Natural Foods - Part 4
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New Rule Could Help SNAP Recipients Eat Healthier

Posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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New Rule Could Help SNAP Recipients Eat Healthier | FreeCoupons.comIt costs less money to buy processed food than it does to buy fresh, healthier, food. That makes it difficult for people who are low-income to buy produce for their family. People who live in “food deserts” also have trouble finding fresh food. A new rule could make it easier for SNAP recipients to eat healthier.

What is SNAP?
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It was once called “food stamps”. It is a program run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is why the Farm Bills in Congress can affect the SNAP program (and its recipients).

The purpose of the SNAP program is to assist low-income individuals and families who are struggling to buy food. There are financial eligibility requirements attached to the SNAP program. SNAP covers breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, and dairy products.

What is a “food desert”?
The USDA defines a “food desert” as: “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other healthy food providers.

People who live in “food deserts” might not have a car. They can’t simply drive to the next town in order to find a supermarket. They end up buying their groceries at convenience stores (which do not typically stock fresh produce).

What is the new rule?
The USDA proposed rule would require stores that accept SNAP to offer a broader variety of healthy food choices. SNAP retailers would be required to offer seven varieties of qualifying foods in four staple food groups for sale on a continuous basis, along with perishable foods in at least three of the four staple food groups.

The staple food groups are: dairy products; breads and cereals; meats, poultry, fish; and fruits and vegetables. Stores would need to sell at least six units within each variety for a total of at least 168 required food items per store. The USDA will accept public comment on this proposed rule until April 16, 2016.

How can this rule help people eat healthier?
The proposed rule would make it much easier for people who are low-income and eligible for the SNAP program to find fresh, healthy, food. It will enable individuals and families who have access to a working refrigerator and stove at home, and who also have access to pots, pans, and clean water to cook with, to eat healthier.

The rule does not specifically state the price that stores can charge for the fresh produce. If stores price the healthy foods too high, SNAP recipients still won’t be able to purchase them.

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Things to Know About the DARK Act and GMO Labeling

Posted on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016 at 9:21 pm
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Tips for Shopping at Your Local Farmer's MarketYou may have seen people posting their thoughts about the DARK act on social media. Those posts were in reference to a bill that was making its way through the U.S.Senate. The bill involved rules about how GMOs are labeled on food packages. Here are the things you need to know about the DARK act.

The DARK act is not the actual name of the bill.
The bill was subtitled “National Voluntary Bioengineered Food Labeling Standard”. If passed into law, the bill would enable food manufacturers to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to let consumers know that GMO foods were included as ingredients in a package of food.

People who dislike the bill started calling it the DARK act. It was an acronym of “Denying Americans the Right-to-Know” Act. People who were opposed to the bill felt that it would undercut state laws that mandate GMO labeling.

What happened with the bill?
The bill passed through the United States House of Representatives in the summer of 2015. It was sent to the United States Senate and passed through the Senate Agricultural Committee in March of 2016. The United States Senate took a vote on the bill, but it did not pass the Senate.

In the United States, a bill must pass through the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate, and then be signed by the President of the United States before it can become a law. This means the DARK act will not become a law. It also means that states that have passed laws that require the labeling of GMOs still stand.

What is a GMO?
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism”. It is an organism that has had its DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering. The biggest use of GMO technology has been in large-scale agricultural crops. At least 90% of the soy, cotton, canola, corn, and sugar beets sold in the U.S. Have been genetically engineered.

The Non GMO project says that most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. It points out that Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union have restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science says “The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: Consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GMO crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

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BlueShield Unveils HealthyLife Rewards

Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 at 2:17 pm
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BlueShield Unveils HealthyLife Rewards | FreeCoupons.comIt has become a trend for health insurance companies to offer incentives that are designed to help their customers stay healthy. This is good for the insurance company, because the healthier a person is, the less expensive it is to cover their health care costs. It can also be good for the customer – especially if the incentive involves a way to save money on groceries.

BlueShield of Northeastern New York has unveiled HealthyLife Rewards. It is described as “a digital nutrition program powered by NutriSavings that provides educational tools and incentives to more than 50,000 subscriber households in the Capital Region”. NutriSavings “connects employee’s healthy shopping decisions with financial incentives to empower a healthier, wellness-focused workforce.”

Who can access the HealthyLife Rewards program? The first thing to realize is that it is only being offered to people who have BlueShield health insurance. Right now, it is only offered to “commercial BlueShield of Northeast New York subscribers.”

HealthyLife Rewards offers the following benefits:

* Earn more than $500 by purchasing foods featured on the NutriSavings website.

* Discover the nutritional score of your favorite products and learn healthier alternatives.

* Save on healthy foods while getting meal ideas and creating grocery lists.

People who are eligible for the HealthyLife Rewards program must register for it online. They can then go online to the NutriSavings website to access discounts on various healthy foods at participating grocery stores. The person also needs to use the HeathyLife Rewards program loyalty card at the checkout. This process enables the customer to earn a potential $500 annual cash back rewards.

Each food item is scored based upon its nutritional value. An average score for each shopping trip is calculated. Individuals who are part of the program can deposit their rewards into their checking account, or redeem as cash, at any time.

UnitedHealth Care did something similar. Their program was called Healthy Savings. It also offered discounts on healthy foods. Their program gave customers a card that was automatically stocked with digital coupons for a variety of healthy foods.

These types of incentive programs are very different from the previously offered incentive programs that focused on weight loss. Instead of looking at a number on a scale, these new programs offer savings on healthy foods. The groceries purchased as part of these incentive programs can help the customer, and his or her family, to stay healthy.

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Ugly Groceries are Good for You and the Planet

Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 at 7:02 pm
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Ugly Groceries are Good for You and the Planet |  FreeCoupons.comMany people who are shopping for groceries seek out the most beautiful produce they can find. They avoid packages that have been slightly damaged in favor of pristine ones. It may come as a surprise that ugly groceries are good for you and are also very good for the planet.

In Canada, a supermarket chain called Loblaws has started selling ugly fruits and vegetables. They launched a Naturally Imperfect line that offers misshapen, blemished, imperfect apples and potatoes to consumers.

The funny looking produce is just as healthy as the ones that look perfect. Loblaws offered these less than lovely foods to consumers for a lower price than what the perfect ones cost. It turned out to be a success, so Loblaws is going to expand its Naturally Imperfect line with more types of misshapen but healthy produce. Some other Canadian grocery stores have started offering ugly produce, too.

A grocery store in Denmark called WeFood started selling foods that are expired or that have damaged packages. WeFood is a “social supermarket” (which means it serves low-income people). The decision to start selling foods that other grocery stores would throw away turned out to be a hit with customers.

WeFood sells things like treats for a holiday that happened last week. They also sell things like boxes of cereal that have a rip, or a bag of plain white rice that was mislabeled as basmati. WeFoods also sells foods that are nearing their expiration dates. There isn’t anything wrong or bad about these foods, and customers can purchase them for a lower price than usual.

Ugly groceries are good for you. The most obvious reason is the ugly groceries – unusual looking produce, or food that is inside a slightly damaged package – cost less than their lovely counterparts do. It is an easy way to save money on quality foods. People who are low-income need to stretch their dollars, and ugly groceries are a way to do it.

Some people worry that food that is near its sell-by date has gone bad. This is a mistaken belief. In reality, the sell-by date was designed to tell grocery stores how long to display a product for sale. The sell-by date does not have mean the food automatically goes bad after that date has passed.

Ugly groceries are also good for the planet. Funny looking vegetables, that are perfectly healthy to eat, often get thrown in the trash instead of sent to the supermarket. Grocery stores generally throw away food that is past its sell-by date, but is still safe to eat. This leads to a lot of food waste that can easily be prevented.

Photo Credit: Russ on Flickr

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Ben & Jerry’s is Making Vegan Ice Cream

Posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016 at 4:49 pm
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Ben and Jerry's LogoIce cream is a delightful treat for many people. It’s isn’t so great for those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, though. People who are vegan do not consume dairy products. Ben & Jerry’s has a solution that will make a lot of people happy. They now make vegan ice cream!

People who choose to be vegan are doing it for many reasons. The word vegan refers to a food or material that is free from any animal products: no meat, milk, eggs, honey, wool, goose down, or leather. People who are vegan also avoid animal-derived byproducts, like whey, lard, or gelatin.

Ben & Jerry’s has started making ice cream that is 100% vegan certified. There are four different flavors that are rolling into stores this spring. They are: Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey, Non-Dairy Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Non-Dairy Coffee Caramel Fudge, and Non-Dairy P.B & Cookies.

Products that carry the Certified Vegan logo are products have been checked and been confirmed to be free of animal products or byproducts (and that have not been tested on animals). The Certified Vegan logo is administered by the Vegan Awareness Foundation.

Products with the Certified Vegan logo must:

* Not contain meat, fish, fowl, animal byproducts (including silk or dyes from insects) eggs or egg products, milk or milk products, honey or honey bee products.

* Involve no animal testing of ingredients or finished products by supplier, producer, manufacturer, or independent party

* Provide supplier verification that animal products were not used in the manufacturing of ingredients

* Contain no known animal-derived GMOs or genes used to manufacture ingredients or finished products.

The new Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy, Vegan Certified, ice cream flavors are made with almond milk as a base. The brownie in the Non-Dairy Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor doesn’t contain eggs, dairy, or honey. The Non-Dairy, Vegan Certified, ice cream includes fair trade certified cocoa, sugar, bananas, coffee and vanilla. It does not contain any GMO ingredients.

One of the reasons why Ben & Jerry’s decided to make this new line of vegan ice cream was so that people who have committed to a vegan lifestyle can still enjoy an indulgent frozen treat. They also wanted to give people who cannot eat dairy something they could enjoy.

It should be noted that the vegan ice cream contains almond milk, which might not be appropriate for people who have allergies to nuts or tree nuts. The P.B. & Cookies flavor contains peanuts. The P.B. & Cookies flavor, and the Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor, are not gluten free. All four flavors of Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream contain coconut.

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Capri Sun Launches Organic Fruit Juice Line

Posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 at 8:17 am
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In Season Natural Foods for the Autumn MonthsPeople who want their families to eat healthy tend to seek out organic foods. Food manufacturers have started to take notice of this trend and are now offering organic versions of their products. Capri Sun is launching a new organic fruit juice line.

Capri Sun has come up with a new line of product. It is called Capri Sun Organic. On their website, it says that the drink has no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It comes in four flavors: Fruit Punch, Tropical Punch, Apple, and Grape. More details state that each pouch provides ½ cup of fruit juice, “which is 1 serving of fruit according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.”

Capri Sun is launching its new Capri Sun Organic line with advertisements called “Push Play”. The inspiration appears to be the realization that today’s parents want to move away from heavily structured lifestyles for their kids. Instead, today’s parents want their kids to have time to be creative, to engage in spontaneous play, and to have fun.

The official, national, retail roll-out of Capri Sun Organic won’t happen until April. However, some stores are already carrying some of the product on their shelves now. A digital effort, to make people more aware of the new Capri Sun Organic drinks, will take place starting in the middle of February.

Often, products that are organic cost a bit more than the non-organic versions. In general, the higher price is due to the better quality ingredients that organic products have, and due to the certifications requirements that organic products must meet.

As such, Capri Sun Organic is more expensive than the non-organic Capri Sun drinks. According to Media Post, the suggested retail price for a 10-pack of 6-ounce pouches of Capri Sun Organic will cost about $4.29 (compared with the basic prices of $2.99 for the brand’s 100% Juice and Super V line products, and $2.50 for the original line).

The new Capri Sun Organic line is an extension of changes that Capri Sun made to their products – for health related reasons. In 2014, Capri Sun started offering pouches with clear bottoms. This was due to complaints on social media about mold. Drinks that do not contain preservatives can sometimes end up with mold. The clear bottoms helped customers to see what was in the bottom of the drink.

In 2014, Capri Sun replaced the high-fructose corn syrup in their original drinks with sugar. It also replaced the sucralose in their Roarin’ Waters lines with stevia extract. The addition of an organic line of drinks was the next step.

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Consumers Are Confused by the Word “Natural”

Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 7:00 am
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What Foods Are Really NaturalIt is easy to see why consumers are confused when presented with the word “natural” on a food label. What does that word actually mean? This is a question that the Food and Drug Administration is only beginning to consider. Right now, the word “natural” on a food label is extremely vague.

People want to bring home healthy food for their families to eat. This is especially true for families that are trying to lose weight together, or who have family members with food allergies or other health issues. We all want what’s best for our loved ones.

According to Consumer Reports, the percentage of people who regularly buy food labeled “natural” has increased from 59% in 2014 to 62% in 2015. At the same time, the study found that most people have no idea what they are paying for when it comes to natural labels on food packages.

Is a package of processed food, that says “natural”, more healthy than the apples and cucumbers in the produce section with no such label? Does the word “natural” on a food label mean that the food doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients, colors, or chemicals?

Does it mean the food was grown without pesticides? Does the work “natural” mean the food was tested and found to be “natural”? Does it mean that the factory the food was produced or packaged in was especially healthy? No one seems to know for certain – and yet, they continue to look for foods that say “natural”.

The confusion about the word “natural” is not the consumer’s fault. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently begun considering what the word “natural” on a food label should indicate. As a result, food manufacturers have been able to toss the word “natural” on almost any food without having to prove that the food is actually healthy for people to eat.

It has been discovered that people who are shopping for groceries tend to zero in on a “natural” claim. In general, people interpret the word “natural” to mean that the food is going to make them healthier, or that it will help their bodies function better. They want to believe that the package of food that says “natural” is somehow better for them then a competing brand that doesn’t say “natural”.

There is another big issue with using the word “natural” on food labels. Technically, from a food science perspective, it is very difficult to define a food as “natural”. Most foods have been processed in some way. Humans have been involved in the growing and breeding of foods for a very long time. It will be very difficult to come up with a meaning for the word “natural” that actually means something and that the consumer intuitively understands.

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Aldi Introduces Healthier Checkouts

Posted on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 at 4:10 pm
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aldiWhat kinds of things are in the checkout line at your favorite grocery store? Chances are, that small area is filled with junk that you simply don’t need – and that you would prefer your kids not ask for. Aldi is making a change to that contentious area by introducing healthier checkouts.

The things stocked in the checkout lines at grocery stores are notoriously bad for shoppers. This is where the store put as many “impulse buys” as possible. A magazine with a famous person on the cover might catch your attention. Your kids, however, are more likely to beg for a cold soda or a candy bar.

For parents, the checkout line might be the most stressful part of grocery shopping! It is one of the most likely places in the store where a child will beg for some kind of junk food and a parent will say “no”. This can lead to an embarrassing “meltdown”.

Aldi is making a change that will make shoppers lives healthier and less stressful. They will be removing the junk food that is typically found at the grocery store checkouts. That area won’t be empty, however. Aldi will replace the junk with healthier foods.

Some of the healthier food options will include trail mixes, granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, as well as some fresh produce. This change is being referred to as a “refresh” of the checkout lanes.

It appears that at least some of the healthier products being offered in the checkout lanes will be from Aldi’s SimplyNature line of products. There may be other healthy brands as well. Aldi’s SimplyNature line is described as “products made with honest ingredients that you can feel good giving to your family”.

This doesn’t mean that Aldi is going to completely get rid of the candy that you used to find in the checkout lanes. The store will remove the candy from the checkout and place it in an aisle with the rest of the candy the store sells. In other words, families can still buy candy at Aldi, but they will have to pick it up while they shop.

Aldi stores in St. Louis, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Minneapolis will be among the first to see a healthy change in the items offered at the checkout line. If things go well, this “refresh” will expand to other Aldi stores. Families that shop at those stores won’t have to battle with their children over whether or not they can have a candy bar that they spotted while waiting in line. Instead, your child might ask for a granola bar or some dried fruit. Those are much healthier choices!

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Is it Safe to Eat at Chipotle?

Posted on Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 at 1:11 pm
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chipotleOne of the things that originally attracted people to Chipotle was its efforts to use the best ingredients that they could find. Those who needed to quickly grab food during their lunch break, and who wanted a healthy choice, went to Chipotle. Then, the news hit about people getting sick after eating at some of Chipotle’s restaurants. Is it safe to eat at Chipotle?

Chipotle was known for using real ingredients, and for cooking its food on-site. The Chipotle website states that it uses “vegetables grown in healthy soil and pork from pigs allowed to freely root and roam outdoors or in deeply bedded barns.”

Chipotle posted a Food Safety Update and FAQ on its website to discuss what happened that caused people who ate food from Chipotle to become sick. In October of 2015, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in the Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, markets after being notified by health department officials in Seattle that they were investigating a number of E coli cases, including some affecting people who ate at 11 Chipotle restaurants.

Additional cases were reported in late November and early December of 2015 in California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Maryland. On December 21, 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified Chipotle that they were investigating 5 cases of E coli in Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. The people affected ate at 2 Chipotle locations in November of 2015.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has more information. It notes that Chipotle has taken the following actions, among others:

* Confirming that all microbial testing performed by the company did not yield E. coli (more than 2,500 tests of Chipotle’s food, restaurant surfaces, and equipment all showed no E. coli)

* Confirming that no employees in these restaurants were sickened from this incident

* Expanded testing of fresh produce, raw meat, and dairy items prior to restocking restaurants

* Implementing additional safety procedures, and audits, in all of its 2,000 restaurants to ensure that robust food safety standards are in place

* Working closely with federal, state, and local government agencies to ensure that robust food safety standards are in place

* Replacing all ingredients in the closed restaurants

* Conducted additional deep cleaning and sanitation in all of its closed restaurants (will conduct deep cleaning and sanitation additionally in all restaurants nationwide)

Chipotle is going to close all of its stores on February 8, 2016, for a national employee meeting to address food safety concerns and company changes. They have also instituted paid-sick leave for employees, so they can stay home when they are ill. Does this mean it is now safe to eat at Chipotle? Ultimately, everyone is going to have to decide that for themselves.

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FDA Begins Considering What Foods are “Natural”

Posted on Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 at 8:01 am
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What Foods Are Really NaturalWe have all seen packages of food that have the word “natural” on them. Have you ever wondered what that really means? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has started questioning it. They are now considering what foods can be labeled as “natural”, and are seeking public input about it.

People who seek out natural foods to feed their families are doing so because they want to help keep their families healthy. This could mean they seek out products that have been labeled as organic. The FDA has regulations about the use of the word organic. This helps families to know that what are buying truly is organic.

Food is not allowed to be called organic unless the producers (or, in some cases, manufacturers) provide certification that agricultural ingredients have been produced under conditions that would meet the definition of organic. The FDA includes labeling standards based on the percentage of organic ingredients in food.

The word “natural”, however, had no such regulations. When you see the word “natural” on a food label, you might assume that the ingredients include a lot of healthy foods and very little (or no) questionable ingredients. That simply is not the case. The FDA does not restrict the use of the word “natural” on a food label except on foods that have added color, synthetic substances, and flavors.

It is understandable that people are not thrilled that food manufacturers can toss the word “natural” onto any product label they want. Doing so gives consumers the mistaken impression that the are food they are buying is better, or healthier, for them than it really is. The word “natural” is being used in a way that is intentionally misleading.

In December of 2015, the Food and Drug Administration was inundated with comments about the use of the word “natural” on a food label. The comment period will close on May 10, 2016. Many consumers are calling for the FDA to regulate the use of the word “natural” on a food label (like they regulate the use of the word “organic”).

The information on the FDA website about the use of the term “natural” in the labeling food products (that are intended for humans to eat) has a short summary. The key part says that the FDA is seeking comment on the use of the term “natural” on food labels, including foods that are genetically engineered or contain ingredients produced through the use of genetic engineering.

It will be quite some time before consumers learn what the FDA decides about the use of the word “natural”. All we know for certain is that a decision will not be made before the comment period is over.

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Good Tip: Saving money is important – especially if you have a lot of expenses like bills to pay, loans to pay off, and all the other things that drain your bank account. Figuring out a way to save money can feel tedious to some, and like a punishment to others. U.S. News suggests that you try one of these money saving challenges. The “No Eating Out for a Month” Challenge This one is self-explanatory. The goal is to avoid eating out for an entire month. This might be super easy for people who enjoy making meals at home. People who really enjoy dining out, or ordering food to be sent to their home, may struggle with this one. It’s worth a try because spending money on take-out is more expensive than buying groceries. The Pantry Challenge This one is a variation of the “No Eating Out for a Month” challenge. The goal is to use up all of your groceries before you buy more. It forces you to try and remember why you bought a food or beverage that you don’t know what to do with, and gives you the opportunity to find a way to use it. The one exemption to this challenge is the foods that have expired. Don’t eat them! Throw them in the trash. The “No Spend” Challenge Make a goal to avoid spending money during an entire weekend. The only exemption in this challenge is that you are allowed to pay bills. This challenge is interesting because it requires creativity. You must be creative and find workarounds for problems that you would typically solve by spending money. You may have a different outlook on spending after finishing this challenge.