Monthly Archives: October 2010

GSS: Are You Soup Savvy?

For many of us, canned soup is a staple in our regular diet.  A can of soup is  a comforting, cheap and easy on-the-go lunch or dinner,  and it’s healthy right?  Well, I’m going to find out!

Although many of the major soup companies advertise their health benefits (Light, 30% Less Sodium, Only 2 WW Points, etc.), their nutritional labels tell a different story.  Let’s have a look-see at some of the most popular brands and see how they stack up, shall we?

(As you know, each brand carries several flavors and varieties, so to keep things simple and fair, I’m comparing the basic chicken noodle variety from each company to give you an idea of the ingredients they use, but make sure you always read the labels yourself when buying any canned or packaged item.  And don’t just look at the fat grams and calories…read those ingredient lists people!)

Progresso Traditional Chicken Noodle – Take a look at all those ingredients!  I don’t know about you, but I don’t even recognize some of these words, and there are several things I don’t like, such as several forms of MSG and the modified corn starch.

Ingredients: Chicken Broth, Carrots, Cooked White Chicken Meat, Egg Noodle (Wheat Flour, Semolina Wheat, Egg), Celery, Modified Food Starch, Water, Chicken Fat, Salt, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Egg White, Potassium Chloride, Carrot Puree, Yeast Extract, Sugar, Soy Protein Isolate, Maltodextrin, Sodium Phosphate, Chives, Natural Flavor, Parsley, Garlic Powder, Egg Yolk, Onion Powder, Spice, Beta Carotene

Sorry Progresso lovers, but I can't give this brand my seal of approval!

Campbell’s Creamy Chicken Noodle – I’m afraid this nutrition label tells an even scarier story!  More MSG and modified starch, with a little corn syrup solids and other words I can’t pronounce thrown in for fun!  

Ingredients: Chicken Stock, Enriched Egg Noodles (Wheat Flour, Eggs, Egg Whites, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin and Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil, Modified Food Starch, Carrots, Cream, Chicken Meat, Salt, Mechanically Separated Chicken, Whey, Monosodium Gluatamate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Chicken Flavor, Corn Syrup Solids, Beta Carotene, Calcium Caseinate, Guar Gum, Yeast Extract, Flavoring, Xanthum Gum, Dehydrated Chicken Broth, Sodium Phosphate, Soy Protein Isolate, Dehydrated Chicken and Chicken Fat.

Campbell's also makes the Chunky and Select Harvest line of soups, so they control the bulk of the soup options found in most stores.

Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle – Different brand, same story!  I just love a little Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate in my soup, don’t you?  I’ve been researching a few of these ingredients that I can’t pronounce, and many of them boil down to MSG (Autolyzed Yeast Extract and Spice for example) and other preservatives or artificial sweeteners.  Are all these chemicals really necessary in a little chicken soup?

Ingredients: Chicken Broth, Carrots, Chicken Breast with Rib Meat, Celery, Enriched Egg Noodles (Durum Wheat Flour, Water, Whole Egg Solids, Egg White Solids, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Modified Corn Starch, Flavors, Salt, Maltodextrin, Turkey Broth, Rendered Chicken Fat, Modified Rice Starch, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Isolated Soy Protein, Chicken, Potassium Chloride, Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate, Spice, Sodium Phosphate, Mushroom Powder, Cottonseed Oil, Citric Acid, Turmeric, Beta Carotene.

Turns out it's not so healthy of a choice!

Muir Glen Organic Chicken Noodle – This is the clear winner when it comes to the canned soups I compared.  Just as with the Muir Glen spaghetti sauce, it costs a little more, but it’s worth it when you see that it’s all organic, the chicken is antibiotic and hormone free, it contains real cane juice instead of refined sugar, corn syrup or an artificial sweetener, and it’s MSG free.  You can find it as well as a few other good organic brands in the natural section of your grocery store.

Ingredients: Chicken broth (water, chicken stock, sea salt), carrots, cooked chicken meat, egg noodles, celery, water, sea salt, corn starch, natural chicken flavor, chicken fat, onion powder, soy protein concentrate, egg white powder, onion, black pepper, garlic powder, chives, yeast extract, cane juice, parsley flakes, turmeric, natural flavor, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary, carrot powder, potato flour and canola oil.

Of course this brand is nowhere near as beneficial as making a homemade soup, but at least we can pronounce all of its ingredients!

It’s the perfect time of year for soup, but nothing comes close to the nutrition found in a batch made from scratch.  It takes a little more effort, but wouldn’t it be comforting to know you’re only eating broth, chicken, veggies and maybe a little rice or noodles as opposed to all those harmful ingredients found in the popular canned brands?  You can make up a big batch and freeze it in individual containers so it’s ready to grab for lunch at the office or a quick dinner for kids.  (See my Working Woman Soup and Sweet Potato Chili recipes for some ideas!) For those times when you just don’t have the time for anything except the canned stuff, select the Muir Glen or another organic brand with no MSG.  I’m guessing places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s would have some healthier options as well.

Were you as surprised as I was to see all the crazy ingredients they put in the Progresso, Campbell’s and Healthy Choice soups?  What kind of soup does your family buy?  Do you have a great homemade recipe to share?  I want to hear from you!

The Halloween Candy Survival Guide

By JoAnna Anderson Brown, Certified Nutritional Therapist

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With Halloween just a few days away, temptation to overload on refined sugar is lurking around every corner.  To make matters worse, they stock the store shelves earlier and earlier every year, so Halloween candy starts haunting us around the Fourth of July!  If you have children, it’s even harder to resist all the sweets from class parties, fall festivals and of course, trick-or-treating.  I’m all for indulging in occasional treats in moderation, but when a one-day holiday turns into a month-long excuse to eat junk, well that’s what’s really scary!

I wish I could give you some kind of magic trick for overcoming all this temptation, but the truth is, it’s just going to come down to some good old-fashioned will power.   However, I can give you a few ideas for making wiser choices and hopefully controlling some of the Halloween damage!

  • Don’t buy Halloween candy too early. The fewer days it’s in your home, the fewer days you’ll have to resist eating it. Id you can, wait until the day of an event to purchase candy, or even better, skipp it all together and opt for a healthy trail mix or yogurt-covered raisins instead.  Most kids love little prizes like bouncy balls and press-on tattoos just as much as they love candy!
  • Eat a nutritious dinner before heading out to Halloween parties or trick-or-treating. If your stomach is already full with something wholesome, you and your kids will be less likely to fill up on all the junk.

Make sure your kids eat a good dinner before maxing out on sweets!

  • Store candy in a high cabinet or pantry. If it’s out of sight, your family is more likely to forget about it, and the faster you can throw it out!  After all, the Thanksgiving and Christmas sweets will immediately follow Halloween, so why still have all that orange candy sitting around your house?
  • Set limits on consumption. Decide in advance how much candy you are going to allow yourself and your children.  Maybe it’s one piece a day, or maybe everyone gets to enjoy it for just a day or two before the rest is thrown out or donated.  Maybe you want to stick to giving your child candies that take longer to eat, such as jolly ranchers, tootsie rolls and lolly pops, so they get to enjoy a smaller amount of candy for a longer amount of time.  You decide, but carve out some kind of boundary and stick to it!
  • Take the focus off the sweets. Most kids associate Halloween with two things – costumes and candy.  Take a healthier approach with your kids this year by focusing on the other fall rituals, such as pumpkin carving, picking apples and fun autumn art projects.  You’ll create great memories for your family and help everyone eat a little healthier.  As I mentioned above, you can also give out fun prizes like pencils and stickers instead of candy.  Also, resist the urge to purchase more candy the day after Halloween when it all goes on sale.  No matter how little it costs, it’s still harmful to you and your family’s health.
  • Remember not all sweets are created equal. When it comes to candy, it’s not just about fat and sugar.  Many brands of candy are also full of harmful dyes, processed soy, preservatives and hydrogenated oils.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that the ones containing nuts, raisins or coconut are better for you either!  As you decide which candies you’re going to allow your kids and give out to trick-or-treaters, read those labels and choose wisely!  You can tell a lot about the quality of a product by just looking at the first two or three items on the list of ingredients.  I mean, if I’m going to eat chocolate, I want to see cocoa as the first ingredient on the list, not the thirteenth!

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about check out this list of ingredients in a Baby Ruth bar.  Ingredients are listed based on highest quantity, so that means a Baby Ruth has a lot more hydrogenated oils and corn syrup and sugar than it does cocoa!  I’m not just picking on Baby Ruth, as there are many other brands with a similar list of ingredients.

Sugar, Roasted Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel and Coconut Oils, Milk, Cocoa, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Glycerin, Whey (from Milk) Nonfat Milk, Salt, Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Soybean Oil, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Carrageenan, TBHQ and Citric Acid (to Preserve Freshness) Caramel Color.

When I really look at what’s in it, the Baby Ruth bar is so not worth it to me. We can find treats in a more pure form at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Even some of the mainstream brands are a lot healthier than this.

As we all know, we’re embarking on the most challenging time of the year when it comes to our nutrition.  You might be tempted to just give up and start back over at the New Year, but don’t do it.  We can’t be perfect all the time, but we can finish this year strong and make better decisions for our health than we did last year.

A No Fuss Dinner Solution: Naughty and Nice Sweet Potato Chili

This delicious recipe combines both sweet and spicy flavors, and it’s jam-packed with nutritious veggies, and it includes comforting sweet potatoes.

Did we mention this recipe is EASY?  It’s so convenient if you don’t have a lot of time to cook because you basically just throw a bunch of stuff in the crock pot and forget about it, and a few hours later a scrumptious sweet and spicy aroma is filling your house and it’s time to eat!  If you prefer a vegetarian chili, just swap the meat out for kidney beans to keep it power-packed with protein.

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound ground turkey, or to give it even more flavor, use sweet or spicy turkey sausage links (or 1 can of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained for vegetarian dish)
2 leeks, trimmed to white and light green parts, chopped
1 large (or two small) zucchini, diced
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 large can (12 ounces) of diced tomatoes
1 can (8 ounces) of tomato sauce
2 1/2 TBS chili powder
2 TBS brown sugar
1 1/2 TSP curry powder
1 TSP cumin
1/2 TSP black pepper
1/4 TSP cinnamon
1 TSP red wine vinegar

Preparation Instructions:

Brown the meat and set aside.  Place the leeks, green beans, zucchini, chickpeas, tomatoes, tomato sauce and all the spices in the crock pot and mix well.  Place the sweet potatoes on top, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the crock pot.  Cover and cook 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.  About 30 minutes before serving, stir in meat and vinegar.  Enjoy!

Feel free to play with the veggie combo to include your favorites!

All the sweet and spicy flavors come together for a party in your mouth! To add even more kick, get the canned tomatoes with jalapenos.

This makes a great stand-alone dinner.  Since it includes the filling sweet potatoes, there’s really no need to add a starchy side.  A little cilantro would make a perfect garnish. You can also freeze the leftovers in individual tupperware containers for easy grab-and-go lunches!

With recipes like this, a busy evening doesn’t mean your family has to settle for the drive-thru.  With just a little planning and easy prep, you can have a highly nutritious dinner waiting for you when you walk in the door.

Do you have a great crock pot recipe to share?  What are your tricks for feeding a family on the go without sacrificing nutrition?