Product Review: Explore Cuisine Organic Edamame Spaghetti

Pasta is a staple for many of us and our families – it’s easy, quick, convenient, and yummy. But white pasta is full of “bad” carbs and empty calories and the whole grain versions are still quite calorie-dense and easy to overeat. Plus, if you’re sensitive to gluten, neither of those are a good option. For these reasons, I’m always looking for new pasta alternatives. One that I am a big fan of is the Ultra-Grain pasta from Hodgson Mills, which is a whole wheat & quinoa blend. I’ve tried rice pastas before and am not really a fan of the texture – they tend to be kind of gummy. I’m also not really a fan of black bean pastas because you can taste the bean flavor and the texture is off to me as well. This week I decided to give Edamame pasta a try.

img_20180711_182955

Nutrition

Explore Cuisine’s edamame pasta has a lot going for it nutritionally. The first thing that I noted was that it is organic and non-GMO. If you are not familiar with edamame, it is a soy bean and 93% of soy sold in the US is genetically modified. If it is not labeled organic or non-GMO, you can bet that your soy is genetically modified. So that earned this pasta it’s first point from me.

mvimg_20180711_185047
Explore Cuisine Edamame Spaghetti dry

The second major eye-catcher is that it contains 24 grams of protein per serving. That is huge and, coupled with the 13 grams of fiber per serving, means that this is a very filling pasta that will leave you feeling sated for a long time after. It also makes it hard to overeat it because you start feeling full very quickly.

 

This pasta is also pretty low-calorie at just 180 calories per serving. This means there is wiggle room for the calories added by what you top it with (check out my veggie-loaded pasta sauce recipe here or give a cauliflower alfredo sauce a try). Another perk: this paste is a great source of calcium, iron, and potassium.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking at this point “OK but how big is a serving?”. According to the box, a serving is 2 oz, but it doesn’t indicate whether that is dry or prepared. It does say that there are 4 serving per box, so I would say just take 1/4 of the prepared box. Trust me, it will fill you up.

Ease of Prep

Some non-flour pastas are kind of high-maintenance when it comes to prep; not the case with this spaghetti. Your bring the water to a boil, dump it in, and it’s done in 3-5 minutes. This is faster than many pasta varieties so I really liked that. It’s definitely a quick and easy dinner option.

Taste and Texture

OK but what is it like?! I really, really like this spaghetti. It has just a very light, savory flavor to it so it can work with pretty much any sauce/topping. The texture is very satisfying. It’s definitely different from a flour pasta’s texture, a bit chewier, but in a good way. Especially where it’s a fine spaghetti, the chewy, almost meaty texture is nice and give you that full mouth feel.

I had just one serving and it left me feeling very satisfied and full for the rest of the night. The best part was probably that I didn’t experience that awful bloated feeling that I often get after eating a regular pasta. I just felt well-fed! We prepared it as a sort-of shrimp scampi with olive oil and lemon juice plus shrimp and sautéed onions and peppers. I was worried that doing such a light sauce meant its flavor would be drowned out by the taste of the pasta, but that was not the case at all! It turned out delicious.

Overall:

I would give Explore Cuisine’s Edamame Spaghetti 5 stars.

img_20180711_1902531
Our version of shrimp scampi that we made with the edamame pasta

 

Product Review: Boozy Seltzers

Ok. You might be thinking “um, a health coach is reviewing alcohol?” Yes, I am, because I think balance is very important when it comes to health and wellness and, if you want to enjoy a drink occasionally, you should. And so, with that, I give you my take on boozy seltzer.

I’m sure you’ve seen them in the package stores by now, thin, classy-looking cans of spiked seltzers advertising how low-calorie and low-carb they are. I also couldn’t resist and tried them out.

Overall, the alcoholic seltzers out there are typically lower in calories and carbohydrates than the average beer or wine. However, there is a good amount of variation amongst the different brands. I tried 3 of the most popular brands and will tell you about each in order of my least favorite to best.

Truly – least favorite

The Truly brand ranks at the bottom of the boozy seltzers. In terms of nutrition information, Truly are similar to the White Claw brand: a 12-oz can (5% ABV) contains Trulyjust 100 calories, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of carbs, so they really are a low-cal, low-carb option. I also really love that they don’t contain any artificial sweeteners, which have been link to numerous health problems, the full extent of which we still don’t know.

I’ve only had their citrus flavors and I do like the taste. They’re not super sweet or super tart and don’t taste like fake flavoring. What I don’t like about these, and what put them at the bottom for me, is that they are extremely acidic. I actually couldn’t finish the package I bought because every time I drank one I ended up with such awful heartburn that was really difficult to cure. I don’t really have a sensitive stomach and I’ve eaten my share of horrifying food combinations, so this was surprising to me. Seltzer is an acidic drink to begin with so this one is that much more. If you have a sensitive stomach or sensitive teeth, this is something you want to be aware of.

Spiked Seltzer – Runner Up

The runner up in the seltzer game is Spiked Seltzer. These are a bit heavier than the Spiked Seltzerother 2 brands reviewed here. A 12-oz can (6% ABV) contains 140 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates (sugar info is not listed on their website). This makes it more caloric than a Bud Light (110 cal) and about on par for carbs (6.6 grams). It’s also more caloric than a glass of white wine (120 cal on average) and contains more carbs (4 grams on average). So, really, if you’re looking for a adult beverage with less calories and carbs, this one really isn’t the one you want to go with…at least not if you like Bud Light or white wine more.

In terms of overall yumminess, my favorite flavor is the cranberry. I’ve also had the lemon, lime, and grapefruit. I cared least for the lemon as it tasted kind of fake to me, although there are not any artificial flavors in it. Just not my flavor. All of the flavors are a nice balance between sweet and tart.

White Claw – The Winner!

The White Claw brand is hands-down my favorite. A 12-oz can (5% ABV) contains 100 White Clawcalories and 2 grams of carbohydrates and sugar, making it a nice, light option. Of the three brands, I like the taste of this one the best. The black cherry flavor is my favorite and the lime flavor is a close second. They all taste natural, aren’t super sweet, and don’t have a harsh, acidic bite. Like the other two flavors, White Claw contains no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. This is the brand of boozy seltzer you will find me sitting around the campfire with.

As a health coach, I have to say that, if you want to have a little boozy indulgence, alcohol-spiked seltzers are a good option to go with without tipping the scales. Cheers!

Product Review: Flatzza

Sooo I have a bit of a pizza obsession…honestly I could eat pizza every day but I don’t because it’s not good for me. However, that doesn’t mean that I am not constantly looking for ways to make my pizza habit healthier. You may recall my review of the Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Pizza Crust that was a heartbreaking disappointment. That was why I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much when I found the Flatzza Sprouted Grain Pizza Crust but I had to give it a try.

7GrainFlatzza12oz-2016-1This is from a company called Angelic Bakery which makes it seem even more virtuous. They come two in a package and are super thin crusts made from a mixed sprouted grain mash. They don’t carry the USDA Organic label, but they are non-GMO and are also produced in a very allergy-friendly facility (according to the label). As with the frozen cauliflower crust, there were a lot of factors I took into consideration here, including ingredients, nutrition information, texture, and flavor.

Verdict: We have a winner!

I have a new favorite pizza product and it’s these pizza crusts.

What’s the Deal with Sprouted Grains?

Sprouted grains are a bit of a fad right now, and for good reason. Sprouting the grains used in breads actually increases many of the key nutrients found in whole grains, such as B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and certain amino acids. Sprouting the grains may also lessen their impact on individuals with food sensitivities as they have a lower gluten content and higher soluble fiber content than grains that have not been sprouted. These factors make sprouted grains a nice addition to your diet.

Now onto the product itself…

Nutrition

Looking at the Nutrition Facts, a serving of 1/4 of this crust contains 140 calories, a impressive 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and just 1 gram of sugar. It’s also a good source of Calcium and Potassium and a source of Iron. Depending on what you put on your pizza for toppings, you could feasibly up your serving size of this crust as well. As a heath coach, I love seeing 5s in the fiber and protein categories – not only is this good nutrition, it also means that these thin crusts have a surprisingly high satiety factor.

Ingredients

Talk about clean eating! The first 6 ingredients in these crusts are the various sprouted grains found in them. From there, it’s all good, real food ingredients that you would expect to find in real food – no strange chemicals or artificial ingredients. Again, loving this.

Flavor

OK so these are nice and nutritious, but do they taste like cardboard? They’re actually really yummy! They taste like pizza crust, not like cardboard. They have a very slight nuttiness from the grains. Because they’re a thin crust, it’s easy for the flavor to be kind of overpowered by the toppings but I found them to be just right for my tastes.

Texture

When it comes to the texture of a pizza crust, I will admit I am a huge snob. Floppy, soft, or soggy pizza crusts are an abomination. I like a nice, crispy pizza crust and was a little worried that these wouldn’t be able to deliver since they are thin and could presumably become water-logged by the liquid in the tomato sauce. This wasn’t the case though! It took longer to cook than the packaging says, but we got them nice and crispy, just the way I like. If you like your crust softer, just don’t bake it as long. If you are a crispy crust person like me, I also suggest pre-baking it for just a few minutes before you top it to further protect against the liquid in the sauce.

Price Point

For any of you who buy Ezekiel or other sprouted grain breads, you are probably bracing yourself for the price on these crusts – I know I was expecting $5+. We paid $2.99. For two crusts! My frugal little heart was very happy with this!

It’s Important to Note…

that the crust is just one component of the pizza and that what you choose to put on it can really make or break your meal nutritionally. While the crust may be 140 calories per serving, if you load it with 3 cheeses, pepperoni, and sausage, you’re going to be eating way more than you probably should be. I recommend keeping the cheese to a single layer and using veggies for your toppings. We typically buy sliced provolone cheese and use that to top our pizza so it’s just a thin layer of cheese. Then, we top it with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and sometimes broccoli and spinach. Making your own pizza sauce is also a great way to keep track of what you’re putting on your pizza. Store-bought sauce often contains a lot of added sugar and sodium whereas a homemade sauce doesn’t have to. Plus it’s actually super easy to put together a simple but delicious tomato sauce.

 

All in all, I am super happy with these pizza crusts and would definitely suggest them for your occasional pizza night.

Product Review: Kashi 7 Grain Freezer Waffles

Breakfast can be a very tricky meal when it comes to eating healthy because it’s often the meal we find the least amount of time for. However, as we know, most of the “convenience food” options there are for breakfast are anything but healthy choices and can set the stage for your eating for the rest of the day. Throw into the equation a picky eater, and you have quite the dilemma.

I get breakfast food questions a lot – people are trying their best to eat well but they are short on time and energy and they know that there are not many convenient options out there that will cut it. I also often hear “My kid will only eat waffles in the morning. Is there anything I can give him/her that isn’t as bad?” I became a health coach on a mission in the freezer section of Market Basket and I landed on Kashi 7 Grain frozen waffles.

kashi

The 3-5-3 Rule

The rule that I use in choosing a healthy breakfast cereal I also apply to other breakfast grains. Looking at the nutrition facts, you want to find a product that contains at least 3 grams of protein, less than 5 grams of sugar, and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Kashi 7 Grain Waffles were a HUGE winner in this test with 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fiber for 2 waffles. These are an option that will keep you feeling full and satisfied and will not lead to a large blood sugar spike and crash.

Ingredients

The ingredients list for Kashi 7 Grain Waffles is enough to make my little health coach heart go pitter patter. The majority of ingredients are various whole grains and ingredients that you would expect to see in a wholesome grain product. As we know from the nutrition facts, they contain minimal added cane sugar and I’m not concerned about the canola oil in it as it is non-GMO and there is not a large amount in them.

A couple ingredients that some people get concerned about – soy lecithin and xanthan gum. While they sound scary, you are going to find these additives in virtually any packaged food product.

Soy lecithin typically raises red flags for people because of the word “soy.” A little while back, a very misleading study was conducted from which people concluded that soy acts as estrogen in the human body and can, therefore, cause certain cancers. However, there were a number of problems with this study that poke huge holes in those conclusions. 1. the study was conducted on mice which are not biologically similar enough to humans to make that extrapolation, and 2. the amount of soy those mice were given in the study far exceeds what any person would ever consume (here is a fantastic resource if you’d like to learn more about this). It also failed to account for the quality of the soy consumed. It’s also very important to note that, while soy lecithin is found in many, many foods, it is present in very, very small quantities.

Soy lecithin is typically added to food as an emulsifier or lubricant but it can also be used as an antioxidant and flavor protector. It actually has some health benefits, believe it or not. For one, it may lower cholesterol levels and, for another, it contains choline, which prevents organ disfunction, fatty liver, and muscle damage.

Bottom line on soy lecithin: unless you have a severe soy allergy or the soy is GMO, you need not worry about it.

Xanthan gum is the other additive people often worry about and it’s also found in almost everything that comes in a package. It is typically added to foods as a stabilizer and is found in very small quantities.  Although considered safe for consumption, it can cause gas and bloating in those who are sensitive to it. For this reason, those who eat a diet consisting of mostly prepackaged foods may notice a significant improvement in how they feel once they cut back on those foods.

Thus, while no additives is the best option, these two found in the Kashi waffles would not cause me to tell you to avoid them. (Here is a great resource on food additives if you’d like to learn more about what to avoid)

Flavor and Texture

Admittedly, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had an Eggo waffle (I think I was watching Lamb Chop’s Play Along if that’s any indication of how long it’s been) but I don’t think these would be a noticeable change for your kids if they’re used to eating Eggos. They have the texture you would expect of a frozen waffle and a nice, very slightly sweet flavor. They’re not heavy or gritty like some would worry a whole grain waffle would be.

What’s Your Topping?

No amount of whole grain is going to matter if you are drowning your waffles in sugary pancake syrup. The typical store-bought pancake syrup consists almost entirely of unhealthy, even dangerous, ingredients: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate, and artificial flavors to name a few.

Better options for waffle toppers include: real maple syrup, honey, fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt, natural sugar-free peanut butter, and avocado.

With a healthful topping, these multigrain waffles are a solid start to your day.

waffles

Product Review: Dr. Praeger Burgers

When it comes to pre-packaged meat product substitutes, like veggie burgers, veggie nuggets, etc., I typically tell my clients that it’s best to avoid them altogether. The majority of those products on the market are incredibly over-processed, loaded with fillers and preservatives, high in sodium, and often contain harmful chemicals as well. Honestly, they hardly even resemble food and will not do your body any good. However, I recognize that there is definitely a need for products like this, otherwise they wouldn’t exist – life is busy so we need quick and easy options. With that said, I’ve examined a lot of these meat-replacement meals to determine which I am comfortable with recommending to my clients. The Dr. Praeger brand of veggie burgers met my criteria. (The following review is based on the California Veggie flavor)

Ingredients 4.9/5

The short ingredient list for these burgers is all real foods with names you recognize and, as soon as you pull a burger out of the box, you will notice you can actually see the pieces of veggies in it. You’re just not going to get that with most packaged veggie burgers.

Here is the list for the California Veggie Burger flavor: carrots, string beans, oat bran, soybeans, zucchini, expeller pressed canola oil, peas, broccoli, corn, soy flour, spinach, red peppers, arrowroot powder, corn starch, garlic, corn meal, sea salt, parsley, black pepper. That’s it. Real foods. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of canola oil but it has become the favored choice in a lot of “health” foods so it’s hard to avoid. The other great thing about these ingredients is they are non-GMO which is super important given the number of corn and soy foods in it.

Overall, I’m giving the ingredients for these burgers a 4.9/5 because I had to ding them for the canola oil and, really, the only way they could be improved would be if they were organic.

California_Veggie_Burger

Nutrition 5/5

Looking at the nutrition label, there’s even more to like. These clock in at just 120 calories and aren’t swimming in sodium either with 240 mg. They pack in 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein so they should keep you quite satisfied as well, particularly if you serve them on some whole grain bread. Since they are made with actual vegetables, we are also looking at some great vitamins and micronutrients.

Flavor 4.5/5

You might be thinking, “OK so they’re made out of veggies and are nutritious, but there is no way they could possibly taste good.” If that’s the case, my doubting friend, you’re in for a treat. These burgers are quite tasty! Do they tastes like beef? No. And if they did, I would be concerned about what they did to them to make them taste like beef. They taste like a veggie burger – a yummy veggie burger, not like those super processed varieties that taste vaguely like plastic. They’re a refreshing but savory flavor and the seasonings really shine through.

Texture 3/5

The texture is really the only aspect of these burgers I’m not a fan of and, honestly, that’s more of a personal issue than a product issue. If you’ve ever made your own veggie burgers at home, then you probably know that firm is not a texture you can really get to with them. It’s the same with these burgers – whether you pan-fry them, put them in the oven, or microwave them, they are soft, mushy might even be the right word for them, not firm. I’ve tried really hard to at least get the outside crispy in a frying pan, but just couldn’t pull it off. As much as I’m not a fan of the soft texture, though, it doesn’t ruin these burgers for me and I still like them. They do manage to stay together through cooking, flipping, and serving, so that’s a plus. I rated them a 3 out of 5 for texture because I’m not a fan of the mushiness but I also know that, if you want a real veggie burger, you need to be OK with the mush.

 

All in all, if you are looking for healthy and tasty store-bought veggie burger option, Dr. Praeger’s burgers are my recommendation to you. You can find them at a number of grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I haven’t found them at Market Basket yet, but if enough people ask for them…. #justsaying

 

 

Found a healthy product that you’re curious about? Leave it in the comments as a suggestion for my next review!

Product Review: RX Bars

If you have any health-oriented friends on Facebook, I’m sure they’ve been filling your feed with photos of them proudly holding an RX Bar and proclaiming how thrilled they are at its simple, natural ingredients. Many people rave about these and many people absolutely hate them. Most notably, the Food Babe has decried their ingredients list and marketing as misleading and toxic. As a general rule, I don’t listen to anything Food Babe says since she has no nutritional education whatsoever and her concerns are rarely if ever based on actual science. See this article here for more on that.

Given all the love it or hate it out there on these bars, I wanted to give you my take on them as a certified health coach and human who likes food.

Ingredients/Nutrition

I am all for simple, short ingredients lists and these bars deliver on that. However, short simple ingredients does not a healthful food make. While these bars do not contain added sugars, they still contain dates as a sweetener and a binding agent. In fact, these are listed as the first ingredient. Looking at the different flavors, the amount of sugar in them ranges from 13 grams to a whopping 17 grams! These are not a low-sugar snack and their stickiness really underscores that. That being said, they are a great source of fiber and protein which help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. However, I wouldn’t make this a staple of your daily diet.

Some critics (cough cough Food Babe cough cough) will say that these bars are poison because their ingredients are not organic and may be genetically modified…….. if you know me you know that my eyebrow went way up at this. Yes, organic is always preferable  but it is unreasonable in today’s world to expect everything to contain small-scale, completely unprocessed, entirely organic ingredients, especially if you are eating a food that comes with a wrapper. I would much rather have you eat a snack bar made with whole food ingredients (like these) than chips or cookies made with trans fats and preservatives.

Texture/Flavor

As I alluded to above, these bars are STICKY. Like hillbilly Halloween costume smile after a few bites sticky. They’re similar in texture to a Larabar….but stickier. Given their stickiness and sugar content, these could be a good money maker for your dentist if you eat them frequently.

As for flavor, the only one I truly like is the Coconut Chocolate flavor. It tastes like coconut and chocolate, what’s not to like? The other flavors are not so good. I’ve heard this same exact thing from a number of people as well. The date flavor tends to come through and doesn’t always play well with the other flavors. It’s all about personal preference though.

Satiety

RX bars contain just over 200 calories per bar so they’re not at a meal replacement level. However, given their high protein and fiber amounts, they will fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied for a while. To me, those are two great things to look for in a snack, not too many calories and long-term satiety.

Conclusion

There are definitely some texture and flavor issues with RX Bars, but if you don’t mind those, they’re not a bad option for a snack. While I wouldn’t recommend eating them every day or regularly, they are a solid occasional snack and are definitely a better option than reaching for some cookies or chips. They contain far more nutrition than most prepackaged snack foods and are missing the troublesome ingredients that prepackaged snacks often have, such a artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, trans fats, and added sugars. Having some fruit or veggies or nuts is definitely a healthier snack option, but these will do on the go or in a pinch. The key here, as with most things, is balance and moderation.

 

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Frozen Cauliflower Crust

Cauliflower has been quite the rage for a while now and, not to miss the party, Trader Joe’s has released a frozen cauliflower pizza crust, much to the delight of TJ lovers and the carb conscious consumer. After reading about how excited so many health bloggers were, I decided to pick one up and put it to the health coach test.

Overall grade: 2.2/10

Nutrition

Right off the bat, I was not thrilled about this product based on its nutrition label. Essentially, they have taken a wonderfully nutritious vegetable and turned it into something nearly nutritionally devoid.

The serving size is 1/6 of the crust (which, by the way, will leave you hungry). At that serving, this crust contains 80 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of protein, 10 mg of calcium (0% of your daily value), 0.1 mg of iron (0% of your daily value), and 60 mg of potassium (0%of your daily value). Doing some basic math, that means that the entire crust contains 480 calories, 6 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, 60 mg of calcium (6% DV), 360 mg of potassium (7.6%), 0.6 mg of iron (3% DV) and 102 carbohydrates.

Let’s compare that to an actual head of cauliflower, which contains 146 calories, 1,758 mg of potassium, 12 grams of fiber, 11 grams of protein, 12% of your DV of calcium, 472% of your DV of Vitamin C, 13% DV of Iron, 55% DV of Vitamin B-6, 22% DV of magnesium and 29 grams of carbohydrates.

The vast majority of recipes to make your own cauliflower crust call for a full medium head of cauliflower, so you will get much more nutrition from making your own rather than buying this.

Nutrition Score: 3

Ingredients

Typically when I see prepackaged products like this, I assume that they are going to be full of preservatives and fillers. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the ingredient list for this pizza crust. In this order, it contains: cauliflower, corn flour, water, corn starch, potato starch, olive oil, and salt. Short, simple, real.

But here’s the rub. We would think that cauliflower would be the most plentiful ingredient in the recipe, but the nutrition facts indicate otherwise. Either the cauliflower has been stripped down and processed into flour or there isn’t very much cauliflower in this at all.

Another concern that I have here is that this isn’t labeled non-GMO so the corn used to make the flour is probably genetically modified.

Ingredient Score: 5

Ease of Prep

According to the instructions, you are supposed to top the crust and cook it frozen in a 450 degree oven. To make it crispy, it says to put it directly on the rack. Whatever you do, DO NOT PUT IT DIRECTLY ON THE RACK. Why? Because before it gets crispy, it thaws and gets soft and then flops and falls apart on the bottom of your oven and fills your apartment with smoke. Clearly, Trader Joe did not test this product before putting the instructions on the box.

Prep: 0

IMG_20170627_185708309
This is what happens when you follow the directions and place the crust directly on the rack to make it crispy. Pro tip: DON’T

Texture

Because of the unfortunate demise of most of the crust before we realized what was happening and threw a pan under it, I can’t tell you if this crust actually gets crispy. As it was, we salvaged what we could and finished cooking it. The texture was….foamy. Like styrofoam. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t good either.

Texture: 1

Flavor

The flavor was also negatively impacted by the crust catastrophe because everything in the oven tasted like burning. The few pieces that didn’t taste like fire, didn’t have much flavor to them at all. So it wasn’t good or bad.

Flavor: 2

Overall, Trader Joe’s cauliflower pizza crust was disappointing. There are so many recipes out there that are more nutritious and flavorful that I would say it’s worth it to save your money and invest your time in making your own. Is this convenient? Yes, but I don’t think it’s worth the trade-off.

IMG_20170627_190649059
The final product after we had salvaged what we could from between the rack prongs. It’s a bit blurry because of the steam and the smoke in the oven.