Live Well
February 2014

Good Things Don’t Always Come in Small Packages… or Frozen Ones

The fourth of my five rules of thumb when shopping at the supermarket is to minimize purchases of packaged and frozen foods. Before going further, I would like to define what I mean by packaged and frozen foods. I mean packaged and frozen prepared foods that contain more than one (or, more likely, 5 ingredients). So, for instance, cereals, granola bars, packaged pasta or rice dishes, snack foods, canned and frozen meals all fall under what I consider to be packaged and frozen foods. The teacher of my Food Therapy course called them “dead foods” because they lack all the energy and vitality that fresh foods have. Single-ingredient packaged foods, such as oatmeal, brown rice cereal, pasta, rice, canned or diced tomatoes from a glass jar, canned beans, frozen vegetables or fruit do not fall into that category.

The first and most important reason to avoid packaged and frozen foods (non-organic as well as organic) is that they contain many additives and preservatives to enable them to stay on the shelf or in your pantry for a long time. Many of these additives and preservatives have been shown to have deleterious effects on people’s health. One of the added ingredients is what they call “natural and artificial flavors.” Often, natural and artificial flavors are made with Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) a known neurotoxin that affects brain development. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the additives that are best avoided are the following: Sodium nitrite, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Caffeine, Olestra and food dyes. These can affect brain development or cause cancer.

Sugar is another common additive used in packaged foods to give products a longer shelflife, and to enhance their flavor. After all, on their own, dehydrated oats, corn or wheat probably wouldn’t taste very good. As Michael Moss wrote in his book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, “Sugar not only sweetens, it replaces more costly ingredients – like tomatoes in ketchup – to add bulk and texture.” Sugar often appears under many different names, including cane sugar, dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, among others. So, when reading the label of a food product, it’s important to factor in all the different kinds of sugar included. Research has shown that the average American consumes roughly 3 pounds of sugar per week—that’s almost an entire cup of sugar per day! Sugar rots our teeth, weakens our immune system, depletes essential minerals from our bodies, causes depression, and promotes inflammation in our bodies – one of the main causes of disease.

Another common ingredient in packaged foods is transfats. On a food package, these read as Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil. Transfats are made by a chemical process which makes liquid fats (such as vegetable oils) solid through a process call hydrogenation. The process of making these liquid fats solid changes their chemical composition, and research has shown that they may cause cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Moreover, transfats are usually made from genetically modified corn or soy. For more information on the effects of genetically modified foods, please refer to my January blog post.

The other day, my children asked me to buy them some cereal. As an exception, I did. I purchased some organic corn and oat O’s flavored with fruit, and some cinnamon-flavored wholegrain wheat squares. I had failed to read the labels when I pulled the two boxes off the shelf. The following morning, as I sat down to breakfast, I started to read the labels. First of all, there were definitely more than 5 ingredients in each cereal. That always sets alarm bells ringing in my head and I always think back to something I read by Michael Pollan in his book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manifesto, “Avoid food products that contain more than 5 ingredients.” The supposedly fruit-flavored corn and oat O’s have about four different kinds of sugar added and the cinnamon-flavored squares had three different kinds of sugar added. In addition, both had added flavors and preservatives so, while the cereals were organic, they still weren’t the healthiest. My children enjoyed them, but these are definitely products that I will not be buying again.



Cook Well

Root Vegetable Gratin

Combined with a salad or some sautéed kale, this root vegetable
gratin makes for a perfect vegetarian meal.

Serves 8

3 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Dash of Tabasco sauce, optional
3 Tbsp. organic unsalted butter
from pasture-raised cows, plus additional
for baking dish

3 leeks, white and light green parts,
quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, from the neck only,
peeled and sliced 1/8 in. thick

1 lb. celery root, peeled and sliced 1/8 in. thick
1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and sliced 1/8. in thick
1 lb. purple and white potatoes, or white potatoes
only, peeled and sliced 1/8 in. thick (keep in a
bowl of cold water until ready to use)

2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
  1. 1. Heat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9×13-in. glass baking dish.
  2. 2. Put the heavy cream, paprika, nutmeg, and Tabasco, if using, in a small pan and heat to a simmer. Cover and set aside.
  3. 3. Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the leeks and sauté over low heat until soft but not browned, 5-7 minutes. Add thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.
  4. 4. Spread one quarter of the mixed root vegetables in the baking dish. Top with one third of the leeks. Pour one quarter of the heavy cream mixture and one quarter of the Gruyère cheese on top. Repeat until you have four layers of root vegetables. Pour the remaining cream over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Cover dish with foil.
  5. 5. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 30 minutes until the top is browned and vegetables are soft when pierced with a knife.
  6. 6. Let the gratin cool slightly before serving.
  7. 7. Return soup to pot and add crème fraiche. Serve warm.




Helpful tips for healthy living

Antioxidants help prevent free radicals from damaging cells and causing inflammation. Below are types of foods that contain antioxidants:

  • Brightly colored fruits and vegetables
  • Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, berries, bananas, kiwi, mango, cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus.
  • Foods rich in vitamin E, such as nuts and seeds, tomatoes, kiwi, mango, and broccoli.
  • Foods rich in selenium, such as Brazil nuts, fish, liver, grass-fed beef, and mushrooms.