Many products hit our grocery shelves looking healthier than they actually are.
Oprah’s O That’s Good! Classic Crust…with a Twist of Cauliflower Fire Roasted Veggie Pizza label says, “1/3 of our crust is made with cauliflower”. But, the small print adds that “One serving does not provide a significant amount (1/2 cup) if the USDA daily recommendation for vegetables.” This means that the crust, the fire-roasted veggies, and the tomato sauce together don’t add up to a healthy serving. It is also good to note here that 1/5 of a pizza has about the calories and carbs as a similar serving of a DiGiorno vegetable pizza. And, who only eats 1/5th of a pizza?
(Try this week’s Recipe of the Week for a cauliflower pizza recipe! 1/4 of this pizza has 113 calories. This is compared to 300+ in Oprah’s pizza, which also does contain wheat.)
Garden of Eatin’s Grain Free Tortilla Chips claim that “instead of using typical grains like corn or rice, our grain free paleo chips are made with root vegetables and seeds”. The only root vegetable in this bag is cassava. The nutrition profile of cassava is unremarkable. While it does provide some vitamins and minerals, the amounts are minimal. There are many other root vegetables you can eat that will provide significantly more nutrients, like beets and sweet potatoes, to name two. The processing methods necessary to remove the toxins in its raw state significantly lower cassava’s nutritional value by destroying vitamins and minerals. Cassava contains 112 calories per 3.5-ounce serving, which is quite high compared to other root vegetables. The same serving of sweet potatoes provides 76 calories, and the same amount of beets provides only 44. One of cassava’s major downfalls is its content of antinutrients. Antinutrients are plant compounds that may interfere with digestion and inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the body. (Anything with cassava makes me sick, so watch out for cassava in products where it is used as a filler.)
The box of Veggies Made Great Double Chocolate Muffins says, “Veggies: our #1 ingredient.” Zucchini and carrots are the first two ingredients listed, followed by sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and corn starch. The vegetables are listed first because they are 90% water which makes them heavy. Remember that labels list the heaviest contents first. Vegetables usually fill you up without too many calories. But, if you bake them into double chocolate muffins, you are probably losing their nutritional value. The packaging is convincing. The carrots and zucchini are featured, small and to the side. The main visual is the chocolate muffin and, highlighted in red, the news that this product is gluten free and one serving is only 110 calories.
Culture Republick + Probiotics Turmeric Chai & Cinnamon Light Ice Cream contains “3 billion live cultures for your microbiome”. A 160-calorie serving is 2/3 a cup but you have to eat the entire pint, 470 calories, to get all the 3 billion cultures. The truth is that the Bacillus coagulant GBI-30 6086 doesn’t really do much for your gut or GI symptoms. It is just a ploy to sell ice cream. Eat some yogurt instead – full fat, greek yogurt and get the real goods.
The covering of Justin’s Almond Butter Covered Almonds is rice starch, palm kernel oil, and cane sugar – not almond butter. Take note that each bag holds three one ounce servings. It would be very easy to swallow all 540 calories without noticing. Eat almonds, organic and sprouted if possible, and avoid this particular organic treat.
Steer clear of Clio Blueberry Greek Yogurt Bar. You might have seen them next to the yogurts in the dairy case. “We are the type of people who eat yogurt with our hands.” These bars have about the same calories as a typical yogurt brand, but the bar’s calories come from blueberry jam and chocolate (mostly cocoa, sugar, and palm oil) instead of yogurt. The Clio bar has only 4 percent of a day’s calcium requirement, compared with 15 percent in a greek yogurt. The company added whey to boost Blueberry Clio protein to 8 grams. A serving of yogurt typically has 10-12 grams. This is dessert masquerading as breakfast.
Add sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla extract to hummus and you have Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Hummus. Boar’s Head suggests that you, “Enjoy with fruit, pretzels & crackers.” They are calling this a “seasonal selection” except that it is made with raspberry powder and raspberry flavoring, not actual raspberries, ingredients that can be bought year round. There are 6-7 grams of added sugar in just two tablespoons. Eat a piece of fruit instead. Your body will thank you for it.
Coconut water may be nature’s version of Gatorade but some brands have already been cautioned for over-hyping nutrient content. Vita Coco agreed to settle a $10 million class action lawsuit over an independent study that showed the drinks didn’t pack near as many electrolytes as advertisements implied. Some coconut water is also loaded with added sugar.
There’s no clear cut regulation on what makes food “natural,” which means just about any company can slap that label on its packages, add a fancy “green” design and jack up the price. Before you buy a food that claims it is “all natural”, take a look at the ingredient list. Butter and salt are indeed natural ingredients but probably not what you are looking for. I usually do not focus on calories. Today I wanted to show what empty calories look like in “natural” products. We want to strive to eat calories rich in healthy fats, reasonable amounts of protein, and nourishing carbs.
I wrote about this before but I want to remind you that Splenda just rolled out a new version of its popular sweetener. They have added extra fiber. Remember that adding healthy components to unhealthy things doesn’t make them any better for you.
Nutritional yeast is full of protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is delicious and a versatile food that works with nearly any type of diet or eating style. It is naturally low in sodium and calories, as well as fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan. Studies have shown it has a wide range of potential health benefits, ranging from lowering cholesterol to protecting the body from free radical damage.
Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer. While brewer’s, baker’s and nutritional yeasts are technically made from the same species of yeast, they are very different products.
- Baker’s yeast: Baker’s yeast is purchased alive and used to leaven bread. The yeast is killed during cooking but adds an earthy, yeasty flavor to bread.
- Brewer’s yeast: Brewer’s yeast can be purchased alive and is used to brew beer. The dead yeast cells leftover from the brewing process can be consumed as a nutritional supplement but have a very bitter taste.
- Nutritional yeast: This yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product. It is used in cooking and has a cheesy, nutty or savory flavor.
To produce nutritional yeast, S. cerevisiae cells are grown for several days on a sugar-rich medium like molasses. The yeast is then deactivated with heat, harvested, washed, dried, crumbled and packaged for distribution. There are two types of nutritional yeast.
- Unfortified: This type does not contain any added vitamins or minerals. It only contains the vitamins and minerals that are naturally produced by the yeast cells as they grow.
- Fortified: This type contains synthetic vitamins added during the manufacturing process to boost nutrient content. If vitamins have been added to the yeast, they will be included in the ingredients list.
Nutritional yeast is a great source of protein, B vitamins and trace minerals. Fortified nutritional yeast contains more B vitamins than unfortified varieties, as extra amounts are added during manufacturing the fortified variety if you are vegan as it contains added vitamin B12.
- It is a complete protein: Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids that humans must get from food. One tablespoon contains 2 grams of protein, making it an easy way for vegans to add high-quality protein to meals.
- It contains many B vitamins: One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 30–180% of the RDI for B vitamins. When fortified, it is especially rich in thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
- It contains trace minerals: One tablespoon contains 2–30% of the RDI for trace minerals, such as zinc, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. Trace minerals are involved in gene regulation, metabolism, growth and immunity.
Exact nutritional values vary between brands, so always read labels to find the variety that meets your needs.
Vitamin B12 is needed for a healthy nervous system, DNA production, energy metabolism and the creation of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products, so vegans must supplement their diet to avoid becoming deficient.
Consuming nutritional yeast can be an effective way to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency while on a vegan diet. One study including 49 vegans found that consuming 1 tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast daily restored vitamin B12 levels in those who were deficient. In this study, the nutritional yeast contained 5 mcg of vitamin B12 per tablespoon, which is slightly more than double the daily recommended amount for adults.
Vegans should look for fortified varieties of nutritional yeast to ensure that adequate amounts of B12 are in the product.
Antioxidants in nutritional yeast help fight cell damage by binding to free radicals, ultimately disarming them. Nutritional yeast contains the antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine. These particular antioxidants protect your cells from damage caused by both free radicals and heavy metals and help your body eliminate environmental toxins.
Nutritional yeast contains two main carbohydrates – alpha-mannan and beta-glucan. Studies show that adding alpha-mannan and beta-glucan to animal feed can reduce the frequency of infections from pathogenic bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella in pigs, as well as reduce tumor formation in mice.
Beta-glucan and alpha-mannan help protect against infection in several ways:
- They stop pathogenic bacteria from attaching to the lining of the intestines.
- They stimulate immune cells, making them more effective at fighting infection.
- They attach to certain types of toxins that yeast can produce in food crops and reduce their harmful effects.
The beta-glucan found in nutritional yeast may also lower cholesterol. In one study, men with high cholesterol who consumed 15 grams of beta-glucan derived from yeast daily for eight weeks lowered their total cholesterol levels by 6%. Another study found that mice fed beta-glucan from yeast had significantly lower cholesterol levels after only 10 days.
Those who have trouble metabolizing folic acid (synthetic vitamin B9) should read labels carefully and may want to choose unfortified nutritional yeast whenever possible.
How to Buy
You can find nutritional yeast in any co-op or grocery store. I like the brand KAL which makes a fortified unsweetened nutritional yeast. Fortified nutritional yeast is the most common type available for purchase. Nutritional yeast is sold as flakes, granules or powder and can be found in the spice section or bulk bins.
How to Store
Nutritional yeast should be stored in a cool, dark place to preserve its vitamins. It should also be kept tightly sealed to keep moisture out. When properly stored, it can last up to two years.
How to Cook
Add nutritional yeast to soups, stir fries, sprinkle on salads or avocado toast.
- Sprinkled over popcorn or pasta
- Stirred into soups for an umami flavor
- As a “cheese” flavoring in vegan sauces
- As a thickener for soups and sauces
- Added to pet food for extra nutrients
Serving sizes are determined by each manufacturer but typically 1 or 2 tablespoons.
It is safe to use nutritional yeast in moderation, typically up to several tablespoons per day.
Cauliflower Pizza Crust
4 Large Slices
4 Large Slices
- 1 medium-large head cauliflower, “riced” (should yield 6 cups cauliflower rice – see how to make cauliflower “rice” in instructions)
- 1 1/2 flax eggs (1 1/2 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 4 Tbsp water)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp dried or fresh oregano
- 1 tsp dried or fresh basil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 heaping Tbsp arrowroot starch (helps to bind)
- 1 Tbsp gluten-free flour to discourage the dough from sticking to the parchment
- Puréed tomatoes or store bought pizza sauce
- Vegan Pesto
- Sautéed or fresh vegetables (bell pepper, onion, mushroom, asparagus, zucchini)
- Fresh basil
- Red pepper flakes
- Vegan parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Use a box grater or the grating blade (not “S” blade) on a food processor to make the cauliflower rice. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add riced cauliflower. Cook for 5 minutes to soften. Drain in a fine mesh strainer (make sure it’s fine or the cauliflower will seep through the holes). Let cool 5 minutes.
While this is happening, this is a good time to prepare pizza sauce or sauté any sturdier vegetables (such as onion and bell pepper) you intend to use as toppings. If not precooked, they require too much time in the oven to brown once the crust is baked. Set aside.
Transfer cauliflower rice to a clean dish towel and ring out as much of the excess liquid as possible. This is a very important step, so be sure to ring it out until no more water will come out. Set aside. If you have a milk bag for making nut milk, use this.
In a large mixing bowl, prepare the flax egg and let rest 5 minutes. Then add cauliflower rice, sea salt, nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan cheese, oregano, basil, garlic, and arrowroot.
Stir with a mixing spoon or your hands to thoroughly combine. A loose “dough” should form. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast for cheesy flavor, salt for saltiness, or herbs/garlic for more intense flavor.
Line a baking sheet or pizza stone/pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle with a little cornmeal or gluten-free flour to help prevent the pizza from sticking when slicing.
Then use your hands to carefully spread the dough into a circle or square (depending on shape of pan) and keep the crust slightly less than a 1/2-inch thick with a slightly thicker outer perimeter.
Bake crust for 45 minutes. Then remove from oven and carefully flip the crust. Do so by first loosening the crust from the bottom layer of parchment with a spatula and then laying another sheet of parchment paper on top of the crust. Then grab both sheets of parchment and gently flip. I put another cooking sheet directly on top to flip onto. Arrange the crust back on the baking pan.
Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes more or until the edges appear golden brown and the center feels mostly firm to the touch.
Remove from oven and top with desired toppings (cooked or fresh). I recommend going light on the sauce as it can make the crust soggy if too much is applied. Bake for another 10 or so minutes or until toppings are tender. Watch the edges of the crust, which can get brown before the toppings.
Enjoy hot with any additional garnishes, such as fresh basil, red pepper flake, or vegan parmesan cheese.
Best when fresh. This pizza is best eaten with a fork – I find that it doesn’t quite support itself when eaten with hands.