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WHATCHA GOT COOKIN’ THAT’S HEALTHY & TASTY?

Melanie is regularly posting new and tasty recipes with the healthiest foods on earth. Check back often for ideas on making yummy meals and delightful treats that have health benefits.

WHAT’S THE HEALTHIEST FOOD TO BUY?

Going to the grocery store or farmer’s market and not sure what to buy to achieve your best health or how to purchase good, quality food on a budget? Melanie’s food buying guide for healthy meals and snacks is here to help!

Food Buying

My food buying guide is what I do or would buy based on my beliefs about real, healthy eating. And if you can grow it or raise it yourself and not need to buy it, bonus points! I don’t advocate people consume grains and legumes or any processed or fake foods, so you won’t see any of that on the list. I will be putting up some posts in the future regarding grains and legumes. Some people can tolerate them okay with certain preparations. However, none of us really benefit from processed and/or fake foods.

If you have a food that’s not listed here and you really feel the need to have it, contact me on my Facebook page to inquire if I think there is a “healthy” (less bad) version of that food somewhere on the market. I might can also point you to a recipe to make it yourself. You can also post any questions or comments you have about this food buying guide on the website.

Meat

Beef – Don’t bother buying beef if it is not grass-fed. If the label reads organic and grass-fed, great. But, if it is 100% grass-fed then organic is not as relevant with the exception that the producer is claiming not to use pesticides and fertilizers on their grass. Organic beef would generally mean that the producer is feeding the cows organic grain. That’s nice, but a cow still isn’t designed to eat grain and grain is not good for their digestive systems and their overall health (and we want to eat healthy cow). And be sure even with grass-fed that the producer is stating no antibiotics or hormones used on the cows.

You can find grass-fed beef at many grocery stores now, including Earth Fare, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Super Target. Ideally, the best way to purchase grass-fed beef is to find someone local who sells it. Check at your local farmer’s market, do an online search for grass-fed and your city, or check this website.

I highly encourage you to eat about four ounces of grass-fed beef liver per week.  You often need to get grass-fed beef liver from a local source, but I have found that Whole Foods will often have grass-fed beef liver in the frozen meat section.

Lamb – Buy 100% grass-fed lamb. New Zealand is usually the best.

Venison – Lean red meat that is typically going to be wild (meaning chemical free and eating a natural diet). You can search online for where to buy venison or make friends with a local hunter or call a local meat processor and ask them where to buy.

Rabbit – Whenever you can find wild game meat (or hunt it yourself) go for it.  I discovered that Whole Foods sells rabbit meat in the frozen meat section.  Throw one in the slow cooker!

Turkey – If you can find it, buy organic, heritage breed turkey meat. This can be harder to find though. I admit that I just try to buy the highest quality turkey that I can find, even though it is not typically organic. The brand I buy most often is Plainville Farms. I also like to buy the Uncured Turkey Bacon at Trader Joe’s. Yum!

Chicken – I don’t buy a ton of chicken, but when I do, I get organic and free range when I can find it, but at the very least, organic. I either buy a whole chicken or legs and thighs. I rarely buy breast meat because the dark meat has more flavor and iron and zinc in it and is less expensive. I don’t fear the fat in the dark meat. Lately, I’ve been buying the organic chicken at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Pastured and organic would be the best, but free-range and organic will do. Pastured and free-range are not necessarily the same thing (more on this under Eggs).

Eggs – I’m not sure why it is that eggs get lumped in with dairy. I’m going to put them under the meat category since they can substitute in as a meat source as far as I’m concerned. Buy pastured if you have the money. The ideal is eggs from chickens that freely roam a pasture and eat grass and bugs and whatever else they freely choose to eat (my husband saw ours eat a mouse recently). Our chickens are pastured, but we do feed them some gluten-free grain. Actually, I cook for them, but that is another story. So, go for pastured eggs, then organic if you don’t find pastured. Free roaming and free range can be deceiving terms in that the chicken maybe had access to a tiny piece of ground with a million other chickens on the same tiny piece of ground or they just got to roam around the chicken house. If you can, I would encourage you to find someone local selling pastured eggs and ask them how they raise the chickens to be sure. We sell eggs to locals. Regular eggs are not the end of the world. I’m more okay with buying conventional eggs if you have to, than I am with you buying conventional chicken. The eggs haven’t been around long enough to harbor as many toxins.

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Fish

Salmon – Wild caught Alaskan salmon. That’s it. That’s the rule. No other salmon. Fresh, frozen or canned is fine.  When buying canned, choose salmon in BPA free cans like Crown Prince, Raincoast Trading, Vital Choice, Wild Planet, and Trader Joe’s.

Trout – In the case of trout, farm-raised can be okay. I buy farm-raised rainbow trout. I have also gone to a trout farm and caught them myself.

Sardines – Most sardines are reasonably safe. I buy mine in water because I don’t know the quality of the olive oil used. Skin and bones can provide you with more nutrients like vitamin D and calcium, but I admit to still being a little squeamish about the crunch of the bones in my mouth (especially when I see little spines-ewww!). When buying, choose Pacific sardines in BPA free cans like Raincoast Trading and Wild Planet.

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Dairy

*Some people really should not be consuming dairy. However, some people can safely do so. I’m not a big fan of adults drinking milk though.

Milk – I am an advocate of raw milk (from grass-fed cows), but I know that is controversial and banned in many states (like mine). If you must buy milk, here is what I’d buy if you can find it – organic, grass-fed, non-homogenized, and as little pasteurization as possible. And for goodness sake, choose whole milk, not fat-free.  Brands in my area include Kalona Supernatural, Organic Valley GrassMilk, and Atlanta Fresh Creamery.

Goat milk can be a good choice, but if it is ultra-pasteurized, then the proteins could be damaged and you might be better off without it.

Cheese – I love cheese and admit to eating any of it. However, I pretty much only buy grass-fed cheese. Some is organic and some is not. The ideal here is raw, organic, and grass-fed. Can’t find too many cheeses that meet that criteria, but Organic Valley sells one. I most often buy the KerryGold Dubliner since it is grass-fed, but it isn’t raw.

Many people can tolerate goat and sheep cheese better than cow. Ideally, look for goat and sheep cheese that is raw and grass-fed. Many of the raw cheeses from Europe are more likely to be grass-fed. If I am not mistaken, I think pecorino romano is always from grass-fed sheep and usually raw.

Butter – If you have never heard of a Paleo or Primal diet, then perhaps you haven’t yet heard how good butter is for you. Packed with nutrients and it won’t stop your heart. Our ancestors have eaten it for a long time and they didn’t all have massive coronaries, or we wouldn’t be here. But like any of the other food discussed here, quality matters. And again, when it comes to dairy, you want to choose grass-fed. You can get organic and grass-fed butter from Organic Valley. You can also get the grass-fed Kerrygold butter that has become so popular – Both are delicious to eat and cook with, but I slightly prefer the Organic Valley for taste. However, the Kerrygold is usually less expensive and easier to find. I buy my Kerrygold at Trader Joe’s or Costco for the best price.

Ghee – Ghee is clarified butter and can often be tolerated by people who can’t really tolerate other dairy.  It is a traditional healthy fat that is good for you.  It is pricier than butter, so I just buy butter, but I can tolerate dairy okay. If I were buying Ghee, I’d get organic and grass-fed like Pure Indian Foods brand or Purity Farms.

Yogurt – Many people eat yogurt because they think it is healthy, it contains friendly probiotics, and it’s recommended on many diets. I used to eat it as a healthy snack, thinking it would provide me with weight loss. The problem – I was (like many of you) eating the wrong kind of yogurt. I used to eat non-fat or low-fat that wasn’t organic and contained lots of sugar (strawberry cheesecake flavor, anyone?). Here is what I try to eat now – organic, grass-fed, un-homogenized, low heat pasteurization, and PLAIN and FULL FAT. Pretty much like how you would choose milk if you insist on milk. The advantage of yogurt is that it does indeed contain healthy bacteria.

Brands to choose include Organic Valley GrassMilk, Kalona Supernatural, and Maple Hill Creamery.

Sour Cream – Similar criteria as shopping for yogurt. Sour cream is a condiment and should be used as such. These are the two that I can find in my area that meet some of the criteria and are both thick and yummy: Kalona Supernatural and Green Valley Organics.

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Vegetables

I’m not going to list individual veggies since most all veggies are good for you and should be ideally bought fresh and local and organic. *Growing your own without chemicals is the super ideal way to go. You should only be avoiding most canned vegetables and processed veggies (ones with added ingredients). *People with autoimmune disease should consider avoiding vegetables in the nightshade family: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

I will, however, share my buying habits when not buying fresh or picking from my garden. Also, be sure to view my guide on when it is really important to buy organic, if you don’t buy or can’t find everything organic.

Buying frozen is admittedly mostly a convenience thing for me and sometimes it is cheaper than fresh. I get most of my frozen veggies at Trader Joe’s, but some at Earth Fare and Whole Foods. I sometimes buy frozen corn for my husband and hash brown potatoes from Cascadian Farms because these are the only frozen potatoes I have found with no added ingredients.

The only vegetables I buy in a can are canned pumpkin and canned tomatoes. Pumpkin because it has lots of healthy qualities and canned because I’ve never seen it frozen and you can’t always find a fresh pumpkin year round. This is the one I buy sometimes (lots of recipe links here too!), but seasonally Trader Joe’s has organic canned pumpkin.

I get canned tomatoes primarily for my husband and his need for chili and (gluten-free) spaghetti. When I do occasionally buy canned tomato products, it is usually from Trader Joe’s.

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Fruits

The same applies to fruits as it does veggies – fresh, local, and organic. The local part can be a bit harder than it is with vegetables. And again, refer to my guide about which fruits are more important to buy organic than others.

Trader Joe’s has a decent selection of fresh fruits often priced better than other stores, but fewer organic choices. They also have a good selection of frozen fruit. I like the organic frozen raspberries and frozen pineapple. I love popping them in my mouth to eat while they’re still frozen.

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Nuts & Seeds

All nuts and seeds should be purchased raw and placed in the refrigerator or freezer to keep the healthy fats from becoming rancid. To make nuts and seeds more digestible and to better absorb the nutrients they contain, soak and dry your nuts before consuming them. If you really prefer your nuts roasted and salted or seasoned, you can do so, just be sure to roast them yourself at low heat.

Trader Joe’s has a great selection of raw nuts and seeds, but you can buy them at other stores and online as well. Trader Joe’s also has a great raw almond butter at a good price. I love the almond butter, but I try to limit it because even though it is raw, the nuts probably weren’t soaked first.

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Fats

In addition to the fat in your protein sources, dairy fat, and nuts and seeds, the other primary fats you want to be consuming are avocados, olive oil/olives, and coconut (in various forms).

Avocados are mostly monounsaturated fat and are packed with so many vitamins and minerals that you would do well to have one three or four times per week. Avocados are reasonably safe in non-organic form, but I have to say that I can personally tell a significant taste difference between organic and non-organic. I only buy organic. Trader Joe’s has bags of them. *Can you tell I like Trader Joe’s?! If you can afford it, you can also use avocado oil.

Olive oil is a mostly monounsaturated fat and is healthy when it is pure and unheated. Olive oil is better used unheated, but if you like to cook with it, stick to low heat cooking to prevent damaging the fat. Saturated fats such as coconut oil and butter are better for high heat cooking, although I don’t advocate high heat cooking for anything. The ideal olive oil is organic extra virgin that has been cold pressed and unrefined. I currently buy olive oil at Trader Joe’s.

The same thing about heat goes for olives. The ones that are refrigerated at the store are better for you than the ones in cans or jars sitting on the non-refrigerated shelves, which may have had heat exposure depending on how the manufacturer processed them.

Coconut is a healthy saturated fat (yes, I said healthy saturated fat). It is mostly medium chain triglycerides which the body treats as fuel and will burn it efficiently when you are in a fat adapted state. Coconut is best consumed in the form of coconut oil which can be used for cooking, eating, or even making a few treats. Other forms of coconut can be good, but don’t go overboard on things like coconut flour in an effort to make a bunch of baked goods.

Coconut oil is ideal purchased as organic, cold-pressed, unrefined, and extra virgin. I like Nutiva.

Here are a few other coconut product options:

Coconut Milk
Coconut Butter
Coconut Manna
Coconut Water
Creamed Coconut
Coconut Meat (shredded or flaked)
Coconut Flour
Coconut Aminos
Coconut Vinegar

Red palm oil is a lesser known cooking fat that is full of antioxidants and vitamin E. By itself, I think the flavor is a bit bland, but I occasionally use it for cooking veggies just for a change up in my cooking oil. I highly recommend the red palm oil from Nutiva.

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Condiments / Other

Most condiments are processed foods and contain forms of sugar or other things that are less than ideal. I don’t buy many and sometimes make my own. Also, I’ve included a few other things that I buy that don’t fit neatly into the other categories.

Mustard & Ketchup – Just read your labels for things like sweeteners and artificial colors and other stuff. There are several brands of organic on the market, but I am buying Trader Joe’s organic yellow mustard and organic ketchup right now.

Vinegar – Buy organic vinegar with no other ingredients than vinegar.  For apple cider vinegar, the best is Bragg’s.

Cacao – Raw cacao powder has several health benefits and can be used in a variety of ways. Navitas Naturals is the one I buy (I buy it on Amazon). This company also has some other really great products that are acceptable and they have recipes on their website.

Herbal Teas – I buy different brands and always try to get organic. One of my favorite brands is Yogi. Their tea really seems to have a lot of flavor.  I also really like Traditional Medicinals, particularly for specific health concerns.

Kombucha – I think kombucha in moderation can be beneficial for the digestive system. You can make your own or buy it already bottled. Be careful about the brands and flavors that you buy because many of them have too much sugar. I buy Synergy, but some of their flavors are higher in sugar than others, so look at the sugar content and get the lowest amount. *Gingerade is a good one to get. Like most stuff, making it yourself can be the healthiest version. Other kombuchas that I have found that are good – High Country Kombucha and Live Soda Kombucha.

Protein Bars & Other Snack Bars –  For protein bars, I like meat bars.  I avoid soy protein bars (most protein bars are soy) and I avoid whey protein bars.  I like EPIC bars the best, but the Tanka bars are good as well.  I generally avoid snack bars, but when I have one, it is usually a Lara Bar (the ones with the lowest sugar content) or the Lara Bar Uber.   I haven’t tried the Lara Bar Renola, but it would be an okay snack.

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Herbs & Spices & Sweeteners

Many people look to fat and sugar for flavor because they simply don’t know how to use herbs and spices in cooking. I definitely encourage you to use fresh and dried herbs and spices in/on all your food. Fresh herbs are better added to uncooked dishes or added at the end or after cooking.

Most of my dried herbs come from Frontier and I typically get the organic ones. I buy the big bulk bags and then put them into smaller jars. Mountain Rose Herbs is also a great source for herbs and spices.

Salt can and should be a healthy part of any diet, if it is natural, unrefined sea/mineral salt. Look for true pink Himalayan salt or Celtic brand sea salt or Redmond Real Salt.

Sweeteners are best avoided or used sparingly. However, if you feel the occasional need or want a treat at holidays and other celebrations, I recommend real stevia, raw, local honey, organic grade B maple syrup, molasses, and sucanat. SweetLeaf and Stevita are decent choices for stevia. Truvia is not. I grow stevia and dehydrate it and grind it up for use.

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