For Life uses sprouted grains which are easier to digest and allow for better absorption of vitamins and minerals in the body. I also like their gluten-free products since they use whole grains and seeds. All of their products are non-GMO and flour-free too since, well… flour in all it’s refined glory just ain’t good for anyone. 

Current favorite: Multi Seed Gluten Free English Muffins. These are seriously tasty and have an amazing texture––chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside. Make it a meal by topping with avocado and egg. See above.

Applegate

Why I like them: As I ever so gently ease my way back into eating meat after many years as a vegetarian, I am suuuper picky about the quality of meat I consume. Their animals are humanely raised and slaughtered and are fed an all vegetarian diet with no animal by-products, hormones, or antibiotics. Most of their products are non-GMO and they are working toward 100% GMO free.

Current Favorite: Actually the only product I’ve had so far (gently easing my way, remember) is the grass fed organic beef burgers and they’re pretty good. You definitely need to spice them up a bit though since there are no extra ingredients in these babies.

Luna and Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss

Why I like them: These tasty ice creams are a guilty pleasure. While certainly not a health food, they are dairy and soy free (better for tummies!) and the company is committed to sustainable sourcing and giving back to the community. Plus, they’re all organic and GMO free.

Current favorite: Mint Galactica ice cream. There are no words.

What are your favorite health(ier) brands? Let me know in the comments below.

Stumbled off your Path? Why that’s even better.

If the path before you is clear, you're probably on someone else's.What’s your five year plan? What’s the next step on your career path? Where do you see yourself living in 15 years? In a world where there is so much emphasis on getting to where we’re going, there’s little room for finding our own way.

Having a solid, set-in-stone answer to any of those big life questions is incredibly limiting, yet it’s what society expects. What if we want to follow the path with the prettiest views? Or chase our tail in circles because we’re happy where we are? Or run for the hills because our prescribed path makes us miserable.

“Follow your bliss,” said American mythologist and intellectual Joseph Campbell. “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us,” he also touted.

A planner by nature, it’s tough for me to stop thinking about where I “should be” in my life, what my next move is going to be, if I’m headed in the right direction, and if my to-do list items are the best use of my time. I’m hyper aware of how fleeting time is, and it causes me anxiety. I over-think and over-analyze and sometimes break down in tears, struggling with how to pave my road.

It’s in these moments of discomfort I want to grasp the tightest to my goals; what I need to accomplish in six months, one week, tomorrow. My head is everywhere but where I am today.

I’m at yet another crossroads in my life right now and it’s tough to just sit still in the discomfort. I forget that I’ve been here before, that it all worked out in beautiful ways that I couldn’t even imagine at the time. I trust that will happen again.

We hear this advice to be where you are and focus on the present all the time, especially if you hit the yoga mat regularly. It’s timeless advice for a reason… because it’s damn hard to do! It’s my job today to choose actions and make decisions that align with my values, desires, and who I am as a person, not in terms of a future job title or income bracket or relationship status. Those things will come and my path will unfold as my path. 

Simple Sugar Swaps: 5 Healthier Alternatives

natural sugar alternatives

Photo Credit: kaibara87 via Compfight cc

By now you probably know that sugar is bad. Got that. But toxic artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet, Equal, and Splenda (yes, even Splenda!) should have no place in your diet.

Smart marketing makes it difficult to understand what you’re really putting in your grocery cart. For example, when agave came on the scene it was touted as the healthy alternative sweetener, but lately we’ve come to understand agave is highly refined and has more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. And high fructose intake leads to insulin resistance, raised triglycerides, and weight gain.

So what are some simple, real-food sweeteners that are not only tasty, but actually have some health benefits?

Blackstrap molasses

The most nutrient-dense of all the sugar alternatives mentioned here, blackstrap molasses is a by-product of sugar refining. When sugar cane or beet is processed into table sugar, the vitamins and minerals are stripped and the sugar becomes the white powdery sugar we all know. When the remnants of that process are triple boiled, we get blackstrap molasses. This powerfully sweet syrup is loaded with folic acid and other B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, for example. These vitamins and minerals are particularly supportive for those with anemia, or for reducing soreness after a tough workout. Blackstrap molasses is also low on the glycemic index, so no blood sugar spikes here.

Raw honey

Raw, unpasteurized honey straight-from-the-hive contains vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants. It’s also anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. And if you’re an allergy sufferer, even just a few teaspoons per day of local, raw wildflower honey can dramatically eliminate allergies. Just make sure you start a few months before allergy season begins for your immune system to catch up.

Maple syrup

Now I’m not talking about the flavored corn syrup marketed as maple syrup (sorry Aunt Jemima!) but real, organic grade B maple syrup. Grade B syrup has a more robust maple flavor and a higher vitamin and mineral content than Grade A. Don’t let labels fool you! B is better in this case. Studies show maple syrup is filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a number of diseases. Plus it contains essential nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, and potassium.   

Coconut sugar

Though there is controversy around the health benefits (and sustainability) of coconut sugar, it is lower on the glycemic index scale and less processed than refined sugar, making it a good one-to-one replacement for sugar in recipes. Because it’s less refined it contains more vitamins and minerals, but at the end of the day, you’re getting more health bang for your buck with the other alternative sweeteners. 

Stevia

Derived from a South American plant and 300x sweeter than sugar, stevia is the natural, calorie-free alternative to artificial sweeteners like aspartame. While studies are still inconclusive, stevia has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and help with weight management. Many cultures around the world have relied on Stevia for centuries as a sweetener, and even for medicinal use.

At the end of the day, you still don’t want to go overboard with any of these foods, but used in moderation, you can reap some real health benefits and indulge your sweet tooth, even if you’re trying to lose weight. Replacing toxic, chemicalized zero-calorie sweeteners with these natural alternatives helps your body understand that real food is coming in. Without this connection the body will react as if it’s not getting the proper nutrition, holding on to excess fat and potentially making you overeat later on.

So what are your favorite natural sugar alternatives? Do you use any of these?