I Won’t Trade Trader Joe’s

August 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Favorites, Food, Reviews

My Favorite Grocery Store

My Favorite Grocery Store!

A couple of years ago, I was on vacation visiting my brother when I casually asked him what is his favorite grocery store.  Apparently, he thought it an odd, amusing question because he still sarcastically brings up the question to this day.  I was genuinely interested in knowing which chain had the most to offer given the plethora of unique stores in his area.   I’ve got news, bro, Project Runway’s Tim Gunn’s favorite grocery was a major topic of discussion on a recent Jimmy Fallon show.   🙂  Tim’s favorite is Ralph’s , by the way, because of its one-stop-shop style.

Well, there is no question in my mind as to which grocery store is my favorite ~ hands down, it’s Trader Joes’s.  Trader Joe’s truly is a unique shopping experience with the array of distinct products that, in many cases, shoppers can’t score anywhere else.  Trader Joe’s buyers search exotic locales as well as local farmers’ markets to bring shoppers the most tasty, healthful food and drinks.  Thanks to this neighborly chain, grocerying (one of my own words) is no longer a grueling chore for me and millions of other consumers.  I actually look forward to shopping at TJ’s, is that wrong?!?  Thanks to the genuinely pleasant cashiers, the organized shelves, the unique, interesting products and the catchy, cheery signs, grocery shopping is an experience not a chore.

Here is a sampling of Trader Joe’s products that consistently fill my cart.  There are more . . . but you should go check out your nearest Trader Joe’s and let me know what new discovery you make  ~

*Trader Joe’s Mini Whole Wheat Pitas – I dip these in my Hummus to Hum About.  They are addicting and light:

These tiny treats are as tasty as they are adorable.

These tiny treats are as tasty as they are adorable.

*Trader Joe’s (fat free) Cottage Cheese – I eat this before bed with flaxseed for a protein blast.  It’s creamier than most.

TJ's Cottage Cheese is creamier than most brands!

TJ's Cottage Cheese is creamier than most brands!

Where else can you find frozen papaya on a regular basis?!?  This makes for a uniquely flavored smoothie:

Trader Joe brings the exotic to you

Trader Joe brings the exotic to you

These are a yummy sweet treat.  I buy them in dark chocolate because a dose of dark chocolate is good for you. Mmmmm

These are delicious!!

These are delicious!!

I always meet the friendliest people at TJ’s.  This attests to the congenial atmosphere.  Oh, I almost forgot – this post would not be complete without me mentioning how amazed I was at a California Trader Joe’s I recently visited.  I was literally gasping out loud at each aisle I turned to (much to my daughter’s dismay).  I honestly could not contain myself to the variety of breads, hummus, cheeses, sauces and spreads, you name it, they had hundreds of each. Chalk one more up to a discerning grocery store for the discerning consumer.

GG gives Trader Joe’s an A+ for a pleasant, unique shopping experience.  Extra credit for fair pricing (often lower than larger grocery chain prices) and environmental friendliness (i.e. raffles to those who bring their own bags).

You’d Be Smart to Drink This

August 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Food, Reviews

We all do it – make resolutions at the beginning of the year and don’t keep them.  There is one resolution that I vow to keep each and every year, yet always fail.  It is the same thing that my mother has been telling me to do for as long as I can remember:  drink more.  How many of you have a mother who tells you to do that?!?

Seriously, I don’t drink enough water.  I never have and I used to think I never will.  As interested as I am to following an eat-clean diet, I cannot seem to master this one very important health habit.  I know all the reasons why I should:  flushes out toxins, raises metabolism, promotes healthy skin, etc.  I haven’t been able to swallow these benefits because I just don’t have a taste for water; it’s so plain to me.  I’ve tried mixing small amounts of flavored powder into my bottle water (Propel and Lipton’s Green Tea were my favorites).  This helped a little but I felt I was adding unnecessary additives.

Should be called Magic Water!

Should be called Magic Water!

One day a workout buddy gave me a bottle of Glacéau’s Smart Water.  I jokingly said, “Well, if it’s good enough for Jennifer Aniston, then it must be good enough for me.”  I drank my words that day because I actually finished the 20 bottle within a half hour (a feat for me . . . believe it).  Call me crazy but I taste a difference between this water and other bottled waters – and I’ve tried many of them in my search for the magic potion that will make me drink.  There’s something about it that goes down as easy as my favorite cranberry juice.  It is smoother than other bottled waters.

Here’s the smart facts on Smart Water ~ it is “vapor distilled electrolyte enhanced water” or, simply, water with electrolytes. This means it feels like you are drinking regular bottled water but you’re actually getting the added benefit of electrolytes (helps prevent dehydration), without getting the added  flavors and calories of other sports drinks.  We lose electrolytes when we sweat, yes, but the truth is we lose electrolytes throughout the day as we go through our daily activities too.  Electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations of our body fluids constant.  If they are not constant, functions such as nerve impulses and muscle contractions are diminished.  Thus, water and electrolytes are very important to improved skin quality, reduce headaches, reduce infections, and even improve breath.

Staying on top of hydration is not difficult with Smart Water.  Grading Girl gives Glacéau’s Smart Water an A for the smooth taste of fresh water coupled with the indispensable electrolyte benefits.   Add several glasses per day and be well on the way to reaping the many benefits.  I know I am – after just two weeks since adding Smart Water to my everyday diet, I’ve gone from averaging 4 ounces of water a day to 50 ounces of water . . . and counting.  I’m on my way thanks to Smart Water!

GG Addendum on 8/20:  Thank you to Glacéau for the care package!  I’ll put the baseball hat to good use!! 🙂

A TLC review of TLC!

August 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Favorites, Food, Reviews

A Favorite Snack

A very healthful snack

A very healthful snack

Addendum to this original postThank you to Kashi for sending the coupons for free snacks!  It is easy and enjoyable for me to review such delicious yet nutritious snacks.

How would you feel if you walked into a grocery store and saw your initials plastered all over products on the shelves?  If you’re like me, you’d be a little excited, a lot curious, and extremely likely to purchase them.  One day not too long ago, I was looking for crackers to serve at a party.  I planned on purchasing another leading brand but then I spotted it – a box of crackers with my initials, TLC!!  (I’m talking about my birth initials, peeps, not my blog initials. 😉 )

I snatched the box, read the nutrition information on the side, and was pleasantly surprised to find the crispy critters are low in fat, high in fiber, and full of nutritional ingredients such as brown rice, oats, buckwheat, and sesame seeds.  Honestly, I would have bought the crackers just to have the box with my initials; but, I ended up purchasing much more than a keepsake box.  I made my first of many purchases of the doesn’t-taste-as-healthful-as-they-are crackers.  These TLC crackers come in a variety of yummy flavors such as Country Cheddar, Toasted Asiago, Honey Sesame, and (my favorite) Fire Roasted Vegetable!  The crunchy crackers with the leaf imprint leave you satisfied and energized.  Check this out – no trans fat.  Being the kind of person who likes to make the extraordinary out of ordinary activities, I had my daughter try the TLC crackers and Wheat Thins while blindfolded.  I asked her to choose which one she preferred:  she chose the TLCs!!  This, coming from a girl who usually turns her nose up at my attempt to substitute eat clean products for old favorites, attests to the taste of these little gems.  I enjoy them with my Hummus to Hum About, with cheese, or even naked with nothing on them at all!  They are that good.  I LOVE finding snacks like this when I’m hosting parties . . . snacks that will keep my guests satisfied while not veering off of my own eat clean diet.  Win win!!

The TLC products are made by Kashi, the very healthful food company.  Prior to discovering the crackers, I was already and still am a big fan of the Kashi cereals.  Since finding the crackers, I’ve been on the lookout for other great products by Kashi.  The TLC products consist of the company’s line of snacks and bars, the TLC standing for Tasty Little Crackers (how adorable!), Tasty Little Chewies, Tasty Little Cookies, and Tasty Little Crunchies.  Since faithfully purchasing the crackers, I made another recent TLC find just this past month:  the TLC Honey Almond Flax All Natural Chewy Granola Bars (pictured above) a.k.a. Tasty Little Chewie.  This is big news because I am VERY picky about my snack bars . . . so picky that I don’t purchase them that often.  I am turned off by all the unnatural additives, unnecessary fat, or high caloric content.  These, in fact, are free of any refined sugars and artificial ingredients.  They are packed with seven types of grain including whole wheat, rye, barley, oats, brown rice, seasame seeds, and buckwheat.  They live up to their name . . . they are chewy and just sweet enough to satisfy taste buds.  I now keep one stashed in my purse for those times when I’m in-between working out and chores, knowing I won’t be home for a while to eat a meal.  With seven grams of protein per serving, they serve as a quality post-workout snack to maintain lean muscle.  Finally, with each bar adding up to only 140 calories, eating one of these leaves me satisfied without the guilt.  Kashi makes it possible to eat clean on the go.

My favorite crackers - all the flavors are delicious

My favorite crackers - all the flavors are delicious

GG gives both the Kashi TLC crackers and the Kashi TLC Honey Almond Flax bars an A for healthful nutritional content accompanied by tantalizing taste.  I recommend trying these products along with Kashi’s other offerings including their very healthful cereals, cookies, and frozen entrees.  Thank you, Kashi, for spreading a little TLC.  The world is that much more healthy when we have healthful foods such as yours to choose from.

GG’s side note:  When I was preparing to write this blog and visited the Kashi website, I couldn’t help but notice what a people-oriented company Kashi seems to be.  Between the daily challenges to the recipes to the wellness hub, Kashi certainly is dedicated to making our world a more healthful place.  We need more companies like this!  See for yourself:  www.kashi.com

Can You OD on This Stuff?

July 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Favorites, Food, Reviews

My Favorite Snack

Don’t let my site fool you. I wasn’t always Ms. Clean Eater by any means. In grade school, Hostess Suzy Q’s or cupcakes were my favorite breakfast fare . . . that is, if my mom didn’t have one of her delectable baked goodies around like she usually did. In high school, I remember regularly noshing on tater tots and chocolate shakes for lunch. In college, oreo blizzards at 10:30pm were a regular snack. Hey, I was hungry after late night play rehearsals or study sessions. It wasn’t until as recently as a couple of years ago that I started to become fully aware of the benefits of clean eating. And now the more I know, the more I want to eat well.

Fage = The Leading Greek Style Yogurt

Fage = The Leading Greek Style Yogurt

One food item I cannot get enough of these days is FAGE.  Yogurt became a regular staple in my diet a couple years ago but it’s only been a couple months since I dived into the extra, ridiciously thick Greek yogurt style.  I’ve tried many brands and this one is definitely the tastiest.  It’s not as tart as others.  It’s the one brand that can stand alone plain without any added sweeteners or fruit.

Maybe it’s my replacement for ice cream (yes, I used to spoon ice cream right out of the container – my favorite time to do that was right after I brought it home from the grocery store when it was still semi-soft,  hmmmmmm heaven), maybe it’s my replacement for vanilla pudding (I used to love to make vanilla pudding and put cherry pie filling on top, OMG), maybe it’s my replacement for all things sweet.  Whatever it is . . . I’m satisfying my cravings while getting important nutrients at the same time.  And I mean it when I say I can’t get enough of this stuff.  It’s the first thing I grab when I open the fridge hungrily looking for a snack.  I MUST have at least one serving a day, although lately I’ve been known to have two.   I can’t help it – after having one serving a few hours before, I’ll peel open the cover of a second 6 ounce container just a wee bit . . . I’ll fully intend to just take a couple spoonfuls but WHAM . . . before I know it . . . I’m lustfully licking the whole container clean.  I guess there are much more unhealthy foods I could be binging on, right?

Did you know that Greek style yogurt contains more protein and less carbs per 8 0z serving?  Fage 0% contains 0g fat, 20g protein, 9g carb, and only 85mg of sodium.  Comparing Greek style to regular, StonyField Farm Organic fat free plain yogurt (not Greek Style) contains 0g fat, 11g protein, 16g carb, and 160mg of sodium.  StonyField is a great brand and is, in fact, my second favorite.  But ounce for ounce, we get more bang for our buck with the Greek version.  Higher levels of protein with lower carbs helps build and maintain muscle while lowering cholesterol levels.  This creamier yogurt contains casein – a slow digesting protein that will keep you fuller longer.  Like regular yogurt, it also contains active cultures that are linked to improving the immune system.  This means better digestion and less bloating, people.

The consistency of Fage Greek style yogurt is equivalent to sour cream.  This means it can be placed on potatoes, in dips, and in recipes that call for sour cream as a healthful alternative.  If eating plain yogurt just doesn’t appeal to you no matter what I tell you, try this GG healthful tip:  place 1/2 – 1 scoop of your favorite flavor whey protein into 8 ounces of Fage and mix.  Yummmm . . . you’ll have flavored yogurt without the unnatural additives or sugars.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that indulging in ice cream or pudding or whatever your fancy once in a while is fine and in fact healthful.  You’ll then avoid the crazy binging overload by giving into your cravings once in a while.  Everything in moderation is the way to go.  Just keep Fage in mind for your everyday, eat clean diet and you’re digestive system will be thanking you.  🙂

Grading Girl gives Fage an A for satisfying taste, beneficial nutrients, and practical replacement options.  Fage earns a B- for a slightly higher price than most yogurts (approx. $4 for two 6 ounce containers compared to $4 for one 32 ounce container of Stonyfield plain yogurt) . . . . but they say we get what we pay for.  I’ll just have to save my pennies by holding off on the sour cream and mayonnaise on my grocery list.

Now, if you’ll excuse me . . . I think it’s time for my second serving of Fage today!!!

Here We Go Round the Mulberries and Gojis

July 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Food, Reviews

Along with whey protein powder mixed with water or chocolate milk, here are my two favorite post-workout snacks for muscle recovery.  But wait . . . they are not just for the exercise addicts.  Contraire mon frere, they are beneficial for EVERYONE!!  I’m a firm believer that we are what we eat; absolutely everything we put into our bodies helps or hurts us in some way.  Read on, and you’ll see why these two little-known berries pack powerful punches for our physical and mental health.

Goji Berries:

Goji Berries

Goji Berries

Goji berries are usually found dried. They are shriveled red berries that look like red raisins to me.  After doing a little digging, I found that goji berries have been used for 6,000 years by herbalists in China, Tibet and India to:  improve sexual function and fertility, strengthen the legs, protect the liver, help eyesight, boost immune function, improve circulation, and promote longevity – pretty interesting usages!!!  Goji berries are rich in antioxidants, particularly carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Get this . . . one of zeaxanthin’s key roles is to protect the retina of the eye by absorbing blue light and acting as an antioxidant. In fact, increased intake of foods containing zeathanthin may decrease the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over the age of 65.  Hmmm . . . could this be why my contact lenses strength improved a while back?!?  Gojis have a sweet and sour taste (more on the sour side actually) so you may not crave them; but, just munching on a handful a day gives you the extra boost from the antioxidants.  GG tip:  walnuts compliment them perrrrfectly.  Mix the two together and, voila, you’ve got a terrific trail mix.

Mulberries:From Mauroguanandi on Flckr

Mulberries have a subtly sweeter taste than goji berries.  They are also most readily found dry and are somewhat chewier than the goji as well.  As the package of The Raw Choice mulberries states, this superfood is rich in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant able to increase the quality of our eyesight, fight cancer, slow down the aging process (including slowing gray hair!!), fight or control diabetes, and generally strengthen the body against disease.  But wait, there’s more . . . another main antioxidant in mulberries is Resveratrol, which is thought to increase endurance, fight neurodegenerative diseases and also prevent cancer. Tests have also indicated that Resveratrol may counteract the ill effects of a high fat diet too!!  They also have quite a large percentage of protein, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin K.  Whoa, that’s a load of vitamins in a tiny package!  In other words, they make especially good snacks for anyone who feels slightly rundown.  GG tip:  these are the perfect snack to stash in your gym bag, tote, etc.  Also, these are especially yummy mixed with oatmeal.

Both the goji berries and mulberries are a perfect dry snack to enjoy by the handful or can be mixed with cereals, blended in smoothies and stirred into yogurt or salads.  Grading Girl gives both berries a B+ only because they are not as readily available here in the United States as other dried fruit such as cranberries.  So far, I have only been able to find both at Whole Foods.  Trader Joes sells a goji berry trail mix including other nuts but they do not sell gojis alone.  C’mon grocers, get your gojis and mulberries on – we may be a more healthful society with these berries made more available!

ZEVIA – The Natural Soda

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Food, Reviews

ZEVIA - The Natural Soda

ZEVIA - The Natural Soda

Can the words natural and soda co-exist or is “natural soda” an oxymoron? After reviewing the newer natural sweetener, Truvia, the good folks at ZEVIA sent Grading Girl samples of this surprisingly delightful, unindulgent indulgence.  Admittedly, I all but eliminated soda from my adopted clean-eating diet a few years ago.  But when I unzipped the compact cooler containing the soda (thank you, ZEVIA!) and opened my first can, I was surprised at how light, fresh and tasty the bevarage actually was.  ZEVIA comes in six varieties – ZEVIA Natural Cola, ZEVIA Natural Orange, ZEVIA Natural Twist, ZEVIA Natural Root Beer, ZEVIA Natural Black Cherry, and ZEVIA Natural Ginger Ale.  The first flavor I opened was the Natural Cola as I wanted to see just how similar to the leading diet sodas this tasted.  This flavor tasted so close to Diet Coke that I had to run to my closest grocer to grab a can and compare the two side-by-side.  The result:  ZEVIA had a lighter, more refreshing taste whereas Diet Coke left me feeling full.  Zevia was, in fact, just fractionally sweeter – not too sweet, but enough to satisfy my taste buds more than the average soda.

Now they had my curiousity.  Next, I tested the Natural Orange . . . this one tasted better than the Orange Crush I used to drink as a kid.  Maybe it was because I hadn’t sipped flavored soda in years, but I finished the whole can rather quickly (unusual for me).  Here’s a rundown of my taste test on each of the ZEVIA flavors:

ZEVIA Natural Orange Ingredients

ZEVIA Natural Orange Ingredients

Natural Cola =  Lighter, more refreshing than the leading Cola

Natural Orange = Tasted as if a bit of juice from an orange was squeezed into it (made with natural orange oil)

Natural Twist = Almost as light as my lemon water

Natural Root Beer = Very authentic, old fashioned root beer taste (this coupled with fat free ice cream would make a guiltless root beer float!!!)

Natural Ginger Ale = As with the Natural Cola, more refreshing and light than the originals.  I’m buying a case of this to keep on hand when my daughter’s home sick and won’t drink anything else.

Natural Black Cherry = My favorite (as are all things cherry!)  Just sweet enough.

So are these tasty treats too good to be true?  Grading Girl did her research on the few ingredients found in the sodas.  The main ingredient, Stevia, is found in all six flavors.  It’s a natural herb native to South and Central America.   For centuries, native Americans of Paraguay and Brazil called it “sweet leaf” and used it to sweeten native foods. The extract from the stevia leaf has no calories, no effect on blood sugar levels, and is much sweeter than sugar.  This would explain how it can be so pleasing to the palette without the unwanted side effects.  The next ingredient found in all six flavors is Erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol found in fruits and vegetables, also with no calories or effect on blood sugar levels.   Here is a bonus for those of us who remember those 2nd grade experiments where the teacher leaves a tooth in a glass of soda to quickly decay – Erythritol does not promote tooth decay!  In fact, the caramel coloring found in the Natural Cola is only from real caramel.  The other ingredients found in a few of the flavors are just as natural: tartaric acid occurs naturally in many plants, particularly grapes, bananas, and tamarinds, and is also found in wine (Most colas use cheap, harmful phosphoric acid for flavor.   Phosphoric acid is used in fertilizers and detergents! Yikes!); kola nut extract naturally occurs in caffeine (which is only found in the Natural Cola flavor, by the way); annato is the only existing natural orange coloring (the ZEVIA team searched far and wide to find this as they refused to use any unnatural coloring); and, ginger root is found in the Natural Root Beer and Natural Ginger Ale flavors.

The correct answer is no, this is not too good to be true; and, with ZEVIA, the term “natural soda” is not an oxymoron.  The 0 calories, 0mg sodium, 0g sugar, 0g fat equals one thirst-quenching, crave-curbing soft drink.

Grading Girl gives ZEVIA an A for pleasingly refreshing taste without the bloated filling afterward that sodas usually leave me with.  This is one type of soda – no, let me correct that, the ONLY soda – I will be happy to stock my fridge with and not feel guilty about sipping myself!!  Thank you, ZEVIA, for creating a seemingly too-good-to-be-true product into something that just about everyone can consume within their clean-eating lifestyles.  My daughter especially thanks you since I’ve been refusing to buy other sodas.

Addendum to original post:  Thank you to Zevia for sending the 6-pack of soda.  My family enjoyed every last drop!!

It’s True – Truvia is the Healthy Sweetener

May 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Food, Reviews

Truvia - The Natural Sweetener

Truvia - The Natural Sweetener

Two representatives of a new natural sweetener were at my gym the other day. When they found out about my website, they gave me many samples to try. I just used one sample in a Sunday late afternoon fruit salad ~ what a pleasant addition.

As I’ve already revealed in my Shake the Sugar post, sugar is my vice. Before I discovered the benefits of clean eating, Suzy Qs and Twinkies used to be normal staples in my breakfast menus. Naturally, my interest peaked when I was tempted last week to try the Truvia lemonade at the gym. Not only did it taste sweetfully sugarful, but it didn’t waste the couple of hours I just spent upstairs working up a sweat because it contains 0 calories. What’s more, one little packet is equal to two teaspoonfuls of sugar. That means if used as a replacement in recipes, half the amount of Truvia will be needed in comparison to the original amount of sugar.

So what is in Truvia that makes it so tasty yet healthful? Grading Girl did her research and found out Truvia contains three ingredients: Erythritol, Rebiana, and natural sweeteners. Erythritol sounds like a chemical but it is actually a naturally fermented sugar alcohol found in pears and grapes. It’s made by a culture much like making yogurt from milk. It is then filtered, dried, and crystallized into a dry ingredient that is 99% pure. Rebiana is what gives Truvia its sweet taste. It comes from the best part of stevia leaves. What makes Truvia different from other sweeteners is that the other sweeteners are a mixture of components from the Stevia leaves; Truvia is made from the strongest component only, Rebiana. Finally, the natural sweeteners are used “much like salt and pepper is used to taste,” as the Truvia website tells us. This is the only part that has Grading Girl wondering – what exactly are the “natural sweeteners?” This is the smallest portioned ingredient and I’m impressed with the natural way this sweetener is produced, but it would still be satisfying to know exactly every morsel that makes up the final product.

Overall Grading Girl gives Truvia, “Nature’s Perfect Sweetness,” an A- as a quality natural sweetener to use in coffee, lemonade, baked goods, cereal, yogurt, etc. I plan on using the rest of my samples in baked goods and oatmeal, and I can’t wait to get some during my next trip to Whole Foods. Half the amount of Truvia is equal to a full amount of sugar (1/2 cup Truvia = 1 cup sugar).  This means your baked goods will have less sugar and less calories.  Extra credit to Truvia for being non-caloric and having no effect on the glycemic index! This means it’s a safe alternative for diabetics and people trying to lose weight.

Thank you, Truvia, for satisfying this girl’s strong sugar cravings!!  Double thank you for the free samples!!!  I used every last crystal with confidence!

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