Deal shopping — even at Whole Foods

I don;t regularly shop at Whole Foods. I find the prices too high for the value delivered, given that it has so few low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar products on its shelves.

There used to be two low-fat cookie brands offered that I would go specifically to Whole Foods for, but both have disappeared from its shelves, for example.

Also, I find it frustrating that different Whole Foods carry different products so that I ahve to search out the few healthy offerings it does have. An example is the Localfolks brand I’ve blogged about in the past. Localfolks low-sodium ketchup is a must-have for me but I can only find it at one Whole Foods store in a neighboring suburb, rather than the two Whole Foods that are in my town.

So I was at that neighboring Whole Foods recently to stock up on LocalFolks and I decided to scan the aisles to see what other low-salt items I coudl find, and what deals I could find in that high-priced environment. I discovered soem items were on sale — but only for Amazon Prime members. Amazon owns Wholoe Food these days and seems to be struggling to find synergies. These meber-only sales are one fo those.

I’m a Prime member and have download the special Amazon Prime/Whole Foods app. I also carry my Prime credit card since at times there are deals for using that there as well.

Deals at Whole Foods? You can save some money if you shop smart there. Here’s a recent trip of mine during whihc I saved 12% off of full prices on some low-salt products.

My quest turned up two Localfolks low-salt barbecue sauce on sale, with an extra 10% off for Prime members, and a low-salt salad dressing on sale with the extra 10% off as well. I saved $6.73 on a $54.79 bill, roughly a 12% savings.

When I shop at traditional supermarkets, I normally aim to save at last 33% off of full prices, so 12% isn’t in that league. But it’s pretty good for a Whole Foods trip, a testament to smart shopping.

Product Review: Organicville No-salt-added dressing — thumbs up!

I’m always searching for new low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar products to add some taste to my otherwise bland diet. I recently found something new at Whole Foods, a store I don’t normally frequent because of its high prices and lack of many low-salt, low-fat products.

But Organicville No Added-salt Italian dressing was not only low-salt, but on sale for Amazon Prime members the day I was shopping. Normally $4.49 a bottle, I got it for $2.49 — still a high price for a relatively small bottle (keep in mind I buy my olive oil in large bottles at Costco).

An interesting new low-salt dressing option.

The dressing has only 5 mgs of salt per two tablespoons, so even if you drench your salad in it, like I tend to do, the salt content is relatively low. Its 4 grams of fat per two tablespoons also is low. And it tastes more interesting than plain oil and vinegar. The label talks about “zest” — I think that’s the pepper you taste.

One note of caution, though. The product is not shown on the Organicville site, so it may be discontinued. Perhaps that’s why it was on sale? I hope not. I’d like to think it’s new and so not yet listed on the site. But given how many low-salt products have been cut during the Pandemic, I’m a little worried. Buy this while you can, it may not be around much longer.

Why you have to read the nutrition label — a barbecue sauce comparison

I have repeatedly harped on the importance of reading food labels so you can stay on a low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar diet. And I’ve created an entire page of low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar products that I use regularly since my heart issues began in 2012.

With summer hear and all of us grilling outside again, reading labels becomes even more important for products you might not be using in winter, like barbecue sauce.

Take a look at these pictures of two brands — Localfolks low-salt, low-sugar barbecue sauce, and a store brand, Signature Select (an Albertson’s house brand). I use nothing by Localfolks now, but happened the get the Signature Select bottle free ina recent store give-away.

A serving of the Signature select, 37 grams, has 260 mgs of sodium and 12 grams of sugar, 14 grams of carbs if you count those as well.

The Localfolks measures one serving as an ounce, which is 28.34 grams, so about a third less. Still, it has only 30 mgs of sodium and 4 grams of sugar, five grams of carbs. Even adding a third to that gets you to only 40 mgs of sodium and about five and a third of sugar.

Salt and sugar hide in all processed foods, that’s wehy most Americans eat more than they should. Read those food labels, and happy grilling!

Can your cookouts be healthy? Yes, if you plan ahead and shop wisely

When I was a much younger man, I would routinely have a start-of-summer cookout at my house with a menu that included Italian sausage and peppers, ribs, chicken legs, fatty hamburgers, hot dogs — in other words all the things I can’t eat now that I’m dealing with heart issues. So I stopped having those cookouts, not wanting to serve people foods I can’t eat and assuming they would not be happy with what I could eat.

But that was then, this is now, some nine years after my first stent went in and I changed my eating habits.

I haven’t had a large cookout party in some time, especially not last year when we were all isolating, but I have developed healthy cookout menus for us.

A recent article I saw, Nutrition: Making summer barbecues healthier from the Duluth News Tribune, can help you make your cookouts healthier as well.

The article covers the basics — grill lean proteins like fish and chicken, use whole wheat breadstuffs when you must have a bun, grill fruits. It even touches on how high in salt most condiments are and suggests finding substitutes for those as well.

A good place to start grilling healthier is my recipe page. The Memorial Day special meals (under special occasion meals) all deal with grilling, for example. And check my smart shopping page for tips on low- and no-salt condiments.

Summer no-salt shopping — my latest assortment of goodies

The Pandemic knocked a lot of no-salt food products off mainstream store shelves as retailers pared down their assortments to concentrate on stocking their biggest sellers. So those of us eating no-salt diets had to turn elsewhere, primarily online to places like Healthy Heart Market..

I’ve written about Healthy Heart before, noting it can get expensive to ship heavy food offerings. But sometimes there’s no alternative for a given product you want.

I’ve been buying reduced sodium pickles, for example, but really wanted salt-free ones. Healthy Heart has its own brand of no-salt pickles. Buying just two jars, though, doubled the cost when shipping was added in. So I decided to look for other items to spread out the shipping cost a bit.

My Healthy Heart Market purchase, and the bill.

I also bought some lite Greek dressing, which I’ve reviewed here in the past, some Mrs. Dash salt-free fajita mix since I can’t find that locally, a jar of no-salt tomato paste (not pictured) and some no-salt bullion.

I’m particularly interested in trying to bouillon since I rarely eat any soup these days because of the the high salt content.

My bill came to $52.36, of which $14.55 was shipping (I used a $5-off shipping deal).

Expensive, yes, but with my blood pressure rising all through the pandemic, despite my doctor adjusting my various medications, the more salt I can get out of my diet, the better.

An alternative for getting the salt out of your taco seasoning mix

I’m a big fan of all the Mrs. Dash salt-free products and have written before about the Mrs. Dash salt-free taco seasoning packets I buy. These are the best way to get salt out of your tacos, along with buying no-salt, or low-salt tortillas and using lean ground turkey or extra-lean ground beef to eliminate fat as well.

But Mrs. Dash products ahve become much harder to find during the pandemic as major food stores cut down on their variety of products to concentrate filling their shelves with their biggest sellers. So if you can’t find Mrs. Dash locally, what can you do? Buying online is a more expensive alternative. But you also can search for store brand offerings that are lower in salt.

Always check salt content, even for a product labeled reduced sodium.

I found this Signature Select store brand (sold by Jewel in the Chicago area, an Albertson’s supermarket). The package says it has 30% less salt than comparable products. The nutritional panel lists 250 mgs of sodium for two teaspoons, noting there are six servings in the packet, which means a total of 1,500 mgs of sodium in one package (a day’s supply of sodium, basically).

That is a ton more than Mrs. Dash but it is lower than some mainstream brands. Old El Paso, for example, lists 300 mgs times six servings or 1,800 mgs. A third off that would be 1,200 mgs, so the Signature Select 30% less doesn’t hold up here.

McCormick Taco seasoning has 380 mgs of salt times six servings so 2,280 mgs. A third off that would be 1,520, so maybe that was the brand used to make that 30% off comparison.

The bottom line here — there is a lot of hidden salt in taco seasoning. Use salt-free whenever you can, but if you must pick an alternative, read the nutrition labels and look for ones labeled reduced sodium.

Another answer for rising food prices — check the dollar stores

Food prices have been going up during the pandemic and continued to do so even as Covid is becoming less of a threat to those of us who have been vaccinated. So how do you cope, especially on a limited budget?

Where do you buy your produce?

Dollar stores are one alternative, and a recent study says dollar store produce is no lower in quality than traditional grocery produce.

“Researchers from this study found no distinct differences between the supermarket and dollar store produce quality, although the dollar stores offered slightly less variety. The only major difference was in the price of the produce, as fruits and vegetables purchased from a dollar store were 84 percent less expensive, on average,” reports CookingLight.com

The study looked at dollar stores and traditional supermarkets in Las Vegas. The farther west you go, the more likely dollar stores are to sell fresh produce. Those in the Chicago area I frequent do not, but I have seen pineapples for $1 in California dollar stores, for example.

So where you live will likely influence how helpful this tip is for your shopping. Also, keep in mind the dollar stores that do carry produce generally do not have organic products, so if you prefer those you still need to pay up.

Pandemic shopping: food prices continue higher, expect more of the same

We reported last year on predictions that food prices would be rising this year and data so far bear out that prediction.

U.S. food prices in April rose 0.4% as overall consumer prices were up 0.8% month-to-month.

“Food prices increased 0.4%, lifted by rises in the cost of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meats, fish and eggs. Households also paid more to dine out. But gasoline prices fell 1.4% after accelerating 9.1% in March,” reported Reuters.

And before you start thinking about some conspiracy theory against your least favorite politicians for all this, maybe pick up a basic economics book first.

Demand for everything skyrocketed last year as people were forced to stay home and actually cook, or at least defrost and microwave, their own meals rather than going out. Higher demand ran into smaller supplies thanks to difficulties transporting and processing food during the pandemic. When demand rises while supplies remain stable or decrease, prices are bound to rise as well.

The answer in this environment is to be a bargain shopper. If you already look for deals start looking harder.

When you see expensive proteins on sale, stock up and freeze items for future use. Buy bulk packages and repackage into usable portions for yourself. And if your local supermarket has any kind of special contests or deals going on, take advantage of them

Glance as the receipt I have pictured here, you can see I save a sizable amount (46%) when I use all the deals I can find in any given week.

Consumer Reports finds the best low-sodium soup is…homemade!

Processed soups, whether in cans or at deli counters or in restaurants, traditionally are overloaded with salt. Even soups labeled low-sodium have a ton of salt, as I’ve written about the many low-sodium broths on supermakret shelves, for example.

So I was intrigued by a headline I saw about Consumer Reports rating low-sodium soups. Had the venerable journal found a low-sodium soup I’d missed? Not exactly.

Imagine low-sodium soups: I applaud the effort, but taste is lacking, big time.

Consumer Reports’ top choice in the blind test is a homemade minestrone made by its trained chef. It had less sodium and the best flavor of all of them. So if you have a little more time, consider making your own soup. It just might taste better and be better for you,” according to a report on the magazine’s findings by news4jax.com.

Here’s the recipe for that homemade soup:

Consumer Reports’ easy minestrone recipe

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ tsp dried thyme

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 (28 ounce) can no salt added crushed tomatoes

3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 (15 ounce) can no salt added chickpeas, drained

1 (15 ounce) can no salt added kidney beans, drained

1 small zucchini, chopped

1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces ditalini pasta, cooked according to package directions

4 cups fresh spinach

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

1. Add the oil, onion, celery, carrots, and garlic to a multi-cooker on Sauté mode or a traditional large pot on the stovetop. Stir and sauté the ingredients for 5 minutes. Stir in oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2. Add the tomatoes, broth, water, chickpeas, kidney beans, zucchini, and green beans. For multi-cooker: Close the lid with the vent in the sealing position. Change the setting to Pressure mode. Set the timer for 5 minutes. When the multi-cooker beeps, do a quick pressure release according to the manufacturer’s directions. For stovetop: bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 to 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

3. Stir in the spinach until wilted, about 1 minute; add cooked pasta. Serve topped with the Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Makes about 10 servings

Nutritional information per 1 cup serving: 210 calories, 4 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 33 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 10 g protein, 190 mg sodium

Pandemic Shopping: Food Prices Will Continue Climbing in 2021

It’s no secret that food prices shot up as the pandemic took hold last year. The bad news is you can expect those prices to continue to rise this year. Grocery store prices will climb 1-2%, predicts the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Restaurant/take-out food prices will increase 2-3 percent after climbing 3.9% last year, the USDA says.

The actual impact of the pandemic on your food bills has likely been much more severe than a percent or two. Pandemic shopping has meant shortages of items and an inability to shop for deals from store to store.

Shopping at Trader Joe's
The line I encountered waiting to get into a Chicago-area Trader Joe’s. These were all seniors waiting for the 8 a.m. opening of the store for senior shopping.

How many stores have you gone to in the average pandemic week? Pre-pandemic, I would normally go to three or four different stores, searching for the best deals on low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar products. During the pandemic, I’ve limited myself to one store a week, sometimes two.

The first change I plan in my life now that I’ve had both my vaccine shots is a return to more normal food shopping to combat rising prices.

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