Great Health Tip of the Day: Waste Less for Earth Day

April 22, 2014

Did you know that roughly 30-40% of food produced in the US is wasted? Not only does this hurt your bank account, but it also has a negative impact on the environment. You can help!

  • Plan ahead. Plan a few meals before you head for the grocery store and make a list of things you need. Stick to the list. Plan meals around items earth_faceyou already have on hand.
  • Take inventory. Check your kitchen before your next shopping trip to avoid buying things you already have.
  • Buy what you need. Only need half a cabbage? Our produce associates would be happy to cut it in half for you.
  • Monitor your produce. Is that spinach starting to look sad? Be sure to cook it up tonight or throw it in the freezer for a future soup or casserole. Soups and smoothies are great ways to consume produce that is past its prime.
  • Save leftovers. Stick them in the fridge or freezer. Be sure to eat them later! Be creative—they can make great soups or additions to omelets.
  • Eat out wisely. Take home leftovers or share an entrée with a friend. At buffets, only take what you will eat. You can always go back for more.


Soy—Sifting Through the Controversy

April 19, 2014

SoyHow much have you heard about health benefits or risks of eating soy foods?  Maybe your doctor has advised you to include soy foods in your diet for heart health or to eliminate them to reduce breast cancer risk.  Or maybe even include them to reduce breast cancer risk.  So wait, is it healthy or harmful?  I was pretty confused about soy foods myself before I became a dietitian (and for a time after!), so hopefully I can help you clear up the confusion.

Soy is a plant-based source of protein and it’s a complete protein at that (which means it contains all the essential amino acids needed by our bodies in the correct proportions).  In addition to protein, soy provides fiber, potassium, essential fatty acids, folate, other vitamins and minerals, and isoflavones.  It’s the isoflavones that seem to cause many soy-skeptics the most concern.


Soy Foods and Breast Cancer Risk

Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, which are chemically similar to estrogen.  Two major types of isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, can act like estrogen in the body, but at a much lower level of potency than free circulating estrogen in women.  So if these isoflavones act like estrogen, you would imagine that soy could increase your risk of estrogen-receptor (ER) positive breast cancer (this is one type of breast cancer which is spurred on by the binding of estrogen to breast receptors for the hormone).  In some studies with laboratory animals, rats injected with ER-positive tumor cells that were given the highest amounts of isoflavones had the greatest growth of tumor cells.  BUT, that isn’t the case in all animal studies. 

When analyzing epidemiological studies in which women were asked about their normal diets and followed over many years, researchers have found either no association between soy food consumption and breast cancer, or a protective association (women who reported eating more soy foods had lower rates of breast cancer).  Keep in mind these studies focused on whole soy foods in the diet, not soy supplements.  More research is needed to understand the benefits or risks of isolated soy compounds like those found in soy protein supplements or foods with high amounts of soy protein isolate (like some nutrition bars).

What about women who are ER-positive breast cancer survivors?  Various research studies have found no harmful effects to eating soy foods for breast cancer survivors.  How can isoflavones, which mimic estrogen, NOT have a negative effect on women who have a history of ER-positive cancer?  Researchers aren’t sure of the exact mechanisms, but isoflavones also have anti-estrogen properties, which means they can block stronger natural estrogens from binding to the breast receptors. 


Soy Foods and Heart Health

Soy and heart health is one of the most researched of all soy/health links.  Studies show that soy foods can help reduce total and LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides.  The link is so strong that the FDA authorized the following food-labeling health claim: “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of (name of food) provides ____ grams of soy protein.” 


The Bottom Line: 

To reap the health benefits of soy without the (possible) risk, enjoy soy foods and pass on soy supplements or isolated soy compounds.


Easy Soy Food Additions

  • Add edamame or tofu to your next stir fry or fried rice
  • Make your next smoothie with soy milk or silken tofu
  • Try edamame hummus—make your own or try Eat Well Enjoy Life
  • Munch on soy nuts or dried edamame for a snack
  • Swap soy crumbles for some or all ground beef in pasta sauce or chili


Healthy Homemade Vinaigrettes

April 14, 2014

You may not be surprised to discover that I think salads are a wonderful and quick addition to any meal (check out my previous blog for health benefits and ways to maximize nutrition for salads), as well as being a great way to use up produce.  The thing that often keeps a salad from being the healthiest option is the salad dressing, since some dressings are quite high in sodium or sugar. BalsamicVinaigretteSalad

While there are quite a few healthy and tasty salad dressing options to be found in the grocery store (look for the Dietitians Choice tags for the easiest way to identify these), I almost always make my own dressing.  I love that they are easy to make and that I can customize a dressing based on what I like (jalapeno and cilantro, anyone?) and what I feel will pair well with the particular salad I am making.  If you have looked at salad dressings in the store, you may have noticed that most of the healthy options are vinaigrettes.  I find vinaigrettes to also be the easiest salad dressings to make at home as they take very little equipment and are very forgiving.  Some basic rules for making a vinaigrette include:

  • Use 2 parts oil to one part acid (e.g. 2 tablespoons olive oil to 1 tablespoon vinegar)
  • When using a mild acid, such as orange juice or balsamic vinegar, start with one part oil to one part acid and add more oil as needed
  • Add herbs and fruit to add fresh flavor, nutrition, and reduce calories per serving  
  • Choose an oil for flavor as well as health benefits such as olive oil for monounsaturated fats, sunflower or safflower oil for vitamin E, or canola oil for Omega 3 fat

Other Uses for Vinaigrettes – Marinating vegetables prior to grilling – Adding to grain based salads – Using instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich

What is your favorite homemade salad dressing?  What other uses have you found for vinaigrettes? Looking for some recipes to start?  Check out the great recipes below provided by Harmons Cooking School Chef Kimberly Larsen. 

Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette & Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette
  1. 5 fresh figs, stems removed
  2. 2 tablespoons honey wine vinegar
  3. 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  4. 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  5. 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  6. Fresh herbs
  1. Place all ingredients except oil into blender. Blend on medium until combined and the figs are lightly pureed. With machine going, slowly pour in the olive oil just until dressing comes together (you may not need all of the olive oil).
Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
  1. ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  2. ½ cup fresh lime juice and zest from the limes
  3. ½ bunch of cilantro
  4. 2 garlic cloves
  5. 1 tablespoon honey
  6. 1 teaspoon minced chipotle in adobo sauce
  1. Combine all ingredients, except olive oil, in blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until mixture emulsifies. Blog

Great Health Tip of the Day: National Garlic Month

April 10, 2014

ripe garlic fruits with green parsley leavesGarlic is often known for its pungent odor and its use in many cuisines around the world. Did you know that garlic might also provide health benefits?

Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which gives garlic its distinctive odor and provides antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits. While research is mixed on the actual health benefits, there are some conditions that garlic is possibly effective for treating, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database:

  • High blood pressure—in people with high blood pressure, garlic may help reduce blood pressure by 7-8%
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
  • Colon, rectal, and stomach cancer

The National Cancer Institute does not recommend taking garlic supplements, but recognizes garlic as a vegetable that may have anticancer properties. The World Health Organization’s recommendation for general health promotion in adults is a daily dose of 2-5g of garlic, the equivalent of just one clove.

Jonnell, Registered Dietitian

Jonnell, Registered Dietitian

One of my favorite ways to use garlic is to mince garlic and mix with extra-virgin olive oil, parsley, and crushed red pepper for a great bread dip or pasta sauce.

To get the most health benefit from garlic, crush or chop 10-15 minutes before cooking it.

What is your favorite way to use garlic?

National Cancer Institute:
MedLine Plus:

Increase Variety in Your Diet by Increasing… Frozen Foods?!

April 3, 2014

I am a creature of habit. I have been known to wear a variation of the same outfit multiple days a week and I would happily eat the same breakfast every day for months on end. However, as a dietitian, I know that variety is important not only for good nutrition, but also for increasing our satisfaction with the foods we eat. For those of us who have a tendency to want to eat the same things over and over, an easy way to increase variety in our diets is to have a few frozen foods on hand to help keep us from getting into a food rut.

For example, on nights when I’m just not feeling inspired to cook, I’ll pick up an exotic frozen dish, like Saffron Road’s Lamb Saag, or Healthy Choice’s Mediterranean Inspired Balsamic Garlic Chicken. These meals cook quickly in the microwave and they save me from having to figure out what to make for dinner. They’re also different from meals that I would cook myself, which helps to increase the variety of my diet. For a more complete meal, I’ll add a side salad or a piece of fruit with a glass of low fat milk.

Buying frozen vegetables is also an excellent way to increase variety, as you can try veggies that you wouldn’t otherwise buy, without having to worry about them going bad before you get a chance to eat them. Did you know that we carry frozen kale, baby spinach, and butternut squash? (We also have some wonderful frozen veggie mixes, too!) I also love our frozen herbs, like chopped basil, cilantro, and parsley, which can be dropped directly into soups or stews, or thawed and mixed into your favorite dish, which is convenient if you don’t use herbs very quickly.

By keeping some staples in your freezer, like vegetables, herbs, and frozen meals, you can help to keep yourself from eating the same foods over and over, prevent food boredom, and help ensure that you’re eating a varied and balanced diet.

Not sure how to pick out healthy frozen foods? Dietitian Jonnell wrote an excellent blog post last week about what you should be looking out for when picking frozen meals. (Check it out here: In our stores, we also have our handy Dietitians Choice tags, which will point you to the healthiest options in all of our departments  (Note: All of the meals I mentioned above are Dietitians Choice items) 

Here’s a link to more information about our Dietitians Choice program:

Great Health Tip of the Day: National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day

April 2, 2014

Although a lot of people groan at the thought of another PB & J sandwich, I am a PB & J lover. This sandwich isn’t always thought of as a health food, but it can be a great start to a meal. Here’s how:Homemade Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich


Skip the white bread and choose 100% whole grain bread. Look for a whole grain as the first ingredient.

Great options: Oroweat 100% Whole Wheat Bread or Prairie Grains Spelt Bread

Peanut Butter

Choose a peanut butter without added oils or sugars.

Great option: Harmons Freshly Ground Peanut Butter


Look for a jam with less than 8 grams of sugar per serving and that has fruit as the first ingredient.
Great options: Stonewall Kitchen brand or Smucker’s Low Sugar line

Great Health Tip of the Day: National Spinach Day

March 26, 2014

You probably already know from Popeye that spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. But do you know why?SpinachBerrySalad

  • 1 cup of cooked spinach provides almost 1000% of your daily vitamin K needs! Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health.
  •  Spinach contains many antioxidant plant nutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which help prevent age-related macular degeneration.

Need some fresh ideas on including spinach in your diet?

  • Try a baby spinach and berry salad. Toss baby spinach with fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries and top with slivered almonds and Harmons raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
  • Support Frozen Food Month by purchasing frozen spinach! Thaw and squeeze out all the liquid and add to your favorite pasta sauce.


Healthy Frozen Meals for Lunch

March 25, 2014

young woman shopping in supermarketOne of the perks of working in a grocery store is being able to quickly purchase a healthy lunch even on days when my planning or memory (left my lunch bag on the kitchen counter again!) is not the best.  There is, of course, the obvious option of the great salad bar or sometimes I get a couple of slices of 7-grain bread from the bakery (did you know you could buy it by the slice?), some low sodium turkey from the delicatessen and ½ an avocado and have an amazing sandwich.  However, I just as often hit the frozen food aisle and pick up a frozen meal.  You might find it strange that a dietitian would eat a frozen meal at lunch, but with some label reading healthy options can be found.  The things I look at when choosing a frozen meal include:

  1. Is the first ingredient something good for me, like a vegetable, whole grain, or legume? 
  2. How much sodium does it have?  To help in keeping sodium below the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day, I recommend keeping frozen meals below 600 milligrams of sodium (this leaves room for something else with sodium). 
  3. How much saturated fat does it contain?  The recommendations for heart health are for 10% or less of total daily calories to come from saturated fat.  To put this in practical terms, if you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be 22 grams or less of saturated fat per day.
  4. How much sugar does it have (and does some of the sugar come from fruit)? Current recommendations are for no more than 32 grams of added sugar (that’s 8 teaspoons) for someone consuming 2,000 calories.  This one is a little trickier as the current labels only list total sugar. 
  5. Does it contain ingredients that I don’t want such as hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup?

If this seems a little time-consuming to you, you might want to check out our Dietitians Choice frozen meals as Harmons dietitians have already looked at all of these things (plus a few more) to come up with the healthiest options in this category.  Some of the meals that meet our strict criteria include Saffron Road’s Lamb Saag (one of my favorite options), Lean Cuisine’s Honestly Good Red Pepper Chicken, and surprisingly (at least to me), Lynn Wilson’s Bean and Cheese Burrito with Green Chile.

Once I have picked a meal, I usually round it out with a couple of other foods that help me to meet my nutrition requirements for the day and don’t contain a lot of sodium such as yogurt, a piece of fruit, or some Ironman Salad (a current favorite of mine from the delicatessen).


Great Health Tip of the Day: Frozen Meat and Meat Alternatives

March 19, 2014

Keeping frozen meat or meat alternatives in your freezer can make planning healthy meals a snap. However, not all frozen meats and meat alternatives are created equal when it comes to nutrition. Following a few simple steps can help you to choose a nutritious option:

  • Watch the salt; some meat products are injected with a sodium solution and some meat alternatives also contain a large dose of sodium.DietitiansChoice
    • If you are choosing a food that you won’t be seasoning further, look for one with no more than 350 milligrams of sodium.
    • If you are planning on adding a seasoning, marinade, or sauce that includes salt, choose a meat or meat alternative without added sodium.
  • Choose a product that does not include hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list.
  • Look for the Dietitians Choice label to make it easy to choose a healthy option.

Great Health Tip of the Day: National Artichoke Hearts Day

March 16, 2014

You may have heard by now that March is Frozen Food Month, but you may not know that today is National Artichoke Hearts Day. What more perfect time to try frozen artichokes?

  • One serving (1/3 of the small package) has 5 grams of fiber and a good dose of folate, potassium, and vitamin K.Artichoke
  • Artichokes are great in pasta sauce, in an omelet, or as a pizza or salad topping.
  • Choose frozen fruits and vegetables without added sugar or salt. Check the ingredient list to determine the best options.