Health

Top 15 Healthy Foods From Costco

Back in those dark days before we became Costco members, I associated this warehouse store with over-processed frozen convenience foods and gallon jugs of mayo. I heard stories from co-workers who bought large containers of ranch dressing, and despite their best efforts to dunk everything they consumed into it, most of the dressing ended up in the trash as the expiration date came too quickly. I saw egg rolls and pizzas and other high-calorie, low-nutrient frozen ready-to-go meals in the freezers of people I knew. As a family of two who prefers clean eating, Costco never seemed right for us. Then one Christmas we received a Costco membership as a gift and my perspective changed; big time.

There are many healthy, nutritious foods at Costco that are in reasonably sized containers that a small family (remember, there are just two of us!) can eat without waste. I created this shopping list for those who’ve never been to Costco and are curious if a membership would be worth it to them, or for current members who are looking to add a few new healthy items to their cart this week.

Without further ado, here are my personal top 15 healthy food picks from Costco.

Almond Butter

Our Costco membership pays for itself in the savings on almond butter alone. Not kidding. These jars of MaraNatha are larger than the ones at most grocers (26 oz. vs. 16 oz.), and cost less. We probably go through one jar a month in our house.

MaraNatha Almond Butter from Costco

Blueberries

While all of their fresh fruit options are good, I find that we purchase blueberries most often. A carton will usually last us 5 days. They also sell frozen blueberries in a giant bag for a really, really good price that we keep in the freezer for when the fresh berries run out.

Costco Fresh Blueberries

Ground Turkey

Convenient 4-packs make it easy to pop a few in the freezer if you don’t plan to cook it all at once. I love my turkey meatloaf muffins, and we use turkey in casseroles or pasta sauce over spaghetti squash.

Costco Ground Turkey

Eggs

From hard-boiled to egg-in-a-cup concoctions, I love having a few dozen eggs in the fridge. Ever since we had to give up our backyard hens, I’ve missed having fresh eggs. While not as good as the straight-from-the-coop that we’d like, these eggs are a good replacement.

Costco Organic Brown Eggs

Greek Yogurt

Yes, Costco sells the Fage Total 0% yogurt that is a staple in most healthy kitchens, but lately I’ve been digging the flavor of this Jalapeno Greek Yogurt Dip. I hesitated to add it to my list as the protein is very low for greek yogurt (1 gram) then their website lists 3g, which makes me wonder. It also has canola oil, but overall is pretty decent. If that is not for you, buy the Fage and mix in your own spices and diced peppers, but for convenience sake this makes it into my cart. Carrots and sugar snap peas are delightful dipped in this stuff. It’s like crack; you’ve been warned.

Costco Jalapeno Greek Yogurt

Medjool Dates

Sometimes a girl just has to have something sweet! Lately I’ve been into making homemade Larabars and these dates are the sweet foundation to my tasty bars. A friend recently told me about how she enjoys a date topped with almond butter, and how she also made brownies that were fruit-sweetened with dates. The ideas to use these are endless.

Medjool Dates from Costco

Bananas

We end up freezing most of these for smoothies, but we also eat them for snacks or on top of oatmeal.

Dole Bananas

Coconut Oil

Yes! Awesome price on this, and is divine in baked goods or regular cooking. I recently browned some chuck roast in coconut oil for a Sunday slow cooker recipe. You can also use it on your skin and hair. Check out 47 Uses For Coconut Oil for more ideas.

Coconut Oil

Spinach

A huge 1 lb. container of Earthbound Farm organic spinach from Costco is often the same price as the small bag that you’d find in your typical grocer. I love how the container has a resealable lid, making it easy to grab handfuls of spinach for green monsters. This container also seems to keep the greens fresher for longer, when compared to a traditional plastic bag.

Earthbound Farm Organic Spinach

Brussels Sprouts

The veggie options are Costco are really good! It is hard to pick a favorite, but lately we’ve been enjoying their brussels sprouts as a second favorite to spinach. I love to quarter these are roast them as a side dish for just about any meal.

Brussels Sprouts

Avocados

A whole bag of perfect avocados? I’ve never had problems with these. Unlike supermarket avocados that are sold loose (and subjected to much handling and squeezing) these are virtually untouched by other shoppers. They make take a few days to ripen on the kitchen counter, but are well worth it for perfect, unblemished, non-stringy avocados.

Costco Avocados

Salmon

Costco always has fresh salmon for sale, but I am a bit weirded out with fresh salmon (you know, the whole possibility of worms thing). I prefer it frozen, that way I also don’t feel obligated to eat 2 lbs. of salmon in one sitting. While Costco sells several varieties of frozen salmon (salmon burgers, marinated salmon, and another plain variety) the wild caught sockeye is the one I grab. Each filet is individually wrapped and portioned, making it easy to grab what you need to thaw for dinner.

Costco Sockeye Salmon

Vegetable Broth

The price on this amazes me for 6 cartons (that’s 24 cups!). Veggie broth is the perfect base for nearly any soup, or to de-glaze a pan, or to add to cooked veggies. A great pantry staple!

Pacific Vegetable Broth

Almond Milk

Costco is now carrying 6-packs of the unsweetened vanilla almond milk that is a staple in nearly every healthy living blogger’s (HLB) kitchen. We use this in smoothies, baked goods, and overnight oats. I love how they are the regular-sized cartons, and are shelf stable so our fridge doesn’t get overloaded at once. The jury is out on just how healthy (or unhealthy) almond milk really is, but it tastes good, is gentle on my stomach and I will continue to use it since I stay away from soy milk.

Almond Milk

Vitamin D3

Although not a food, this is a good buy in my book. Living up north, and spending most of my days inside of a cubicle, I don’t get a lot of sun. Taking these makes me feel so good, and we hardly ever get sick in our house. This is Vitamin D3 from cholecalciferol, which is the one you want (unless you are vegan).

Kirkland Vitamin D3

I didn’t bother to list prices with each item, as I have found that prices often change with the season and could vary by region. I can vouch that we pay significantly less for all these items than we would at the typical grocery store. These are all items that we use frequently so they rarely go to waste (okay, sometimes I can’t keep up with all that spinach!).

Costco does have its share of unhealthy eats, and unfortunately I see lots of people pushing carts filled with junk food (like those pizzas with the obnoxious amount of pepperoni on them, or boxes of frozen microwave cheeseburgers). Just like any grocery store, it is your choice what you decide to put in your cart, and ultimately in your body. Despite this, there are plenty of food and nutritional items for those who are into clean eating and healthy eating. A lot of these items also work with a gluten-free or Paleo lifestyle.

My one complaint is that I wish Costco’s “food court” had healthier options. The only thing they offer is a Chicken Caesar Salad (which you could leave the dressing off). Everything else is either churros, pizza, fried chicken rolls, or ice cream. It would be nice to have some healthier options, especially since the food court is popular with families with children.

Well there you have it, my go-to clean eating shopping list for Costco. While these are my current top 15, there are plenty of other things that could have rounded my list up to a top 20, or even top 30. 🙂 Ground bison, raw nuts, kale salad, and other healthy foods that we enjoy from Costco; what are yours?

I am not a registered dietician or nutritionist. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my opinion. You should always do your own research when it comes to exercise and nutrition or consult a doctor. 🙂
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Categories: Food, Health | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

A Healthy Food Community is Growing

Living in a community plagued an abundance of fast food restaurants and more greasy bar food than one could imagine, it is refreshing to see some healthy and creative women in our community combating that.

Rural Girl Soups

Rural Girl Soup to Go

Rural Girl Salad to Go

Last month, I had the opportunity to sample some soups & salads at a special event from a new soup delivery business called Rural Girl Soups. The concept is a weekly soup service that will deliver soup to your front door. The owner, Gail, makes all the soups from scratch and her husband Joe makes the deliveries. You leave a cooler with ice on your front step, similar to an old-fashioned milk delivery service. Rural Girl also sells colorful salads, cookies and resells hand pies from Over The Top Sweets in Elgin, Illinois and Potter’s Crackers from Madison, Wisconsin. (I just wrote about Potter’s in my last blog post, I picked up a package of their Rhubarb Graham Crackers at the Dane County Farmer’s Market!)

Jo Cessna Natural Cook

Then there is Jo Cessna, a lady who is helping us eat healthier one dish at a time. She calls herself A Natural Cook, and focuses on clean eating principles. Jo makes appearances a local events (I first saw her at a Progressive Wine Tasting last year), and does workshops and private or small-group cooking lessons. She also sells recipe cards and has a blog with more good stuff!

It is refreshing to these smart, beautiful, entrepreneurial women leaving their mark to help this community get back to real food. I’m inspired by these women and I want to be part of this real food movement and help to inspire others.

I’ve been busy in my own kitchen trying lots of new recipes. Most of the recipes I have been trying have been Paleo-ish or at least clean eating and gluten-free.

Mustard Lime Chicken

Elana’s Pantry Mustard Lime Chicken on the grill with a side of cauliflower puree. This marinade rocks and is so simple! Lime juice, cilantro, dijon mustard, olive oil, chili powder, salt and pepper all mixed up in the Vitamix. I only had time to marinate it for 20 minutes (just long enough for the charcoal to get hot) and it was plenty of time! Loads of flavor here. The best part? I have a leftover breast that I plan on slicing up for a salad for lunch today!

Almond Cheddar Crackers

From the Almond Flour Cookbook, I made these Cheddar Cheese Crackers. They are made from almond flour, salt, baking soda, cheddar cheese, grapeseed oil and eggs. They were super easy to make (the oils from the cheese keep the dough nice and easy to form and roll), using parchment paper keeps things clean and pre-scoring them made it a cinch to snap after baking. I had to increase my bake time by 10 minutes to get them golden brown. They taste very similar to Cheez-Its only much better for you. I used a sharp cheddar from Wisconsin that I grated fresh (way better than the pre-shredded cheese!) and the flavor was great. The only thing I am not thrilled about is the texture which is a bit soft. It kind of reminds me of eating a stale cracker that has softened. 😦 I still like them enough to eat them, but wish they were crisper. This recipe makes A LOT of crackers so I may smash some and use it as a “breading” for baked chicken!

Paleo Breakfast Cake

Paleo Breakfast Bread. Wow. Super simple and quick to make! These contain only almond butter, eggs, honey, vanilla extract, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. The recipe also calls for stevia, but I left that out as I find it too bitter in baked goods. I mixed it in my Kitchen-Aid and then into the oven it went for 15 minutes (quick!). This “cake” has a mild sweetness and is really addicting!

Paleo Breakfast Cake

Moist, not overly sweet with a beautiful nuttiness. I usually wait for a cake to cool before cutting it, but I cut into this within minutes of it coming out of the oven. It tastes great warm, and sliced up fine. It also tastes good room temp. I had to stop myself from eating the whole pan.

I am in a baking mood this week, but a friend reminded me to focus more on eating vegetables and other healthy, clean, natural foods, and not just making Paleo-fied desserts and treats. I don’t always get into the baking mood though, so I am just enjoying it while I’m on a roll. However I will have to pay extra attention to adding more veggies into next week’s meal plan because I wholeheartedly agree with her (right after I make these Primal Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies). 😉

I almost forgot, I won Tales from an Average Runner’s Cryocup Giveaway! Mr. Nine made a ice massager from a Dixie Cup filled with water, but this looks better and more durable. I’ll let you know how it works once I get to try it.

Do you have any real food activists in your community? How are they making positive changes? Any tips on baking crackers that stay crispy?

Categories: Food, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Love Your Heart

February was American Heart Month, and although we are now into the first few days of March, we should still strive to make healthy choices everyday for the love of our hearts, our bodies and our lives.

Oatmeal is considered a heart healthy food, and is such a simple yet versatile meal! Right now I am loving oatmeal mixed with a spoonful of fruit preserves and Not Nuts! Seed & Fruit Mix.

Oatmeal Mixed With Preserves and Seeds

Today’s preserves were Rhubarb-Strawberry Preserves from Trappist. Preserves and jams are a fun and colorful way to add sweetness to oatmeal instead of using brown sugar.

Oatmeal Closeup

We all know that toppings are what really makes ordinary oatmeal special, and Enjoy Life’s Mountain Mambo mix doesn’t disappoint with its combo of raw sunflower kernels, pumpkin seeds, raisins, dried apples, cranberries and mini chocolate chips. The dried apples are what really makes it special, they rehydrate in the cooked oatmeal and add little bites of apple goodness. Usually I just add a tablespoon of this and a tablespoon of that to oatmeal (various seeds, nuts and fruit) but it is nice that this comes pre-mixed so it is easy to open the bag and sprinkle some on, great for when you are half asleep in the early morning hours. 🙂

You’ve all heard the statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Risk factors include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes. While certain things like heart defects cannot be prevented, making lifestyle changes that lower or eliminate the known risks can greatly reduce your chances of being another statistic.

While exercise and healthy diets are important, it is important to know what your numbers are and track your progress.

A few weeks ago I attended a free community healthy event where the focus is on this very thing – getting to know your numbers. It only took 30 minutes of my time (did I mention it was free?) so there was no excuse not to go, you didn’t even need health insurance!

While they gave me my weight, BMI, blood pressure and waist measurements at the event, the results of the blood test were mailed to me.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or registered dietician. The following are my personal results and opinion, and while researched and posted in good faith, are merely my own personal opinion. Please consult with your own doctor before following any advice.

Fasting Blood Plasma Glucose (FPG)
Less than 100 mg/dL … Normal
100-125 mg/dL … Impaired/Pre-diabetes
126 or higher … Diabetes

Results
2011 FPG: 81 mg/dL
2012 FPG: 88 mg/dL
Increased +7 mg/dL but still within the normal range.

Total Cholesterol
Less than 200 … Desirable
200-239 … Borderline High
240 or higher … High

Results
2011 Total Cholesterol: 218
2012 Total Cholesterol: 227
Increased +9 and technically considered in the borderline high range, but this is because my HDL is high. This is where things get tricky, see below.

Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) – Bad Cholesterol
Less than 100 … Optimal
100-129 … Near Optimal/Above Optimal
130-159 … Borderline High
160-189 … High
190 or higher … Very High

Results
2011 LDL Cholesterol: 105 mg/dL
2012 LDL Cholesterol: 101 mg/dL
Decreased -4 mg/dL, (1 mg/dL away from optimal).

High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) – Good Cholesterol
Less than 40 (men), 50 (women) – Major Heart Disease Risk Factor
60 and above – Gives Protection Against Heart Disease

Results
2011 HDL Cholesterol: 98 mg/dL
2012 HDL Cholesterol: 112 mg/dL
Increased +14 mg/dL.

Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL)
0-32 mg/dL – Normal

Results
2012 VLDL: 14 mg/dL
Middle of normal range. 

Triglycerides
Less than 150 mg/dL … Normal
150-199 mg/dL … Borderline High
200-499 mg/dL … High
500 mg/dL or higher … Very High

Results
2011 HDL Cholesterol: 77 mg/dL
2012 HDL Cholesterol: 70 mg/dL
Decreased -7 mg/dL, well within normal range.

I was very happy with my numbers this year. The only number that I am a tiny bit concerned with is the fasting blood glucose. While it is in a good range, it did raise quite a bit from last year. I’m just going to keep an eye on that one so it doesn’t raise any higher. My overall cholesterol number is high, but this is due to my high HDL numbers. Doctors now look at the ratio to determine your overall risk. Here are the tables for determining ratios.

Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio
Low Risk … 4.0 (men), 3.8 (women)
Average Risk … 5.0 (men), 4.5 (women)
Moderate Risk … 9.5 (men), 7.0 (women)
High Risk … >23.0 (men), >11 (women)

Results
2012 Cholesterol to HDL Ratio: 2.0
Low risk. 

LDL to HDL Ratio
Low Risk … 1.0 (men), 1.5 (women)
Average Risk … 3.6 (men), 3.2 (women)
Moderate Risk … 6.3 (men), 5.0 (women)
High Risk … 8.0 (men), 6.1 (women)

Results
2012 LDL to HDL Ratio: 0.9
Low risk.  

I was doing some research, and having an HDL number above 100 is not that common (from what I have read) so I feel very fortunate. I believe that my HDL is high because I eat a lot of avocados, beans and oatmeal – which are all said to raise this number. So while my diet may not always be perfect (I splurge on foods all the time), eating healthy foods really help to balance things, I truly believe that. Now that I am eating salmon (I had not been incorporating it into my diet previously) I wonder if it will go up even more! Exercise and not smoking also help keep your numbers within a good range.

Your cholesterol picture is more than just the overall number, the ratios are what is important. It is also said that LDL particle size plays a role. How do you find out your particle size? A ployacrylamide gradient gel electrophoresis (PGGE) test is used to measure particle size and determine if you are a Pattern A (large, buoyant particles) or a Pattern B (small, dense particles). Larger particles are said to be better because they float through the blood stream without attaching to walls of blood vessels. There is also a Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) Cholesterol Test, which is a more detailed than the standard Lipid Profile, and I believe this tells you LDL particle patterns. I am not sure what the difference is between a PGGE and a VAP, I want to do more research on this.

Another ratio that I did not talk about here is the ratio of HDL to Triglycerides. Low HDL combined with high triglycerides is cause for concern.

For now, I don’t feel a need to do any more detailed testing as all numbers point to a desirable cholesterol situation. I am enjoying learning more about all of this though, as I get geeked out about these kinds of things. It is fascinating to think of low density lipoprotein (LDL) particles depositing cholesterol to tissues and then the high density lipoprotein (HDL) particles carrying cholesterol away from tissues to the liver where the body can get rid of it. It is amazing how the balance of these things, along with other factors, make up your overall portrait of health.

There is a lot of learn about cholesterol and all the different ratios, particle sizes and different view points and studies, and I don’t claim to know it all. I do encourage you to do your own research (if you haven’t already) and learn all you can about it.

Knowledge is power, and if you don’t know your numbers, make an appointment to get them now so you have a baseline to compare to. It is worth knowing for peace of mind, and if they are less than ideal you still have time to change them around!

What are your favorite heart healthy foods? Do you have a go-to oatmeal combo? Do you go with old fashioned rolled oats, steel cut oats or instant oats?

Remember to ♥ your ♥! And ♥ someone else’s ♥, too. 🙂

Categories: Health, Nutrition | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

A Weekend Away

Just got in from a busy, but super fun, little weekend getaway.

Before we embarked on our road trip to fun, we had appointments for an annual health event.

Health Event

The night before, we fasted for 12 hours for an accurate fasting blood draw. They checked blood glucose, LDL & HDL cholesterol & triglycerides. Blood pressure, weight, height, BMI & waist measurements are also checked at this event.

The latter info I can easily get on my own, but it is nice to have the cholesterol and blood glucose checked, as my regular doctor will not request those tests for me. I asked him before, but because I am under 40 (or was it 45?) and am healthy, show no signs of any illness, there is no need to test in his opinion. This may be true, but I still want to stay on top of my numbers to make sure they are good and keep them that way. It is silly to wait for there to be a problem and then get tested! Since this is a free event and only takes 30 minutes of my time, it is worth it to be proactive and take my health into my own hands. I’m not sure if they have these free health events in other cities, but it is definitely worth checking.

Numbers Event

My weight and BMI stayed the same, my blood pressure was slightly higher than last time but still well within the optimal range (less than 120/80 is optimal). I’ve always had low blood pressure, so I expected it to still be good.

The waist measurement came up at 2″ more than last time! It was still in the good range (over 35″ for women is a problem, 40″ for men) but was odd that there was that big of a difference, especially since I weigh the same. It could have been possible measurement error (not measuring in the exact same spot as last year) or I have been feeling a little bloated this week. She told me not to worry, that women’s bodies fluctuate and change with hormones and other things and that it was in a good range. Still, two inches?!

She also told me that they measure the waist by the traditional way, keeping your belly relaxed and not holding it in. She said that Dr. Oz has this new way of testing where you suck your belly in!

From Dr. Oz:

“Measure at your natural waistline, which is above your hipbone and below the ribcage – not where your belt lies or around your hips. Be mindful of your posture and suck in your stomach since the fat you’re measuring is deep inside the belly.”

I had never heard of this before, but I opted to do the non-sucked in version. She said a lot of other people coming through the event were sucking in, but whatever.

Waiting on the blood test results to find out the other numbers so I can fill in my card!

After our health clinic, we broke the fast with a quick breakfast at Panera. I mentioned this Egg White Sandwich in a post a few weeks back and remembered to take a picture this time.

Panera Egg White Breakfast Sandwich

It was still as good as I remembered, fresh baby spinach, and they gave a good amount of roasted tomatoes this time, maybe they listened to my last post. 😉 My gritty, ground-filled coffee was another story.

Then Mr. Nine and I hit the road for Mad City. We had a great lunch, a little shopping and then went to the Chazen Museum of Art. Wow, what a fantastic place! We put 2 hours on the meter and spent the entire duration there. 4 floors divided between two sides, and an impressive collection of art, all to view for free! There were so many highlights it would be enough to fill an entire blog post.

Faculty Exhibit

After the museum, we walked along Lake Mendota, made some other stops, checked into our hotel and then went to dinner. It was packed and service was uncomfortably slow, even for being busy. A guy sat down next to us and said service for “the rest of us” was bad because Barry was there. Barry? He looked stunned that we didn’t know who Barry was. “He was standing right next to you!” he exclaimed, “Barry Alvarez, local sports celebrity, blah, blah, blah!” (replace “blah” with sports stats I don’t know anything about).

I don’t watch football. I just wanted my steak and wine in a timely manner, but apparently the presence of the famed Barry took all the attention of the servers as they were making sure he was treated to perfection. Luckily dinner was FANTASTIC, or else I would have been more annoyed. I would have taken a photo of my meal, but it was insanely dark in the restaurant that the photo would have turned out grainy from the lowlight (and would require a very steady hand for the slow exposure, one I would not have had after wine) or have been a hideous photo taken with flash which would not have done the food justice. Besides, people would wonder why I was taking photos of food and not the famous Barry.

We had another glass of wine someplace else (someplace without any sports celebrities and within walking distance of our hotel, just to be safe and not drive) and then called it a night.

Sunday we slept in (hooray!) and started the day sharing an almond croissant and sipping on coffee.

Sunday at Barriques

Wow, that croissant went fast!

Next up was a little shopping, then brunch at Sardine. I’ve been wanting to go to Sardine for awhile, and it was worth the wait! I love the ambiance, white painted brick walls, high ceilings, beams, a view of the lake. Overall very charming, yet sophisticated.

Sardine Brunch

I had the crab, bacon and rock shrimp cakes with chipolte beurre blanc, poached eggs, and mixed greens salad with corn, green beans, and tomatoes.

Crab, Bacon & Shrimp Cakes

It was good, but I am not huge on crab cakes that have been breaded on the outside, I prefer the breading to be more intermixed, so you can see the crab and have it flake/fall apart. A crispy crust of fried panko keeps the fillings intact, but is not nearly as good. Mr. Nine had the steamed mussels.

Steamed Mussels

I really liked his muscles, I mean mussels. 🙂 The bread was perfect to soak up the broth. Indulgent. Sardine, we must meet again.

Brunch was followed by bike shop perusing, lakeside walking and architecture exploring. The lake was frozen and there were ice fishers, dog walkers & cyclists making their way across the frozen blindingly white surface.

Danger

Cyclists On Ice

Shoreline

Although the lake was frozen, it was actually very warm outside. We didn’t even need our coats!

Of course no visit to Madison is complete without picking up some bagels. They had the perfect base for our bagel pizzas tonight.

Pizza Bagels

It was a quick, easy and tasty dinner while we unpacked and unwound. Still unwinding as I type, reflecting on everything, way more than I could wrap up into a single blog post. Although the past few days were not a true vacation, this little getaway filled with food, art, nature and fun was the perfect way to spend a weekend.

Do you go on short day trips or staycations? What is your favorite local place to visit? Have you had your cholesterol and blood glucose tested before?

Categories: Food, Health, Travels | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Sweet Arsenic

Today the news is buzzing with concerns that brown rice syrup, even the organic varieties, are tainted with what they are calling significantly high levels of arsenic. The study, “Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup” was released in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed open access journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This study by Brian P. Jackson, Vivien F. Taylor, Margaret R. Karagas, Tracy Punshon & Kathryn L. Cottingham was submitted last October and published online today. This is a concern for many Moms because brown rice syrup is an ingredient in some infant formula. Not a Mom or Dad? Don’t think this affects you? Think again.

Organic brown rice syrup is also an ingredient that many use in baking, including myself. This sticky-sweet “all natural” ingredient, available at health food stores like Whole Foods, is used to sweeten baked goods including granola bars and nut butter bites. Just take a look at any of the so-called healthy living blogs (HLBs) out there, and you’ll probably see a recipe or two with brown rice syrup listed as an ingredient.

Not limited to just homemade baked goodies, it is a popular ingredient in many natural granola bars, fruit & nut bars, energy bars, breakfast bars and rice milk. If you buy any gluten-free packaged goods, chances are brown rice syrup is in it.

Being a runner, when reading the recent news stories, Clif Shot Bloks immediately come to mind. Organic brown rice syrup is the first ingredient in these and many other energy gels. For the last few years I’ve enjoyed my share of these chewy, gummy blocks (or “bloks” as they call them). Margarita is my flavor of choice, the one that has enough salt and sour to make your mouth pucker just a bit. Knowing that these little bites of fuel that I take while running, an activity to be healthy, may not be healthy is unfortunate. To be fair to Clif Bar & Company, the article does not state which of the brands they tested had arsenic in them. To quote ABC News:

“Jackson and his colleagues also reported elevated arsenic levels in some brown rice-sweetened cereal bars, energy bars and energy “shots” consumed by endurance athletes, according to a study published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.”

Several brands make energy “shots” so it could be any company, I mention Clif because that is a product that I consume, am familiar with and I know that it does contain organic brown rice syrup.

Although the results of this study are alarming, it comes as no surprise due to recent findings on arsenic in rice (and apple juice). And with more and more people developing (or being diagnosed with) an intolerance to gluten, they are turning to products made with rice in the form of rice flour or rice syrup. The increase of gluten-free, rice-based products on the market are even appealing to those who do not have a gluten intolerance, and we as Americans are consuming more and more of these products.

From the Chicago Tribune:

“The researchers studied 29 cereal bars and high energy bars and found 22 listed rice-based ingredients — including organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain or rice flakes – among the top five ingredients.”

Let’s keep in mind that arsenic is found in trace amounts in many foods, not limited to just rice. However, the products with rice or rice syrup as an ingredient happen to test higher than most. Interestingly enough, In the US, arsenic is regulated by the EPA in our water, and is even regulated in treated wood that we use for decking materials, but not regulated in the food we eat.

As a consumer, what do we do with this information? Do we eliminate or reduce all products made from brown rice syrup, or even rice, from our diets? Do we dig deeper into research, request additional testing to confirm the findings? Do we want to get the FDA involved in regulating arsenic levels in food? The FDA is a sticky subject with many, as sticky as the organic brown rice syrup in question.

For now, I’ll take the approach of educating myself more on the topic. It is all too easy to get wrapped up in the frenzy that the media creates. Everyday we are being told that something is bad for us, scared by the news outlets, I hate to make drastic changes on little information. After all, arsenic is a naturally occurring element, one that we most likely ingest through water (in much smaller amounts, hopefully) everyday. What I do know is that there are an increasing number of studies finding that rice and rice products have elevated levels of arsenic and I do know that I wish to become a more informed consumer. I would like to see the full data from the study, including products tested. I’m a factual person and like to know all the details before forming an opinion or lifestyle change.

In the meantime, here is some additional information on arsenic from the American Cancer Society to learn more about what arsenic is, and how it affects the body.

Does the news of arsenic in rice, juice and now rice syrup alarm you? Will you be checking ingredient lists and cutting back on your consumption until more information is found?

Categories: Food, Health | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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