Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cheese, cheese, my favorite food... but not when it's pre-shredded.

I have long loved cheese. Almost any kind of cheese! I don't consider Velveeta and American to be cheeses. They're a cheese mix and not something I think should be included in any healthy diet. 

Give me a salad with feta, blue cheese or hot pepper cheese or cheddar or... oh, alright, any kind of cheese.

In the past I've cheated and bought shredded cheese in the bag. It feels like I eat less when I use shredded cheeses for some reason, plus I'm basically one of those who'll take out any step I can when cooking.

However, today as I was looking for recipes I came across a few articles on pre-shredded cheese. It appears they use an additive to keep the cheese from clumping. One of the recipes said to shred your own because it was a good idea to have it clump when making the crackers. Huh. Learned something new.

I went on an Internet search to see if I could find out if and what they used.

One thing I learned is that not all bleu cheeses are gluten-free. I'll have to be more careful. 

Here's what I've found on the shredded additive search thus far: - it's a link to a patent titled "method of treating a divided cheese product for anticaking". Just because a patent exists for a product doesn't mean that Kraft and other companies are using one. 
An anticaking agent which reduces the stickiness of the chunked, diced, or shredded cheese and improves the functionality of cheese is formulated of fine mesh vegetable flour, bentonite, cellulose, and antimycotic agents or bacterial cultures. This anticaking agent also will reduce the yeast and mold growth. This discovery is also extended to include various flavors, colors, enzymes and other supplements into the anticaking agent, to ultimately add to the cheese.  

and more from the patent (highlights are mine):

Anticaking agent in the food industry, especially in the dairy and cheese industry, is defined as any safe and suitable food ingredient which, when added, should prevent lumping of shredded, diced or chunked dairy product, such as cheese, during storage at room temperature or refrigerator or freezer. Such a dairy product with anticaking agent in it should be easy to handle at the time of applying on the final food product. Some cheeses, after they are chunked and if the anticaking agent is not used, will cake and are very difficult to handle. This is a serious problem especially with high moisture and high fat cheeses. Currently, at least 50% to 75% of the hard and semihard cheeses are either diced, shredded or chunked for sale in grocery stores, institutions, and major restaurant chains in the United States.
Several anticaking agents are commercially available, such as cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, cellulose impregnated with glucose sugar and glucose oxidase enzyme, silicon dioxide, and sodium aluminum silicate. The major drawbacks of the existing anticaking agents are as follows:
1. Relatively expensive.
2. Deteriorates the product functionality in terms of performance in the finished products.
3. The product efficiency is questionable depending on the chemical specification of the cheese.
4. Too much dusting in the packaging room.
5. Health hazard to workers.
6. Excessive, unwanted bacteria and yeast and mold contamination.
Primarily, anticaking agents are formulated to include compounds which will eliminate sticking. One commonly used anticaking compound is cellulose, which is a fibrous vegetable material. Some formulations include starch in the anticaking agent, and many employ cellulose in combination with dextrose sugar and glucose oxidase. In the last mentioned case, the intent is to reduce oxygen in the packaged treated product in order to eliminate yeast and molds and, at the same time, to prevent the treated product from caking. One drawback with this kind of system when applied on pizza pie is that dextrose, used in anticaking agent, will increase browning of cheese when pizza pie is baked.
Also, the efficiency of such procedures to perform consistently is highly questionable because of the variance in chemical specifications of the cheeses. Enzymatic reactions require proper temperatures, moisture, pH, and, most importantly, time to react and produce the final result. In the pizza industry, it is a known problem that higher use of cellulose based anticaking agents tends to interfere with baking qualities of cheeses in terms of melt and browning. This problem is recent in origin because, formerly, temperatures of pizza baking ovens were maintained at 400° to 475° F. More recently, with the concept of fast served foods such as five minute pizza for lunch trade and 30 minute home delivery of pizza, pizza is baked at 575° to 650° F. With this higher temperature baking, the problems associated with cheese and anticaking agents are magnified. A serious problem is excessive browning and scorching of cheeses on pizza pie at such elevated temperatures.
In the prior art, flour has not been used as an anticaking agent on cheese, especially if the cheese will be used on pizza pie. Although flour may have a superior functionality in terms of reducing the stickiness of cheese, flour seriously interferes with the melting properties of cheese on pizza pie. Consequently, despite the economy of using flour as an anticaking agent, the food industry has been unable to take advantage of using food grade flours as anticaking agents in shredded cheese products, especially those intended for use on pizza pie.

Here's something from Sargento (

Q. Is there gluten in Sargento cheeses?

We are pleased to tell you that most Sargento natural cheeses should be acceptable to a gluten-free diet. However, there are a few exceptions.

There is wheat gluten in Sargento Blue Cheese. Those on a gluten-free diet should also not eat the following Sargento Snacks: Cheese Dips! Cheddar Dip & Buttery Pretzels, Cheese Dips! Cheddar Dip & Zesty Ranch Bagel Chips, Cheese Dip & Sticks, Cheese Dip & Cheddar Sticks, Cheese Dip & Pretzels, Cheese Dip & Crackers, Chocolate Dip & Cookie Sticks or S’mores. 
You will notice that we use microcrystalline cellulose, calcium carbonate or potato starch as anti-caking agents on our shredded cheeses. When added to shredded cheese, they prevent the shreds from sticking together.

Microcrystalline cellulose is a white, odorless, tasteless, totally natural powder made from cellulose, a naturally occurring component of most plants. Calcium carbonate and potato starch are also natural ingredients. None of these anti-caking agents is derived from wheat, rye, oats or barley; therefore, they are acceptable to a gluten-free diet.

The source of vinegar in Sargento Ricotta Cheese can vary; however, it is triple distilled, and, to the best of our knowledge, no gluten is present.

We hope this information is helpful. If you have questions about how our products may affect your medical condition, we suggest you discuss this information with your physician.
From the International Fiber Corporation:
Cheese Anti-Caking
Shredded Cheese
International Fiber Corporation was the first company to petition the FDA to permit the use of powdered cellulose as an anti-caking agent in shredded cheese and grated cheese in 1986. Eventually powdered cellulose replaced the use of microcrystalline cellulose as the anti-caking agent of choice within the dairy industry....

Here's one that's a tad bit off the subject, but interesting. It's on the various Parmesan cheeses on the market. It popped up in my search because there's a comment after the article on clumping, cellulose, etc.

Bottom line for me is that I'll be reading packages more often. It never crossed my mind to look at a shredded cheese list of ingredients. I think I'm going to pay more attention to all of my purchases for a while.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Flax Seed - Good Stuff!

I am sold on flax seed. It's absolutely carb neutral for all you carb watchers. 4 g of carbs per every 2 Tbsp, but it has 4g of fiber so it's a wash. No sugar. No gluten. No cholesterol, salt, trans fats, and it has a whopping 2600mg of Omega 3-oils in every serving. What's not to like?

Studies have found that flax seeds may help lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. There are links that suggest it may help reduce the incidence of breast cancer. The oils may help repair the lining of the intestines, which is good news for those with Crohn's Disease. Please note though that there have been some negatives associated with flax seed oil (the oil form, not what you get in flax seeds by ingesting) --- to be on the safe side you should get your oil by including flax seed, not flax seed oil, in your diet.

I buy Hodgson Mill's Milled Flax Seed. It's finer textured ('cause it's been milled ;-) and has to be kept in the fridge after opening. Since I'm gluten-free and don't bake, I get my flax seed from a shaker. I took an empty spice container with a shaker top, washed it out, then filled it with the milled flax seed. I sprinkle it in my soups and other dishes. I can't tell it's there. By adding it regularly, it, um, well, um, it keeps me regular.

I used to put Benefiber off-brand in a salt shaker and shake it onto my food, but then discovered that it had 4g of carbs and only 3g of fiber so I'm getting a carb with every serving. Plus, while it says it's gluten free, the label clarifies that it has less than 10ppm gluten. I guess it depends on how strict you are as to whether that's enough to have you swear off the stuff. It basically, from what I've read, just clumps up in your system. It's not like 'real' fiber. I just decided not to continue looking into it and switch to flax seed. 

Wheat dextrin is actually an improvement for Benefiber users. The main ingredient used to be "PHGG" (partially hydrolyzed guar gum). Wheat dextrin is higher in fiber content. If you're not allergic, I'd recommend Metamucil over Benefiber. Metamucil is 100% natural psyllium fiber which can reduce cholesterol and in my estimation does a better job of grabbing stuff you don't want in your system as it travels through. Of course, if you're one to hit health food stores you can pick up psyllium fiber there. I find it funny that we're paying money for what used to be tossed on the ground and fed to animals. Of course, that was before we started processing all the goodness out of our foods, too.

Do your own research. Look into the benefits of flax seed. I think you'll discover that it's an excellent and inexpensive way to fix a whole lot of what ails you!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fresh Market Eggs

I shared a bit about my egg experience at Fresh Market yesterday in my last post and said I'd go to their site to investigate. I'm happy to say that their eggs are hormone free, even though the package didn't say so. I only looked at one, the cage free (not the organic) eggs, so could be the other packages DO say hormone-free in addition to their other statements.

The eggs look better than the eggs in the other container I had from another store -- the brown eggs are darker. For me the thickness of the eggshell is telling. The more "normal" a hen eats, the thicker the shell (or so I've been told and have read). I'll let you know what I find in the regard when I get around to cooking an egg. I guess I'm backing myself into a corner and will have to do an egg blog soon. I'll add it to my list of things to write about.

Here's the info from their site re: eggs.

...we believe that with happy hens come healthy eggs. Our premium eggs come from cage free hen environments on family-owned farms! All farms follow standards that surpass the government's highest requirements for egg protection...

Omega 3 Large Eggs
200mg of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
200 mcg of Lutein Per Serving in Each Yolk
Produced by Cage Free Hens
Produced Without Added Hormones or Antibiotics
USDA Grade A

Omege 3 XL Eggs
210mg of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
225 mcg of Lutein Per Serving in Each Yolk
Produced by Cage Free Hens
Produced Without Added Hormones or Antibiotics
USDA Grade A

Cage Free Eggs
Produced by Cage Free Hens
Produced Without Added Hormones or Antibiotics
USDA Grade A

Organic Eggs
Certified Organic Eggs
Produced by Cage Free Hens
Produced Without Added Hormones or Antibiotics
Hens Have Outdoor Access
USDA Grade A


My last post:

Fresh Market - Mixed Review

Fresh Market just opened a new store last week in my neck of the woods in Peachtree City, Georgia. I avoided the grand opening as I figured it would be a zoo (it was) butt finally broke down and went on Saturday. It was still packed, but not quite as bad as Wednesday's opening!

I will state right up front that you can take my review with a grain of anything except salt as I'm trying to cut back. I make strange eaters look normal. I watch my labels, don't buy anything with any kind of sugar, dextrose, etc., etc. I am also gluten-free and I don't eat meat. Yes, I am more difficult to please than the average weird dieter. It 'fits' for me though and I'm happy with how and what I eat.

So, that said, here's what I found.

If you like meat and fish, they had a great selection. The meat market almost made me want to break down and buy something it was that enticing! I didn't check to see if they had hormone free, vegetarian fed options. Why someone would want to eat meat that ate only veggie is a little strange in itself... but I definitely think if you're going to eat meat it should be antibiotic and hormone free.

The deli looked pretty good. Everything f I checked had gluten or sugar in it so I couldn't find anything to try unfortunately. I'll look again later as I just really didn't want to push people aside to read all the labels. Yes, it was that crowded.

I liked the gluten-free labels they place on the shelves in front of products. They don't label everything, but the labels did a pretty good job of introducing me to some new items. On the down side, they didn't have a single gluten-free bread, which I thought was weird. I asked and they said they'd had a number of requests and planned to add some gluten-free options soon.

I heard some shoppers saying the prices seemed high, but I have a feeling those were your "normal" food buyers. Others said the prices were comparable to other stores. I didn't find that the prices on the items I compared were high. They were exactly the same as Kroger, Sams or Publix on the items I checked, which means they probably do like all the other stores --- they shop the competition and price match.

One thing I liked is the ability to pick up larger quantities. I have been going to Sams to buy a large container of organic baby spinach. Fresh Market had the same size for the same price.

Their fresh veggies looked great! I'll be going back to grab some asparagus. Great way to sell it. I'd have grabbed some but wouldn't have time to cook it so decided to go back.

Let's see, what else? The eggs. I buy, surprise, surprise, eggs that are hormone and antibiotic free, vegetarian fed. Cage free (although stating they're cage free can be kind of misleading, but I'll save that one for another blog) or free roaming if my possible. Their eggs stated "Cage Free Hens, No Animal By-products, Produced without Antibiotics". The label, inside or out, said nothing about hormones. Another shopper asked about the hormones and steroids. The employee went to the back and asked. She was told they were hormone-free. I was kind of leery given the label didn't say that. Who was the 'expert' in the back who guaranteed they were hormone-free? I'm going to visit the Fresh Market site in a few minutes to see if I can find a definitive answer.

Another disappointment for me was the meager sugar-free offerings. I got a little excited (tiny blip excitment) when I saw "Truwhip" next to the Cool-Whip in the freezer section. "Wow," I thought, "Truvia is making a cool-whip". Not. It is a much better option than the blend of chemicals that make up Cool-Whip. It's natural, organic, much, much better. However, it's sweetened with organic cane sugar so it's not on my can-eat-list. Grrrr. If you eat sugar, it's definitely something I'd recommend though.

I wandered over to the snacks. Oh, man, did those things look good. All but one, maybe two, had sugar in them. I bought some roasted pistachios (almost $12 a pound so not something I'll be buying a lot of, but then again, it's hard to eat a lot of them!).

That was my first visit. I will be going back. I'm going to compare more, read a few more labels when it's not so crowded.

They are extremely receptive and I know that over time they'll expand and change what they have to offer. I don't expect them to cater to people who are as nutty as I am when it comes to their diets.

I guess, reading back through my blog, that most would think I was unhappy with Fresh Market. I'm glad they're here. I'll be stopping in often and buying things. However, I will still be shopping at the Dekalb Farmers Market, Kroger and other shops for some items, too.

Almost forgot two finds that made me very happy! I drink PG Tips Tea. Kroger has been the only store locally that carried it. Fresh Market also carries it and the price was the same or maybe a few pennies less. However, Fresh Market carries a large box with 80 teabags. If I buy the big box I can save around a dollar. Guess where I'll be buying my PG Tips?

And, last, and yes, least given that it's kind of an obscure thing - Fresh Market had Wasabi powder. I didn't want the paste or the prepared, I wanted powder and hadn't been able to find it. Fresh Market had it at a very reasonable price. I think on my next visit I'll find even more of those little surprises.

Gee, she writes with an imagined palm knock to the forehead, one more thing that I almost didn't mention and should! They had the friendliest staff I think I've ever encountered in any store. They answered every question, took time to go find things, and were generally very helpful. I stopped at the meat counter to look at a case and had three different people ask if I needed help or had questions - and they were swamped. I hope that the great staff is the norm and not just a grand opening anomaly, 'cause that alone will bring me back again and again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Getting off Nexium / Prilosec

I wrote about this on another of my blogs, but thought it was worth sharing on this one, too.

A number of years ago I started having heartburn. Bad heartburn. I worked with my doctor, tried the 30-day, then 60-day route of taking Prilosec. Finally ended up at a specialist, got knocked out and had him look down my throat, esophagus and into the ol' tummy. Acid reflux, told I'd be on Prilosec or similar for the rest of my life.

Normally, I do some research and never take a doctor at his word. Sure, they do great things, glad we have them, but they don't usually think about the natural route. They don't talk diet, exercise, herbs and vitamins.

This time, I just compliantly started taking the pills. The pain stopped, I was happy.

Until recently.

I was at a show and got into a conversation with someone who told me I needed to get off the pills. I came home and did some research. Sure enough, it turns out that being on those little purple pills can cause some health problems. It seems it leeches calcium out of your system, ditto on B12 (and probably other B vitamins).

I am the first person in my family to ever experience bone density issues. I attribute it to the Nexium. I can't say without a doubt that they correlate, but it just seems weird that I started one and then had problems with the other.

I decided to try and get off the stuff. It's not easy. I've done some reading and am doing a lot of things to help. My diet is helping. I raised the head of my bed. I don't eat after 6 or so. I take ginger with each meal. I bought over-the-counter Zantec type stuff (low dose) for those times when the heartburn happens.

I'm doing so-so. I can go for days without a problem, then have one. I didn't have the rebound affect the second time I tried to get off for some reason. Maybe because I'd been doing all the stuff I mentioned for a bit before attempting to quit the second time.

I am concerned about esophageal cancer. That's a potential when you have untreated acid reflux. I talked to my doctor about getting off Nexium and she said to go for it. The problem is she's a new doc and I'm not really sure she read my history or knows the results of the test the specialist did. I'm thinking about calling him for a consult. Chances are he'll say 'take the drugs'... after he makes me come in for a follow-up. Thank goodness I have really good insurance!

I understand that the way Nexium, Prilosec, Zantec and related drugs work is that they suppress 90% of the acid in your stomach. It seems, and has been confirmed by my reading, that killing the acid can't be good for your digestion.

I am finding that I have a little bit of constant burning. I'm not liking that. I read that they little flap in the esophagus that gets flabby is the cause of acid reflux. It gets weak, doesn't keep the acid in the tummy. I also read that it is the part of your body that can repair itself the best, the easiest. I would have thought that after years of Nexium that it would have repaired itself if it could.

Ah well, I'll continue on and see what happens. My doc said to take over-the-counter for two weeks, then get off completely. I read that you should alternate prescription and over-the-counter, decreasing the prescription until straight over-the-counter... then quit.

So, was curious to see if anyone out there had any tips, thoughts or wanted to share their attempts and / or successes in getting off similar drugs.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cinnamon - who knew what it could do!

I came across an article in a magazine at a doctor's office that mentioned cinnamon for weight loss. It also touted many other health benefits such as improved memory, soothing stomach problems and possibly helping to prevent ulcers, reducing blood sugar levels and increasing insulin levels... the list seemed rather long for such a simple spice that most of us sprinkle on bread with gobs of butter and sugar! I'm guessing, cough cough, that the bread, butter and sugar kind of negate a lot of the healthy benefits.

I decided to give it a try. According to studies it helps to melt the fat that sticks with us around our middle section. Why it would  target that area is beyond me, but then again I don't understand how an aspirin knows to stop the pain in my leg or head, either. I have a feeling it just helps with overall body fat and it's most noticeable in the stomach and butt region, but that's just a guess.

I stopped by GNC as it was handy and picked up a bottle of 200 capsules for $20. I'm sure I can get it cheaper elsewhere, but I was passing the store and zipped in while thinking about it.

I'm on day four of taking one capsule in the morning with breakfast, two at lunch and one with dinner. I'm not going to exactly be a scientific study in whether this works as I'm already well under way in my diet changes and have lost weight as a side benefit. However, I figure it has so many other health benefits that whether it works on my fat and flab is just icing. Ooops, not icing, I don't eat that nasty stuff any more!!!

It's not necessary to buy the pills like I did. You can just add a quarter teaspoon of the stuff in your cabinet to your breakfast, a half teaspoon at lunch and another quarter teaspoon at dinner. I decided to use the pills simply for convenience... and I wasn't sure I really wanted three meals a day that had cinnamon in them, although in reading I learned of many ways to add it to my daily regime.

One thing I hadn't thought about until reading articles for this blog was using cinnamon sticks. One article suggested using them to stir your coffee or tea. Great idea! Another article I read has a recipe for cinnamon tea. Hmmm, I do love a good cup of tea. I also love sweet potatoes with cinnamon so there are some times when I'll skip the pills.

According to the articles I read people lost weight without changing their diets. They had control groups where some got a placebo, the others got the cinnamon. The group with cinnamon lost quite a bit of weight. I'm rather leery of all the claims and hype that come with each new miracle discovery. I don't doubt that it might help, but not to the extent that you just keep on eating cakes, candies, gobs of gravy, and all those fattening dishes and will still lose weight.

Diet is all about eating right, exercise and keeping your head screwed on straight. I think I've tried every miracle pill that's been sensationalized over the years. Most work...until they don't. I think your body adjusts to whatever you dump in it and pretty soon your metabolism expects those green tea pills. When you drop them, your butt expands. Yo yo happens.

For me it's a little different with cinnamon. Weight loss will be a nice side benefit. The other benefits far outweigh the possibility of weight lose (pun intended). Diabetes runs in my family. I don't mind the extra help from cinnamon in staving off that ailment.

I do have a cholesterol problem. Despite exercise and diet changes, I have to take pills to keep it low. I'm hoping that with the addition of cinnamon, which is supposed to lower your bad cholesterol, that maybe I can get off the prescription pills. I will eat bread and water to keep from taking a prescription medication. They all have side affects and do things in a person's body that aren't right sooner or later. I'll take a naturally occurring spice over a doctor prescribed pill any old day!

I just took my annual barrage of blood tests so I suppose it will be a while before I learn whether adding cinnamon improves any of my numbers. I may have to come up with a reason to take more tests later in the year just to see if it's helping. At least I have a "before" set of tests as comparison.

If you decide to try cinnamon, or have tried cinnamon, let me know your results.

Here are some articles if you'd like to find out more about cinnamon.

Cin City: Cinnamon Health Benefits
Wondering how to lower blood sugar? Try some cinnamon, which has double duty benefits
Like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, cinnamon is a good kid that got mixed up with a bad crowd. The fatty results: cinnamon buns, cinnamon sugar, cinnamon swirl raisin bread... But without the sugar, cinnamon's benefits on your health is better than good: It's fantastic. "It's emerging as a true wonder food in terms of health protection," says Ann Kulze, M.D., a physician in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet....

10 Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Studies have shown that just 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol. Several studies suggest that cinnamon may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it especially beneficial...

Cinnamon Tea for Weight Loss
Cinnamon tea is easy and inexpensive to make; all you need is water and cinnamon. It may also be a key to weight loss for some people.
Read more: Cinnamon Tea for Weight Loss |


Cinnamon Weight Loss Effects
Cinnamon is a small, evergreen tree, native to South Asia, especially Sri Lanka and the Middle East region. The name, 'cinnamon' is also used to refer to the bark of the tree, which is one of the most important spices to be used by the ancient world. Cinnamon was so highly valued by the ancient world, that it was regarded as a gift suitable for God and the monarch. In modern times, however, cinnamon is mainly valued as a spice, and for its medicinal properties. It can be used as a home remedy for a number of ailments, and to boost mental and physical well being. In addition to all the health benefits, cinnamon is widely popular...

Cinnamon Weight Loss
The latest contender in the effort to find natural means for weight loss is the spice known as cinnamon. Cinnamon weight loss through its effect on the blood glucose levels has now been documented by researchers. It is effective as an appetite suppressant if taken after meals. It also reduces the cholesterol levels, particularly bad cholesterol. It doesn't affect the levels of the good cholesterol.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Losing weight

I saw a post this morning on one of my Facebook accounts that said "I keep trying to lose my weight... but it finds ME."

How appropriate and true! We lose, we gain it back. In fact, my experience has been that I gain back more than I lost.

Just like most of you who struggle with weight after 40, I am constantly looking for that magic diet, the magic herb or pill, the exercise that doesn't take any time out of my schedule...

I've finally found something that works for me, just one of those "tried everything, wow, this one is actually working for me" life-changes. It sure isn't going to work for everyone as it's very restrictive (but healthy). What it taught me though is that it's 'click-ability' that counts. This diet change, new food lifestyle, clicked for me. It's not going to click for others.

That got me to thinking that it might not be a bad idea to get a few friends together to share their experiences, what work (s) (ed) for them, what didn't. How they're struggling, battling the bulge. Trying to raise kids, hold down a job, shop for a family that doesn't eat like you is tough, tough, tough. Driving by a McDonald's, going to family reunions with cake, cake and more desserts if you don't like cakes... Ow.

So, we're sharing our struggles and triumphs on here.

I'm Jan and I'll let the others introduce themselves as they share.