Navigating the Grocery Store Part 2: Labels and Lingo

My apologies for the large gap between posts! Sometimes life just takes you in different directions.

Now for Navigating the Grocery Store Part 2: Labels and Lingo
Once you make your grocery list and are meandering around the aisles, there are a lot of different words or advertising slogans brands use to promote their products. Lets break some down..

All Natural: According to the FDA’s website, this is the answer to the question of the term natural

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances”. So to break it down, it pretty much means it hasn’t been artificially added but because it is not a regulated term it can still be thrown around without being verified.

Here are some common terms from

  • Low fat – 3 grams fat or less per serving
  • Fat-free – Less than 1/2 gram fat per serving
  • Low sodium – Less than 140 milligrams sodium per serving
  • Low calorie – Less than 40 calories per serving
  • Calorie free – Less than 5 calories per serving
  • Low cholesterol – Less than 20 milligrams cholesterol and 2 grams saturated fat

The danger I commonly see with these labels is while foods may be low in fat or calories, it is not low in sugar-even artificial sugars!
I am a firm believer that it is not fat that makes you fat, sugar makes you fat.  

Look at the picture above at the comparison of the brains reaction to cocaine and sugar compared side by side. Pretty shocking! The World Health Organization recommends getting just 5% of calories from sugar which translates to about 25 grams. So while labels may say “reduced fat” be sure to check the sugar content! Chances are high if fat has been taken out sugar is added back in, whether artificial, real sugar or HFCS or whatever they can get their hands on.

Lastly, many people question the term organic.  Organic farmers are held to strict standards and  ongoing evaluations to be sure they are meeting the strict requirements to be deemed organic. I am a fan of organic foods-it helps the local economy and environment, keeps harmful chemicals out of the body, and more often than not the food tastes better. Look for the USDA Organic seal when shopping and you can sure the food is organically grown.



Marion Nestle- What We Eat

Recipe of the Week: Flourless Chile Verde Enchiladas

Flourless Chile Verde Enchiladas

This recipe was sort of made up as I went, with simple ingredients from what I already had around the kitchen, except for the green enchilada sauce. This is another example of easy ways to sneak in more veggies into your diet for optimum nutrient levels. For modifications, I used a lettuce leaf as well instead of a tortilla just to experiment, but I recommend the tortilla way. Feel free to mess around and try adding all sorts of vegetables in. I stuck with green for the sake of the theme, and topped with jalapeno for spice and tomatoes.

Flourless Tortillas 

This recipe is for 4 medium tortillas:

6 egg whites
1/3 cup almond milk
salt/pepper for flavor

Whisk together egg whites and milk thoroughly so there are no egg white sections. Pour into a greased skillet set to med-high, and allow the egg white mixture to cook thoroughly until it is easy to peel off and flip over. It should get bubbly and somewhat stiff similar to cooking a tortilla on a skillet. Set aside for later use in enchiladas

Flourless Tortilla Enchilada

(makes 6-8

1 1/2 lbs cooked shredded chicken breast
1 can green chiles
1 can chile verde enchilada sauce
1 heaping tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1/2 diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced onions
2 diced mushrooms
1 cup shredded spinach
1 teaspoon diced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat over to 350 degrees fahrenheit. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on high heat. Add garlic, onion, mushrooms and peppers and saute until mushrooms are cooked through and almost crispy. Lower heat and add chicken, green chiles, spinach and greek yogurt. Add 1/3 of the can of the chile verde enchilada sauce to chicken mixture. Stir well, and remove from heat. Lay out the tortillas, and scoop in about 1/3 cup mixture into each tortilla, rolling it up and placing it seal side down in a greased casserole dish to keep it together. Roll up each tortilla adding more/less mixture depending on how thick you prefer the enchiladas. Pour the remainder of the chile verde enchilada sauce over the enchiladas and place in over for 15-20 minutes, and top with melted cheese for the last minute. Enjoy!

I experimented with lettuce wrapped enchiladas as well, but the alternative tortilla ones were much better.

I experimented with lettuce wrapped enchiladas as well, but the alternative tortilla ones were much better.



Navigating the Grocery Store: Part 1

Eating a healthy diet doesn’t just take place in the kitchen. The first stop is almost always the grocery store, stocked with endless opportunities. However, it is still a business so manufacturers have smart tricks to encourage you to buy their products, and more of it. Whats at the front of the store compared to the back? The less nutritious but colorful food stocks the front shelves with ads and coupons galore, but the basics like milk and eggs are clear at the back of the store, and spread far apart which ensures that you will have to walk past thousands of products just to get to the staples.

Think you can dart down an aisle without getting distracted? If you can, you’re very talented. Manufacturers pay what is called a “slotting fee” which means they pay extra to have their products at eye level, and taking up more space horizontally so you have to pass their products or brands multiple times. Even better? The slotting fees they pay to have products at about a 3 foot high level i.e. a child’s eye level.

Business Insider story on supermarkets and their marketing scheme

Those aisles are a specific length as well as width, so you have to make it clear to the end if you want to turn around easily with a cart. In some stores the tiles on the middle of the aisle are made smaller, so that the cart clacking along on the floor makes it seem as if you’re going faster, so you subconsciously slow down. Which gives you more time to browse the aisles and products put there specifically to entice you into buying them.

Skipping to the produce section, store owners are just as savvy there. The sprinkler systems are not there to keep the produce watered-they’ve already been picked. It is watered to keep it looking fresh and appealing so the fact that some produce has been sitting out for many hours doesn’t deter you from purchasing it. 

Produce Section

So now that you are in the store looking for the things you need, how do you know which item is best when it comes in 5 varieties? The words on the labels can be confusing, which they are meant to be so you don’t put their product down just because it contains “sugar”. So lets breakdown the label, starting with a few things to remember.

  • Whole foods are always best. The closer you can get a food to its original form, the better it will be for you. For example raw vegetables or fruit, then frozen, then canned if I must. People are amazed when I tell them I choose 100% real bacon or whole butter
    Whole foods are crucial to a nutritious diet which can include bacon! Organic asparagus wrapped in bacon. Delicious and because it is the real bacon it is very filling so small amounts are very satiating.

    Whole foods are crucial to a nutritious diet which can include bacon! Organic asparagus wrapped in bacon. Delicious and because it is the real bacon it is very filling so small amounts are very satiating.

  • Be aware of the different lingo that products may list in their ingredients which is just a code name for sugar! Some of my favorites:

    The many different alias of sugar

  • The less ingredients the better. And if a 7 year old can’t pronounce it, stay away. Often in reduced fat or reduced sugar products, they may be lower in calories but they are also filled with funky additives that are not even close to real food such as Butylated HydrozyAnisole (BHA) which is used in beer, crackers, butter, cereals, and foods with added fats to preserve their shelf life. Studies have shown BHA to cause cancer in the stomachs of animal studies, and the Department of Health and Human Services classifies the preservative as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”
Going just off of ingredients, it is easy to see which one is a smarter pick (hint-its Justins! 2 ingredients vs. 6+) Both ingredient lists were taken directly off of the company websites.  Jif To Go: Ingredients: MADE FROM ROASTED PEANUTS AND SUGAR, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: MOLASSES, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SALT Justin's: Dry Roasted Peanuts, Palm Fruit Oil* *sustainably sourced palm fruit oi

Going just off of ingredients, it is easy to see which one is a smarter pick (hint-its Justins! 2 ingredients vs. 6+) Both ingredient lists were taken directly off of the company websites.
Jif To Go: Ingredients: roasted peanuts and sugar, contains 2% or less of: Molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono and diglycerides, salt. 
Justin’s: Dry Roasted Peanuts, Palm Fruit Oil*
*sustainably sourced palm fruit oil

  • Picking the more nutritious option trumps the option that has lower calories. Have a salty craving? 1 lightly salted Quaker rice cake may only be 35 calories, but it is digested quickly resulting in a spike in your blood sugar, which will then dip and leave you tired and reaching for more empty calories. 1/2 cup plain pretzels with 2 tablespoons of hummus will leave you at around 150 calories, but with healthy fats and a little protein to keep you more full, and protein is digested slowly so you can avoid the insulin spike and crash cycle. 


Keeping those things in mind, keep your eyes peeled for my next post where I’ll investigate labels and what all the confusing lingo advertisers use to sell their products and what they actually mean. 

Mahi Mahi with Garlic “Aioli”

My favorite thing about this recipe is my cheater Aioli sauce. Most aiolis include mayonnaise and butter but this is a much lighter version. Tasted amazing on the fish. Any fish will taste good prepared this way but a lighter white fish will definitely taste better with this aioli addition.





Aioli Sauce


Serves 4

8-10 oz mahi mahi
Olive Oil
2-3 fresh lemon wedges
Pepper to season

Aioli Sauce:
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 fresh lemon wedges
1 teaspoon diced garlic
pepper to season

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Brush both sides of the fish with olive oil, and season with the lemon juice and pepper. If possible, scrape off some lemon zest onto the fish, it will give it a nice punch of flavor. Place on parchment paper in baking dish and bake for 15-20 minutes or until fish easily flakes apart. For the aioli sauce, combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve with the fish, as a dip or a small amount on top.


What Dr. Oz Can Teach Us Now

One of televisions most famous doctors, Dr. Mehmet Oz,  was hauled in front of the Senate subcommittee of Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance mid-June to testify on the products he promotes on his popular television show. The hearing was dealing with the regulation of dietary supplements (side note-there is relatively no regulation on these). He admitted that the things he promoted would not stand up to “scientific muster”, and his job on the show is to be more of a cheerleader than a doctor.

As a fan of health related shows as well as being a health educator myself, I know how much information gets thrown into our faces every day. It is confusing and often contradicting. So what can we do about it?

Quote from Hippocrates

It comes down to taking responsibility as a consumer. Most people today are not clueless about health; the science hasn’t changed in years regardless of what new products hit the market :

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Stay active
  • Drink more water
  • Everything in moderation
  • Get plenty of sleep

Often times people think of healthy as huge changes, extreme exercise, eating like a rabbit, whatever. But it isn’t- it all comes down to learning how to take responsibility as a consumer for you as well as the people around you, and applying in your life. In my next couple of posts (in between recipes and workouts) I will cover your neighborhood grocery store:

  •  Labels and understanding them
  • Definitions behind shady terms like “all natural” or “farm raised”
  • Smart shopping and money saving tips
  • Big brand marketing schemes
  • Calorie Density vs. Nutrient Density and being able to choose the more nutritious option

Check back soon for more posts and videos 🙂

5 Minute Sesame Stir Fry

Here is the first of healthy recipes I will be sharing on this blog, in addition to articles and fitness tips as I go. Feel free to leave comments!

I love stir fry for a couple of reasons:

1. because its easy to throw together
2. I can put whatever I want in it which usually ends up being whatever veggies I have on hand/current cravings

Sesame Stir Fry

Serves 4

1 cup diced chicken (canned or pre made works great)
1 cup diced peppers
1/2 cup diced mushrooms
1/2 cup diced onions
1 egg
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups brown rice (pre cooked- Uncle Bens ready rice is great in a pinch)


Directions: Saute veggies over med-high heat until cooked almost through (onions will be opaque but not clear). Toss in chicken, rice and soy sauce. Clear a small space in the center of the pan and crack the egg in the clearing. Scramble quickly and mix it into the rest of the stir fry. Season with sesame seeds and serve.

Why Does a Healthy Diet Matter?

Imagine you own the most beautiful stunning mansion you can think up. Now imagine while you keep the outside pristine, the inside is a wreck-you never clean the toilets, take the garbage out, do any dishes, sweep the floor, etc. It would stay fairly nice on the outside, yet over time the inside would be a disaster. This is equivalent to eating a diet lacking in important nutrients.


In today’s society we have an overwhelming array of food products and ready made meals available to us that are often over processed and referred to as “food byproducts”. Food that in no way resembles the original form because it has been so made over with additives, fat, salt or sugar that it is now an entirely different food. Often times big companies or smart labeling tricks a person into thinking whatever they are eating is super nutritious (granola bars, energy drinks, the list goes on) and have no idea the crazy amounts of stuff that goes into food that indeed is not food. The sky rocketing rates of overweight and obese Americans, especially children, reflects a correlation between increased obesity rates and consumption of processed foods in the last 20 years. But these can impact people with regular weight as well in forms of mental illness, increased stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue, physical pain, low immune system, cancer rates, reproduction; you name it and diet will play a role.


However, by increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low or non-fat animal products, we can vastly increase our health status and reverse the risk of disease that comes along with a poor diet. For some people, this sounds like a death sentence. For others, its old news because it is already things they are doing. I aim to show how simple it is to incorporate these foods into a normal diet that is easy to follow (no ingredients that cost $75 dollars a drop at Whole Foods) and also budget friendly. For families, introducing new foods can be difficult because children eat what they are familiar with and eat what they like. Studies have shown over time increasing a child’s exposure to new foods increases their consumption of new foods, as well as their willingness to try new and unfamiliar foods in the future. There is no perfect answer, no miracle product, no one stop solution that will fix these problems overnight. It is lifestyle changes that can be introduced slowly and correctly to insure you are preparing yourself for a healthier lifestyle, starting with the plate in front you.







Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Obesity Trends. 2011. Available at:

Cooke, L. (2007), The importance of exposure for healthy eating in childhood: a review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 20: 294–301. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-277X.2007.00804.x

Fuhrman, J. (2011), Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body’s Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free. Harper Collins, 304 pages.



Welcome to the Santa Barbara Health blog!

Montecito Peak

Montecito Peak

My goal in starting this blog is for people, both in Santa Barbara as well as all over the world, to have a central place on-line where they can read about various health topics, new recipes, workout and training concepts, and then apply them in their own lives. The things I choose to write about, recipes, and workouts I post are targeted for the average person, whether that be a mom of 3, retired businessman, college student, or a fellow exercise enthusiast. I serve as a bridge between the normal person, and the multitudes of  confusing information about health that exists in our world. So welcome to the Santa Barbara Health page, and stay tuned for upcoming posts.