Update on Snapea Crisps: Are They Healthy Yet?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Last year I published a post about Snapea Crisps entitled, Food Labeling Lies: Are Snapea Crisps Healthy?  Interestingly, it has been one of my most popular posts. Since Calbee—the company that created Snapea Crisps—has made some changes, I wanted to post an update on the product.

snapea crisps lightlysaltedCalbee has changed their packaging, their website, and the amount of fat, carbohydrate, and sodium their product contains. They also came out with different flavors for Snapea Crisps such as Caesar, Black Pepper, and Wasabi Ranch. And they now have Lentil Snaps.

But does that make Snapea Crisps healthier? The short answer is no. Here’s why.

snapea crisps lightlysaltedmenutrition

Snapea Crisps now have:

  • 120 calories per ounce instead of 150
  • 6 grams of fat instead of 8
  • 80 mg of sodium instead of 125
  • 15 grams of carbohydrate instead of 14

But, they are still ground up peas, ground up white rice, corn oil, and salt formed into a pea shape and baked and not puffed peas. The bottom line is this product is still a highly processed food! The kind we need to eat less of or avoid entirely. Their website now says, “Inside every bag of Harvest Snaps we combine taste, quality and simplicity.” I would hardly call their complicated creation “simple!” And they certainly are not my idea of  “…snacking the way it should be,” as their site claims.

sugar snap peasInstead, sticking with real and preferably organic foods in their whole form is still your optimal choice for snacks.

Sugar snap peas are a great option. Other snack ideas include:

  • Sugar plum or sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Sliced jicama
  • Sliced red pepper
  • Frozen grapes
  • Watermelon with a squeeze of lime juice
  • Blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries with a little balsamic glaze
  • Unsweetened applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon and walnuts
  • Sliced bananas sprinkled with nuts and then frozen
  • Dried apricots, pears, or apples
  • Any veggie with hummus

All of these options are full of nutrients and fiber. And they are not addictive like processed snack foods so you can more easily stop eating them. On the other hand, Snapea Crisps have the right amount of salt and crunch to keep you going back for more, potentially eating the entire bag! It is also easy to overeat Snapea Crisps because they have what Michael Moss, in his New York Times article, calls “vanishing caloric density”. In other words, they melt in your mouth. Foods that do this, like Snapea Crisps or Cheetos, do not make you feel full. This is the reason I, and most of you, can eat the entire bag with its 420 calories and not feel full.

Are they free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)? Their site says, “Our non-GMO crops are grown and harvested in rich Canadian soils that stretch across the regions of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.” Yet in an email, they told me they test their product periodically (since most corn oil is GMO) and that, “We feel that the presence would be minimal.” So I can’t confirm that they are, in fact, free of GMOs.

Even with the changes to the product, my original advice still stands. Drop the Snapea Crisps and eat real food instead!

For more info, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cabartolotto

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Are Popchips a Healthy Choice?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Katy Perry likes them; so does Ashton Kutcher. They are described as “tinseltown’s favorite snack”. And their clever ad campaign is creative and fun, with tag lines such as:

  • “Love. Without the handles.”
  • “Less guilty. More pleasure.”
  • “Nothing fake about them.”
  • “Spare me the guilt chip.”

Finding snacks that taste good and are good for us is a worthy goal. But are Popchips really a healthy choice?

pop chips

On the plus side, they do not contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms), unlike most snack chips. An employee assured me that the canola oil is GMO-free.  They also do not have any artificial colors or flavors, which is a good thing. However, they are made of potato flakes, potato starch, oil, rice flour, and salt.

pop chips 2

While these ingredients might not be “fake,” they are highly processed and this is a problem. Processed carbs quickly raise blood sugar.  Our body then produces insulin to lower it, triggering feelings of hunger, and potentially causing you to eat more.

Dr. Walter Willet from Harvard University says that, “… in fact, these kinds of starches–white bread, white rice, potatoes–are starches that are very rapidly converted to glucose, really pure sugar, and almost instantly absorbed into the bloodstream. And these are the kinds of carbohydrates that we really should be minimizing in our diets.”

Additionally, potatoes cause our blood sugar to go up even more than other foods. Dr. Willet also says, “Actually, careful studies have shown, demonstrated, that you get a bigger rise in blood sugar after eating potatoes, a baked potato, say, than you do from eating pure table sugar.”

A recent Harvard study has found that French fries and potato chips cause more weight gain than other foods. Other forms of potatoes also increased weight, even more so than desserts and sweets! “Love, without the handles,” is not sounding so plausible after all.

Since the potatoes in Popchips are highly processed, most of the vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and fiber are lost. And 3 ounces have 570 mg of sodium (that’s more than ⅓ of the sodium some people should have for the whole day) and 360 calories. If you ate just 3 ounces of Popchips a day, and they were extra calories, you would potentially gain 36 pounds in a year! And it’s super easy to eat more than 3 ounces since most chip manufacturers make their snacks with just the right amount of salt and crunch so you have an intense desire to eat them.

“More pleasure?” Maybe. “Less guilt?” I don’t think so. If you are looking to find a healthy snack, chose real foods instead.

So what are your favorite healthy, whole food, snacks?


Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Antibiotics, Fermented Foods, and Your Health

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Antibiotics were a miraculous discovery, saving lives because of their ability to kill bacteria. Thanks to antibiotics, diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and leprosy are treatable and not a problem for most people. However, there is a downside to antibiotics, and one that I experienced firsthand after taking them for 7 years at the advice of my physician. When you take antibiotics, they destroy both bad and good bacteria.

Collectively, the bacteria in our gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract are called the microbiome or the microbiota. These good bacteria are necessary for our health. They help us fight infection by crowding out unhealthy bacteria. We also need bacteria to help us digest food. And they decrease our risk of allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. Without these healthy bacteria, we would not survive.

By the age of 18, the average person has taken 10 to 20 courses of antibiotics. And with each course of antibiotics, we lose more of the good bugs.

Taking antibiotics only when really necessary is an important step in preserving the good bacteria in your microbiome. Adding back healthy bacteria is another important step you can take. The best and most reliable sources are fermented foods. This includes high-quality yogurt with live cultures, kefir, and fermented veggies. Since I can’t eat dairy, I have been eating fermented veggies and have to say that I love them!

When looking for fermented vegetables, make sure they contain live cultures. You will find them in the refrigerated section of the market. Below are a few I have found.

Bubbies sauerkraut is easier to find and it does have live cultures.


Gold Mine sauerkraut is available at some Whole Foods Markets and independent health food stores.

Gold Mine

There are even salt free options!

Salt free

beetsI found the Pickled Planet brand at the Co-Op in Santa Monica. I tried their sauerkraut made with beets and caraway seeds and it was delicious. Check independent health food stores near you to see if they carry this or other brands.

I even found fermented pickles and salsa! And there is always kimchi, Korean-style fermented vegetables with a spicy kick. You can even make your own fermented veggies at home.

There are so many options to choose. All are a lot more interesting than a probiotic supplement. Do you have any favorite fermented veggies? I would love to know which brands you like or what you are willing to try.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

These are a few of my favorite things…from Trader Joe’s

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

The perfect time to think about our favorite things is during the
holidays. Here are a few of my favorite things from one of my favorite
places, Trader Joe’s. These items make it easier and quicker to do the right thing—eat healthy and tasty foods!

Organic Kale

photo-5I worte a whole post on kale, but the bottom line is that it’s a top-rated veggie that it is full of nutrients. It’s great in salads, smoothies, or as a side dish. And you have no excuses because it is easy to use since it’s already washed and cut. Since it’s organic, it does not have any of the neurotoxic organophosphate  pesticides!

Roasted Mashed Sweet Potatoes

photo-4I love sweet potatoes. They are high in vitamin A and fiber and they taste good!The one disadvantage is the time to prepare and cook them. Trader Joe’s makes them easy to eat with their already mashed potatoes. They come in small frozen pellets that you just heat up with a dash of water in a pan. Yum!

Balsamic Vinegar of Modenabalsamic

This mild-tasting vinegar is great on a salad all by itself. It can also be used to enhance the flavor of everything from chili to a raspberry reduction.

Aartichoke heartsrtichoke Hearts

They are low in calories and a good source of vitamin C, K, and folic acid. Try adding them to a salad or even by themselves with a little balsamic vinegar.


This sauce is so tasty, that I have been known to eat it right out of the jar! I primarily use it on pasta and on top of grilled tofu

Organic Sprouted Tofutofu

Organic, no GMOs, a good source of calcium, inexpensive, and a great source of protein. What more can I say? Try it with the Bruschetta sauce on top for a yummy quick meal.

Canned Organic Beans

TJ BeansBeans are loaded with fiber, and they are a great source of phytochemicals and protein. I love kidney beans and garbanzo beans in salads and black, pinto, and kidney beans for chili. Their newest option, great northern white beans, is one of my favs to use in soup with carrots and sage. And Trader Joe’s organic beans are in cans without BPA (Bisphenol A),  a compound that can mimic estrogen and may be associated with health problems. If you have high blood pressure, rinse the beans with water to remove a lot of the sodium.

FBrown riceully Cooked Brown Rice
Healthy eating can’t get any easier than already cooked brown rice. I like to use it in soups instead of noodles and as a side dish with a meal.

Organic White Quinoa

quinoaQuinoa is such a super food. It acts like a grain, but it is actually a seed, which is why is has all the essential amino acids. It has a low glycemic load (which means it doesn’t raiser your blood sugar) and is a good source of fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Best of all, it cooks in about 10 minutes and can be used as a side dish or even a breakfast cereal.

HummusOrganic Hummus
Move over McDonalds, hello hummus, the perfect healthy fast food. You can have it with carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas or any veggie. It’s a great tasting and healthy meal on the run.

Orgtomatoesanic Sugar Plum Tomatoes
These tomatoes are the perfect snack. Everyone loves them, even kids. The trick is to make sure they are a rich red, especially the area close to the stem.

From the moment I first visited a Trader Joe’s store, I was hooked. They always have interesting, trendy, and tasty offerings for a good price. So now you know my favorites. What are yours??

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Is Organic Food Better for You?

By Carole Bartolottto, MA, RD

A recent Stanford University Study found that organic foods are not more nutritious than those that are conventionally grown. This finding was the result of a review of about 200 studies looking at the health, nutritional, and safety characteristics of organic vs. conventionally grown meat and produce. The results were a surprise to many and created such a firestorm of media attention and headlines that I decided to take a closer look at the Stanford review and what benefits, if any, organic foods have to offer.

The Stanford Review

There were some major flaws in the review, including the following:

  • They did not consistently compare the same varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in similar locations.
  • They narrowly defined nutritious as having more nutrients and did not include the amount of bacteria or number of pesticides in their definition of nutritious.
  • They excluded evaluating a host of nutrients that are typically higher in organic produce.
  • The way they analyzed the data was more effective for a single medication and not the diverse array of nutrients found in food.

Additionally, the review was published at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford which receives major funding from Cargill. Cargill is a large multinational corporation that buys and distributes grain and other agricultural products; processes, refines, and distributes oil and glucose syrup; and slaughters cows for beef, to name a few of its businesses. Cargill also contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the “No on Prop 37” campaign to label genetically engineered foods. Clearly, they are not supporters of organic foods! I recommend taking the results of the Stanford review with a very large grain of salt.

So what are the benefits of organic foods?

  1. They have fewer pesticides! Even low levels of pesticides can cause developmental problems in children, such as a lower IQ. Pesticides also harm farm workers and wildlife around farms. I can’t help but wonder what low levels over a long period of time are doing to us.
  2. Organic fruits and vegetables are generally 5 to 15 percent higher in nutrients, but they can be 30 to 100 percent higher in some cases. And they are much higher in the health-enhancing phytochemicals that plants create to fight off pests.
  3. Organic produce can have a longer shelf life since they have more antibacterial phenolic acids under their skin, which helps prevent mold, bacterial growth, and thus spoilage.
  4. Organic foods have more microbial diversity with plenty of healthy bacteria. So if unhealthy bacteria are introduced, they are not as likely to multiply and cause health problems for us.
  5. Organic meats and poultry do not contain antibiotics or added hormones. Conventionally grown meats and poultry usually do. And conventionally grown are also more likely to contain bacteria that are resistant to 3 or more types of antibiotics!
  6. Organic foods are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
  7. Organic foods are better for the environment. They reduce the number of pesticides and other toxins found in the air, water, and soil.

As you can see, organics have a lot to offer. Since they are more expensive than conventionally grown produce and meats, you can save money by:

  • shopping at farmers markets or specialty store such as Trader Joe’s
  • growing your own veggies and planting a fruit tree if you have a yard
  • choosing organic versions of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. See the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list here.

So are you ready to switch to organic foods? I am.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

The Truth About Agave Nectar

A few weeks ago I popped into my local Whole Foods Market because I wanted to buy an organic barbecue sauce. As I was looking at the different brands, it was interesting to see that agave nectar was in a few of them. I was chatting with one of the girls who worked there and she commented, “Well, agave is better than sugar.”

But is it really?

Somehow agave nectar has become the darling and healthy option for sugar lovers everywhere. It is in everything from breakfast cereals to soy ice cream. But it turns out that agave nectar may not be healthy after all because it’s really high in fructose.

Sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose (although the amount of fructose in sugary drinks can be as high as 65 percent). Yet agave nectar can contain as much as 92 percent fructose!

So what’s wrong with fructose? Since fructose is metabolized in the liver, eating too much can cause fatty liver and high triglycerides. Fatty liver can negatively affect liver function. High triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease. Fructose can also make insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar, less effective. Therefore, if you are choosing agave instead of other sweeteners for health reasons, you are missing the boat.

There are a few good points about agave nectar. One is that it’s sweeter than sugar. So you could use less and consume fewer calories with the same level of sweetness as sugar. Interestingly, I have seen many companies switch to agave, but I don’t see fewer grams of sugar on the label. Also, because it is high in fructose agave has a low glycemic index, which means it does not cause a big spike in your blood sugar.

Another good point about agave is that it is not genetically modified (see past post “What You Need to Know About GMOs”), at least not yet. High fructose corn syrup, because it comes from corn, is genetically modified. Sugar beets are now also genetically modified so most of the sugar you are eating is genetically modified as well.

The bottom line is agave nectar is not better for you than any other sweetener. And just like sugar, it will add calories, increase your desire for sweet foods, and help you gain weight. It doesn’t mean you should never eat it, but don’t kid yourself that it is somehow better than other sweeteners. All forms of sugar, including agave nectar, should be eaten in moderation.

Probably the best option is to have fruit for dessert or to add fruit to other foods for sweetness. For example, in place of adding agave nectar to your oatmeal, try adding blueberries or strawberries instead. Once your palate adapts to the less sweet taste of foods minus all the sugar, fruit will taste a lot sweeter.

Here is a frozen dessert recipe that hits that sweet spot without added sweeteners:

  • Peel and slice one really ripe banana and put it in the freezer.
  • Add the frozen banana to a blender or food processor with a little liquid such as rice or soy milk or even water
  • Add a teaspoon of vanilla (optional).
  • Blend till smooth and enjoy!

Do you have any ideas for incorporating more fruit into your diet in place of sugar and other sweeteners?

For more information on fructose, check out Dr. Lustig’s talk on YouTube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” here.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Got Kale?

It rarely happens that a vegetable goes from almost total obscurity to practically rock star status in a matter of a few years, but that’s exactly what happened to kale. When I was a waitress back in college, it was kale that covered the ice in salad bars to make it look pretty. Now it’s in the blenders and refrigerators of health conscious people everywhere.

So what’s all the excitement about? Is kale really that great? Well actually, yes, it is.

Kale is high in a variety of nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants), and sulforaphane (lowers your risk of cancer).  This explains why Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who created the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), gave it a score of 1,000—his top rating. It is also the top veggie and a “super star” according to the Nutrition Action Healthletter, with a score of 1,389. In addition, it’s a good source of bioavailable calcium. Only 1¾ of a cup of kale is equivalent to one glass of milk in terms of absorbable calcium. That’s good news for people like me who can’t drink milk but want to avoid calcium supplements because of current research that links them to an increased risk of a heart attack (more on that in a future post).

So eat more kale! Try kale chips, roast or sauté it, or put it in soups or smoothies. However, there is one stipulation, buy organic. Why? Because kale as well as collard greens and green beans are commonly contaminated with organophosphate insecticides, according to the latest version of the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Their “Dirty Dozen” list identifies the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides. Their “Clean Fifteen” list identifies those with the least. This year they have added a “Plus” category due to the use of organophosphate insecticides, which are toxic to the nervous system.

You can see the full list here and at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/guide/. There are also phone apps to make shopping easier. When you can, buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables and the Plus category vegetables.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.