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Can You Clip Coupons and Still Eat Healthy?
One of the main themes we preach and live by is the importance of cutting back on processed foods and eating more whole foods that don’t come in a package.
Still, we understand there are times when it’s more time expedient to eat something already packaged.
With so much emphasis on dining cleanly these days, more food manufacturers seem to be trying to “clean up” what they offer. We thought it would be fun to look at some of the food coupons in the Sunday paper and see whether the items offered are healthy – and not.
You probably pulled some of these coupons from your own paper. Let’s see what’s being offered and whether it’s really worth the savings when you take your health into consideration.
Dole No Sugar Added Fruit Bowls – Save 75 cents
This is a step in the right direction. Dole is taking the added sugar out of some of their fruit offerings and packaging them into individual snack-size containers for portability and convenience. You can choose from diced peaches, mandarin oranges or pineapple tidbits.
There’s no added sugar in these carry-along fruit packs. Instead, they’re sweetened with monk fruit, a natural sweetener. This product is advertised as non-GMO, gluten-free.
Here’s what also impressed us, the packaging is BPA free. It’s obvious Dole is making an effort to make their offerings a little healthier.
Pros: Kudos to Dole for making positive changes. They eliminated the sugar from this product and didn’t replace it with artificial sweeteners, like so many companies do. Instead, they used monk fruit, a natural sweetener extracted from the monk fruit.
Monk fruit is one of the two sweeteners, along with Stevia,we use and recommend for people who aren’t quite ready to give up sugar. They also packaged the fruit in BPA-free packaging. Love the fact that it’s non-GMO.
Cons: BPA-free plastics can still contain plastic chemicals that can leach into food, especially acidic foods. We recommend avoiding all plastic as much as possible. Even cans have plastic liners made with BPA.
Even though this product is better than some, why not buy a natural, organic peach, cut it open and enjoy it in its unaltered state? Who needs added sweetener, even if it is monk fruit, and all the extra packaging? Ultimately, it’s less expensive to eat a piece of whole fruit. Bet it tastes better too.
A step in the right direction but loses points for the plastic packaging (even if it is BPA free) and added sweetener. You could do worse, but we’d rather see you munch on an apple or eat a bowl of berries.
Wonderful Pistachios – Save 50 cents
Next we have a coupon for Wonderful Pistachios, a brand of pistachios you see at a number of supermarkets. You can choose from shelled or unshelled nuts. Love their slogan: Ready, Set, Get Crackin’.
Pros: Lots of pros here. There’s nothing in the package except for pistachios in their unaltered form. We’re big nut fans ourselves – both for their taste and the health benefits they offer.
What’s not to love about nuts? Munching on these somewhat addictive little snacks is linked with a lower risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A serving of pistachios or other nuts is a good snack alternative to other sugary treats. This is a coupon we WILL definitely be using ourselves because we already use this product.
Every week we buy a large bag of unshelled pistachios every week and empty the bag before the next shopping trip. In fact, we eat more of them than we should from a calorie standpoint.
Tip: Buy them unshelled. Having to shell them slows down how fast you can eat them. Here’s some more good news: Pistachios are the nut lowest in calories. Munching on 48 pistachios will only set you back about 160 calories.
Cons: They expensive even with the coupon and it’s easy to eat too many of them. Measure out a single portion and hide the bag to avoid getting into trouble.
Alexia 98% Fat-Free Smart Classic Fries or Tri-Cut Potatoes – Save 55 cents
French fries – oh my! Can we say ANYTHING good about them? Surprisingly, we can. If you’re going to eat fries, you can’t do better than noshing on Alexia fries. This is a smart company that’s targeted a niche, healthy fries, and became the category killer.
They have an enormous variety of them in all shapes and sizes – and even sweet potato fries. This particular variety has only 100 calories per serving.
Take a look at the ingredients:
Potatoes, Canola Oil, Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Apple Juice Concentrate (to Promote Browning), Citric Acid (to Promote Color Retention). (not much to complain about here)
Pros: You can’t get a healthier French fry from the frozen food section than this. The only way you can top it is make your own using a low-fat fryer. We would prefer that the oil be all olive oil but you can’t always get what you want, especially when you’re buying packaged foods. If you’re bound and determined to splurge on French fries, this is one of your better options.
Cons: They’re still French fries. It’s not so much the fat we’re worried about but the carbs. White potatoes cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin release. Therefore, they won’t do anything positive for your metabolic health. If you have diabetes, you should limit the number you eat. Enjoy them as a splurge rather than an everyday side dish.
Grade: B (still fries, but healthier than fast-food fries)
Pace Chunky Salsa – Save 60 cents
Ready to add a little spice to your life? Pace wants you to know their salsa has extra kick! Salsa, in general, has things going for it. It’s a good source of heart-healthy compounds called lycopenes (from the tomatoes) that may also lower the risk for some forms of cancer such as breast and prostate cancer.
Here are the ingredients:
Tomatoes , Onions , Tomatoes , Tomatoes Juice , Vinegar Distilled , Salt , Onions Dehydrated , Garlic, Natural flavors (not bad)
Pros: Good source of lycopenes and contains no added sugar. The nutritional information lists 2 grams of sugar under the nutritional information but this appears to be natural sugar from the tomatoes.
Cons: Not a lot of cons. The label lists natural flavors as an ingredient. Natural flavoring can be almost anything as long as it’s not completely made in a lab.
As we mentioned in a previous post, some food manufacturers use material from the anal glands of beavers as a “natural” ingredient. Yuck! It would be better to have left natural flavorings out, but considering you’re getting lycopenes, maybe it’s an acceptable trade-off. Plus, how many of us really have time to make salsa from scratch?
The other drawback is this product isn’t organic and comes in a plastic container. Tomatoes are often heavily sprayed with pesticides and one of the foods we like to buy organic.
Grade: B (Might have earned an A if it were made with organic tomatoes)
Hormel Natural Choice “No Preservatives” Oven Roasted Deli Turkey
Here’s another company that’s aligning themselves a little more closely with health. Most processed turkey meat contains preservatives and chemicals called nitrites. Nitrites convert to other chemicals called nitrosamines when they hit your digestive tract.
Why is this bad? Nitrosamines are linked with an increased risk of digestive tract cancers, especially stomach cancer. In fact, eating processed meat in general, based on research, is associated with increased cancer risk.
Pros: Turkey is a lean source of protein that’s low in calories. Another plus: this product contains no preservatives or nitrites. How can they get by with no preservatives? They expose the meat to high pressure to kill the bacteria. So, yes, it’s processed but processed differently.
Cons: The fact that it’s processed at all, BUT if you’re going to eat processed turkey, this is a better option than most processed meat out there. Plus, you have to give them credit for making some positive changes.
We just hope they’re concerned about the welfare of the turkeys too and refuse to tolerate inhumane treatment.
Grade: B. Better-for-you processed meat but still processed meat.
Dreamfields Pasta – Save $1.00
Dreamfields is a company that’s trying to appeal to healthy eaters, especially low-carbers. They claim their pasta is a good choice for diabetics because it has less impact on blood sugar.
The claim is that most of the carbohydrates in this pasta are “protected,” meaning they aren’t broken down to sugar in the digestive tract.
Unfortunately, a number of small studies and lots of self-reports from people who have checked their blood sugar eating it suggest that Dreamfields Pasta is no less likely to raise blood sugar than regular pasta.
They don’t mention any of this on this coupon.Instead, they point out that Dreamfields Pasta has 7 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Maybe they’re no longer claiming that their pasta has less effect on blood sugar.
Pros: Has some fiber and protein. It’s probably pretty filling too.
Cons: Still high in carbohydrates. With no actual proof that the carbs are “protected,” don’t assume it won’t raise your blood sugar level as much as other pasta. We suspect most people get a significant rise in blood glucose when they eat this pasta.
It’s also not a good choice if you have diabetes or are trying to watch your carbs. Better option: Use a spiral vegetable tool to make zucchini noodles or noodles out of other non-starchy vegetables.
Spaghetti squash is another good substitute for pasta. If you’re making spaghetti, choose a marinara sauce with as little sugar as possible. We use Monte Bene Farm Fresh Spicy Marinara Pasta Sauce. It has no added sugar and comes in a glass jar. Tastes good too. Downside: It’s not organic. 🙁
The Bottom Line?
Some packaged foods are improving from a health standpoint, but they’re no substitute for eating whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. If you’re in a bind and need something convenient, there’s a growing number of healthier options out there.
The key is to read the label carefully always. Don’t fall for what’s on the front of the label. The descriptive words like “natural,” often mean very little. Get the REAL facts on the back.
J Am Coll Nutr. 2011 Dec;30(6):502-10.
Int J Cancer. 2006 Aug 15;119(4):915-9.
Medscape Family Medicine. “High Intake of Processed Meat Linked to Cancer Deaths” March 2013.