How to Choose Quality Eggs

How to Choose Quality Eggs


We don’t have the answer to “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” but we can teach you How to Choose Quality Eggs!

 

Choosing eggs should be simple.

It really should be but with so many terms plastered on egg cartons these days, it’s hard to know for sure which eggs are the best eggs so that’s why today we’re talking all about how to choose quality eggs as part of our Real Food 101 Series.

Want more Real Food 101? Check out these posts to get your fill of knowledge and become a savvier shopper: How to Choose Quality Red Meat, Understanding Poultry Labels, and How to Choose Safer Seafood.

But for now, let’s talk about how to choose quality eggs, shall we?

So. Many. Terms.

Nowadays, it’s virtually impossible to pick up a carton of eggs in the store that doesn’t have a smattering of terms splashed all over the label. From cage-free to vegetarian-fed to farm-fresh, we’re cracking open the mystery behind those terms to help you be a smarter shopper.

American Humane Certified: American Humane certifies three types of humane laying hen housing: Cage-Free, Free-Range, and Pasture. Each type meets their rigorous animal welfare standards. To learn more about specifics such as the minimum amount of square feet per hen, type of outdoor enhancements, etc. 

Antibiotic-Free: Hens that produce certified organic eggs are not given antibiotics unless absolutely necessary (in which case, their eggs can no longer be sold as organic) so you probably won’t see the term ‘antibiotic-free’ on cartons of organic eggs. Hens who produce eggs for the conventional stream, however, may receive antibiotics in their feed and/or water. If they do, then the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disallows the use of this term on the label.

 

Cage-Free: This simply means that the hens are not kept in cages but they may still be packed wing-to-wing and beak-to-beak in overcrowded barns which put them at risk for disease transmission, aggression and less than sanitary living conditions. Our take is that cage-free is a start but it’s only part of the story if you’re concerned about animal health and welfare. You’ll need more information from the label or the companies website to determine how the hens were raised.

 

Farm-Fresh: Though this term may bring to mind bucolic farms set amongst a sea of rolling green pastures, it has absolutely no weight behind it and is not regulated so you can ignore it.

 

Fertile: Rumor has it that fertile eggs (from hens who’ve been hanging around the rooster) are more nutritious but this doesn’t appear to be wholly backed by science. All commercially raised eggs are non-fertile. Though it isn’t harmful to eat fertilized eggs if that’s what you have access to they may not worth paying more or going out of your way for.

 

Free-Range or Free-Roaming: Here’s another unregulated term that gives you a little information about hens’ living conditions. This term simply indicates that the hens were not kept in cages and that they had access to the outdoors. It does not, however, tell you anything about how much access they have (i.e. the number of hours per day), whether or not that access leads to grass, dirt, or cement, and finally, whether or not the hens even take advantage of that access. In overcrowded barns with small doors that open to ‘egg porches’ (screened-in cement areas) hens may not be able to even get to the doors to use them when they’re open.

One exception to this rule is a term coined by our friends at Organic Valley: “Free-to-Forage”. Chickens are naturally social animals but they also enjoy free-roaming, dust bathing, perching or roosting, and pecking around for bugs and grubs in the grass and under leaves and straw. Though not a regulated term, it means that their hens have all been giving free access to pasture, fresh air, and sunshine. In addition to healthy feed, cage-free living, and other basic care, they also supply their hens with behavioral and environmental enhancements such as trees or structures to provide shade and a feeling of security, both grass and dirt areas in the pasture where the birds can scratch and dust-bathe, a variety of grasses of different heights to attract bugs and give the chickens places to explore, plenty of doors to encourage hens to go outdoors, and natural lighting and perches in the barn. (Note: This post is not sponsored by Organic Valley. We just wanted to point out a term that, though not regulated, actually has standards in place that are monitored and part of the requirement to be an egg producer in the Organic Valley cooperative of family farmers). 

Another exception is the third-party certification from Animal Humane Certified, a voluntary third-party animal welfare audit program that helps ensure the humane treatment of food animals raised in the United States (see more above).

 

Hormone-Free: By law, hormones cannot be administered to poultry in the United States so you can ignore this term on the label (the same goes for when you’re purchasing poultry products for dinner. Read more about understanding poultry labels here.)

 

Humane Farm Animal Care: Certified Humane Animal Care touts themselves as “the leading non-profit certification organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter.” They are a third-party certifying organization whose label communicates to consumers that the food products have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment. Click here to learn more about the animal care standards for laying hens required for eggs to carry this label.

 

Natural: You probably already guessed that this is another bunk term when added to egg cartons since it really only signifies that nothing unnatural has been added to the eggs.

 

Omega-3: Eggs from hens that are allowed to roam on pasture and eat bugs and grasses are naturally higher in omega-3’s. Most eggs labeled Omega-3, however, have been given feed that was supplemented with omega-3’s (usually from flax seeds or fish oil).

 

Organic or USDA Certified Organic: To be able to claim ‘Organic’ on their labels, farms must be certified organic and feed their hens organic chicken feed which contains only approved-pesticides, no-GMO ingredients, and no chicken or mammal byproducts. The hens must also be cage-free and have access to the outdoors as weather permits.

 

Pasteurized: Pasteurized eggs are regulated by the FDA. Shell eggs are subjected to enough heat to destroy potential pathogens but not enough to cook them. These eggs are often recommended for those who are immune-compromised.

 

Pastured or Pasture-Raised: Though not a regulated term, it’s often used to indicate that the hens who laid the eggs spend most of their days on pasture. Because chickens, like most animals, need protection from the weather and predators they can’t spend their entire lives outside. They still need barns or coops in which to retreat at night and during adverse weather conditions. To find out whether or not the eggs you’re buying are truly from pastured hens you need to do a little research. If the farmer is local, ask how the hens spend their days. If you’re buying eggs in the store, check the company’s website or give their customer service department a call to find out more information.

 

UEP Certified Regular and Cage-Free: The United Egg Producers oversees the use and standards of this term which, according to their website, means that “eggs are produced by hens raised on farms dedicated to responsible, science-based methods to ensure optimal hen care for both cage and cage-free housing”. In order to use this logo, producers must implement the UEP Certified standards on all farms, which is verified by third-party audits.

 

Vegetarian-Fed: The natural diet for all chickens is one that’s high in protein and carbohydrates. Chicken feed is the main source of nutrition and may consist of soybeans, corn, barley, oats, rye, wheat, and other grains plus seeds for fat. Choosing organically produced eggs means the feed the hens ate was organic, free of synthetic pesticides and non-GMO. Chickens also love to peck around for bugs and grubs. And occasionally they’ll snack on tender green grasses or leaves but they’re not grazing animals so grass doesn’t make up a big part of their diet and bugs and grubs contribute only a small amount of protein because they’re more for satisfying a chicken’s natural tendencies to scratch and peck than anything else.

Other terms you might see on egg cartons and what they mean.

Size and Grade: Eggs are graded not only by quality (Grades AA, A and B) but also by size, ranging from peewee, small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo. Recipes (including ours) typically use large eggs unless otherwise specified. If you’re curious about how the sizes differ or how you can use them interchangeably in recipes, check out this post which includes a handy chart and tips for substituting eggs of different sizes in your recipes.

According to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association: “Eggs are graded based on their quality and appearance. Grade AA eggs have thick, firm whites and high, round yolks. Their shells are clean and unbroken. Grade A eggs are like Grade AA, but their whites are “reasonably” firm. Grade A eggs are usually sold in stores. Grade B eggs have thin whites and wider yolks. The shells are unbroken, but might show slight stains.”

Brown vs. White: Whether the egg is brown or white has no bearing on its nutrition. Different breeds of laying hens lay different colors of eggs. Eggs can be white, brown, tan, speckled, or even pink, light blue or olive green depending on the breed. What’s important when determining how to choose quality eggs isn’t the color of the egg but rather how the hens who laid them were raised.

10 Reasons to Keep Backyard Chickens | https://therealfoodrds.com/10-great-reasons-to-keep-backyard-chickens/

Our recommendations:

As with red meat, poultry or seafood and shellfish, our recommendation is to choose the highest-quality eggs available in your location and budget, keeping in mind the care and welfare and environmental aspects whenever possible. Local farms and backyard flocks are one of the best places to source eggs but grocery stores can also be a great place to source this excellent protein source when you know how to choose quality eggs. Take the time to read the labels and use what you’ve learned here to make the best choice for you and your family.

Hungry for more?

Eggs are one of the most versatile foods since they can be used in both sweet and savory recipes and they’re a relatively inexpensive source of protein – even if you spring for the more expensive ones. If you’re looking for delicious recipes using eggs, you’re in luck because we’ve got many to choose from. Here are a few of our favorites:

 

 

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About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.



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Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon


A side-dish dream come true! Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon are indescribably delicious and made with only 5 ingredients.

This post was created in collaboration with our friends at Organic Valley.

This scrumptious yet simple side dish can turn any meal from “meh” to marvelous!

That’s right, these Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon are really THAT good and might just be my new favorite way to make Brussels. For a simple yet totally scrumptious meal, I like to serve them alongside grilled chicken and a baked sweet potato. I love turning an OK meal into a mouthwatering delicious one thanks to this recipe you’re about to try!

Melted parmesan, roasted garlic and crisp bacon, oh my…

A flavor-filled combination of ingredients you can’t go wrong with! The first step of this recipe is to toss the Brussels in melted butter, garlic and then pop them into the oven. With about 10 minutes of roasting time left, you will then top the Brussels with parmesan cheese and crisp bacon, which makes the cheese become melty and slightly golden brown. Is your mouth watering yet?! Just before serving, I garnish the Brussels with chopped fresh chives and a dash of cracked black pepper. Yum!

These Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts will make for a tasty side dish when paired with nearly any meal and also makes for a great addition to a holiday or special occasion menu.

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Not just any ol’ parmesan!

Organic Valley Cheese is our go-to cheese brand! Why, you may ask? Not only is it creamy delicious, but it’s made with high-quality, pasture-raised milk, which contains absolutely NO antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or GMO anything. When it come to dairy, quality is always important to us and we know we can count on Organic Valley to meet our standards.

A little note from Organic Valley: 

We’re from Wisconsin, and we take a lot of pride in our cheese. From Midwestern recipes like Colby to Italian provolone and Greek feta, we combine time-honored recipes with pasture-raised milk to make the tastiest cheese in the country.

Organic Valley Parmesan Cheese, a key player in this recipe, begins with pasture-raised milk. They use vegetarian rennet to develop curds, and after they’ve made the cheese, they age it for at least 300 days. Yes, that’s right, 300 days! The aging process takes time, but it’s worth the wait! It’s a very important step as it’s what allows the cheese’s flavors to develop and deepen. Finally, they shred the Parmesan so it’s ready for the table!

Ingredients you’ll find in Organic Valley Parmesan Cheese: Organic Pasteurized Cultured Part Skim Cow’s Milk, Salt, Vegetarian Enzyme.

There’s a good chance that these Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon will turn a despiser of Brussels sprouts into a LOVER of Brussels Sprouts!

Brussels sprouts fan or not, this recipe is for you! Brussels tend to get a bad reputation and people often think of them as that smelly, tasteless, mushy, cabbage-like veggie. However, when cooked right (not overcooked to sulfurous-tasting mush), they might just become a new favorite veggie. When roasted to perfection, the Brussels turn into a veggie for all to enjoy. Plus, I can’t forget to share that they’re full of folate and contain an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and dietary fiber.

Add parmesan, garlic, butter and bacon, and you’ve got yourself the most delicious year-round side dish!

Now we, The Real Food RDs, may have a slight obsession with the beloved Brussels Sprouts and based on some of our most popular recipes on the blog, there’s a good chance you do, too! Below I share a few Brussels Sprout recipes that have become favorites of our readers:

Enjoy!

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Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

  • Author: Stacie Hassing
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: Side-Dish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a pan or line with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with melted butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Spread out onto the pan and arrange so that they are cut side up.
  3. Bake for 15-18 minutes. Remove Brussels Sprouts from oven and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bacon pieces. Place back in the oven and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are fork tender with browned edges and cheese is melted.
  4. Top with chopped fresh chives and cracked black pepper if you wish. Enjoy!

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/6 of recipe
  • Calories: 145
  • Sugar: 2 g
  • Sodium: 250 mg
  • Fat: 10 g
  • Carbohydrates: 9 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 7 g

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This post was made possible by our friends at Organic Valley. Although we received compensation for this post, the opinions expressed here are  – as always -100% our own. Thank you for supporting the great companies we work with thereby allowing us to continue creating great recipes and content for you.

This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage of the sale if you use the link to make your purchase. This does not change the price of the product. This income directly offsets the cost of web hosting and maintenance so we greatly appreciate your support.

All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians so credit is given where credit is due. Thank you!

About Stacie Hassing

Stacie is a Licensed and Registered Dietitian from rural southern Minnesota where she and her husband reside on 5 acres with their two pups, Walter & Lucy. She’s a creator of simple and wholesome recipes, a lover of nature, a crossfitter, a seasonal runner, and she’s on a mission to inspire as many as she can live a healthier and happier life from the inside out.





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Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Feta – The Real Food Dietitians

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Feta – The Real Food Dietitians


Got watermelon? Try something new with this Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Feta for an unexpectedly delicious, sweet-savory side dish that just screams “summer.”

Got melons?

Melons of all kinds are coming in hot right now at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, CSA boxes and supermarkets across North America as we reach the height of summer. Few would argue that nothing says “summer” like a big, juicy watermelon. And nothing really beats a big bowl of watermelon on a hot day…until now. This Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Feta promises to give that bowl of plain watermelon a run for its money.

 

Sweet Meets Savory.

I don’t know why this salad “works,” but it just does. Even though it may seem like an unusual combination of ingredients there’s something about the sweet watermelon, crunchy cucumbers, tart lime, salty feta and fresh mint that makes it unbelievably delicious and refreshing. 

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Prep Ahead (but not too far ahead!).

I’ll be the first to say that this salad is an excellent choice for potlucks and parties and impromptu backyard barbecues. I know because when testing the recipe I made it three times and served it for each of those occasions and got rave reviews. It’s also great for meal preps, BUT there’s a caveat and that’s that you can’t make it too far in advance or you’ll have a watery, somewhat soggy mess on your hands. That being said, here are my tips for prepping it ahead:

  • Cube the watermelon and dice the cucumber up to 1 day in advance, storing them separately in covered containers in the fridge until ready to use.
  • Slice the shallots or red onions up to 2 days in advance. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
  • Prepare the dressing up to 2 days in advance. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

When it’s go-time, gently toss everything together and serve.

Ready, set, enjoy!

Serve this Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Feta alongside your favorite protein for an easy, refreshing and unexpectedly delicious side dish that celebrates the freshest flavors that summer has to offer.

Hungry for More? Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered straight to your inbox! And be sure to stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.

Let’s Get Cookin’

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Feta

Sweet, juicy watermelon gets tossed with salty feta cheese and tart lime juice for a summery salad that’s unexpectedly delicious.

  • Author: Jessica Beacom
  • Prep Time: 20 mins.
  • Total Time: 20 mins.
  • Yield: Serves 4 1x
  • Cuisine: Vegetarian, Egg-Free, Nut-Free

Ingredients

  • 4 cups watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup cucumber, diced (may peel, if desired) 
  • 2 tsp. avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • Juice + zest of 1 lime (about 1 Tbsp. juice)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped or torn
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. thinly sliced red onion or shallots
  • 3 cups arugula or other greens of choice

Instructions

  1. Place watermelon cubes, cucumber, and mint in a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine oil, lime zest and juice, and salt to make the dressing. Whisk to combine and add more salt, if needed, to taste.
  3. Pour dressing over watermelon, cucumbers, mint, and shallots. Toss gently to combine. Add feta and again, gently combine.
  4. Serve immediately.

Notes

This salad should be made just before serving for best results. If made ahead, it can get quite watery so our suggestion is to make the dressing (up to 2 days in advance) and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to toss it with the watermelon, cucumbers, mint, and feta.

All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/4th recipe
  • Calories: 125
  • Sugar: 11g
  • Sodium: 175mg
  • Fat: 7g
  • Carbohydrates: 13g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Protein: 4g

What’s your favorite way to use watermelon in a recipe? Share in the comments below.

 

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This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage of the sale if you use the link to make your purchase. This does not change the price of the product. This income directly offsets the cost of web hosting and maintenance so we greatly appreciate your support.

About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.





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How to Choose Safer Seafood

How to Choose Safer Seafood


Confused about which fish and shellfish are the best choices when it comes to your health (and the environment)? Start here with our tips on how to choose safer seafood.

Eat more fish.

That’s what the U.S. Dietary Guidelines preach for all Americans and we’re onboard with this recommendation as well because seafood (fish and shellfish) is:

  • A great source of high-quality protein.
  • A tasty alternative to chicken, beef, and pork to change up the menu.

You also get a healthy dose of omega-3 fats when you choose cold water varieties like salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines, which have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s – and may boost your mood too. The current recommendation is to consume 8-12 ounces of lower-mercury seafood per week for optimal health benefits. This includes salmon, cod, canned light tuna, tilapia, scallops, mussels, shrimp, pollock, sole and crab.

That being said, there is a lot of information out there about which fish and shellfish are the safest and most ecological options. So much information, in fact, that you may have thrown your hands up in the air and just overlooked seafood as a healthy option which is why we’re talking today about how to choose safer seafood.

We’ll share just about everything you need to know to make you a savvy consumer of seafood including how much to eat each week, the risks of mercury and how to choose lower-mercury seafood, how to choose the freshest seafood and we’ll even take a quick dive into which species to limit or avoid from an environmental health perspective. Though we’ve tried to keep this post as short as possible, there’s a lot of information so if you just want the ‘quick download’ on how to choose safer seafood, then scroll down to find the list of our Top 8 Safer Seafood Picks below.

Zucchini ‘Pasta’ Carbonara with Shrimp

Photo Credit: Jess of Plays Well with Butter

Health – yours and that of the environment.

When we’re talking about “safer” seafood we’re really talking about two things – mercury (your health) and sustainable fishing practices (the environment). Unfortunately, all seafood choices don’t fit into one tidy category or another. While some are pretty black and white, say swordfish, there are others like tuna and flounder that fall into the grey area between so we’ve done our best to present information about both issues to help you choose the best options for you and your family.

What is mercury?

Mercury can be found in small amounts in air, food, water and in higher amounts in amalgam dental fillings. Most foods are considered to be extremely low in mercury with the exception of fish and shellfish, which can contain considerable amounts of mercury in its most toxic form, methylmercury.

Methylmercury is created when mercury circulating in the environment is dissolved in waterways (freshwater lakes and rivers and saltwater oceans). This mercury then accumulated in the flesh of fish and seafood, concentrating as you move higher up the food chain (i.e. predatory fish eating smaller fish, older or larger fish, etc.).

Methylmercury is highly toxic and seafood is the largest contributor to mercury in humans. Because its effects are dose-dependent and the toxic dose varies depending on age (young children are at higher risk than adults), life stage (pregnancy and/or breastfeeding), and body weight (the lighter you are, the less you can handle). During pregnancy, methylmercury exposure, even if not at a toxic level, can increase the risk of stillbirth and or birth defects because it easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and placenta, which is why it’s particularly important to understand how to choose the lowest mercury fish and seafood so you can still enjoy the health benefits while significantly lowering your risk of toxicity.

For most people, the health benefits of consuming fish outweigh risks of mercury, but there are things you can do to decrease or minimize your risk.

  1. Eat lower on the food chain: Mercury accumulates in larger, older fish and too much mercury exposure can lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating (with consistently low-level exposure) or numbness or tingling of the hands or feet and impaired brain development in fetuses, infants and young children with higher exposure thus the need to seek out lower mercury fish that are sustainably raised or caught.
    • Big Fish to Avoid: Shark, tilefish, king mackerel, bluefin and ahi tuna, swordfish, Atlantic flatfish such as halibut, flounder and sole. All of these are high in mercury and some, like shark and tuna, are overfished. 
  2. Limit your intake: 
    • For non-pregnant adults: Eat up to 18 ounces (3 servings) per week of low-mercury fish and seafood.
    • For pregnant or breastfeeding women and children: Eat up to 12 ounces a week (2 servings) of canned light tuna and other low-mercury fish, such as salmon, shrimp, catfish, pollock, and scallops. Within this 12 ounce allowance:
      • Limit your intake of fresh or canned albacore (white) tuna to 6 ounces per week.
      • Limit your intake of locally caught lake or river fish to 6 ounces per week. You can find out about the safety of locally caught fish in your area here.

Given how toxic excess methylmercury exposure can be, our suggestion is, first and foremost, to choose fish and seafood for its health benefits (or more accurately in this case, for its reduced risks), but along with that we also recognize that the sustainability of the fish and shellfish also has a big impact on the environment.

Salmon Burgers with Garlic-Avocado Sauce

What are the environmental concerns?

Oh boy, this is a big can of worms (pun intended) and one we’re just going to touch on because there are entire websites devoted to this very topic. In short, due to the increased demand for seafood, poorly regulated fishing practices which lead to overfishing, polluting fish farm operations and a warming climate that threatens natural lake, river and ocean climates, there are some fish and shellfish that are best avoided (or at the very least, limited to occasional consumption).

These overfished or endangered species include:

  • Caviar (especially beluga sturgeon caviar) – The fish from which the eggs are harvested are slow to grow and reproduce making them susceptible to overfishing thanks to their high demand and market value.
  • Chilean sea bass – Poor farming practices make them an undesirable choice and they’re also high in mercury.
  • Eel – Overfished and also high in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and flame retardants (endocrine disrupters).
  • Atlantic Salmon (farmed and wild caught) – In the wild, they’re overfished and farming operations present a significant environmental concern.
  • Imported Basa/Swai/striped catfish (often called just “catfish”) – Often contaminated with Vibrio bacteria, a common cause of shellfish poisoning. Poor farming practices present significant environmental concerns and high antibiotic usage contributes to the formation of superbugs.
  • Imported farmed shrimp – Usually from China or Vietnam, these are likely the worst offenders from an environmental and health perspective thanks to the way it’s farmed and the chemicals used to do so (including pesticides and antibiotics).
    • Gulf shrimp present the issue of “wasted bycatch” meaning fish and sea turtles inadvertently harvested die in the process.
  • Imported king crab (from Russia) – Unsustainable farming practices make this an undesirable choice. King crab from Alaska is a fine choice.
  • Orange roughy – Since this fish is a bottom feeder and often a very old fish (it takes 20 years to reach sexual maturity before it can reproduce) it has higher mercury levels in addition to overfishing concerns.
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna and Ahi tuna – These big fish are high in mercury and overfished nearly to the point of extinction. 
  • Swordfish – Here’s one to avoid at all costs since it contains very high mercury levels, so much so that the Environmental Defense Fund cautions women and children to avoid it entirely and recommends men limit their intake of swordfish to no more than one serving (6 ounces) per month.
  • King and Spanish Mackerel – Though rich in omega-3s, it’s also high in mercury so the FDA recommends women and children avoid it entirely. Atlantic mackerel, on the other hand, is much lower in mercury making it a safer way to get those healthy omega-3 fats.
  • Grouper – Both high in mercury and overfished, making it a less desirable choice.

How to choose sustainable seafood.

OK, that was a lot to digest and more than you could possibly recall the next time you’re out for dinner at the grocery store. Thankfully there are a bunch of free resources available to help you choose the most sustainable options which we’ve rounded up for you here:

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector

Includes info for mercury, environmental concerns and recommended servings per month for each species

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide

Available as a printable wallet card and online

 

Marine Stewardship Council

Learn more about sustainable fishing and what this label and certification means

How much mercury is too much?

Unfortunately, there is no set limit so you have to use your best judgment, which means choosing lower-mercury fish and shellfish whenever you can and limiting those that are high in mercury to less than one serving per month.

Now, all of this isn’t here to scare you into swearing off seafood forever, but rather, to help you make the best choices for you and your family. You can still enjoy the taste and health benefits of fish and shellfish when you know how to choose safer seafood – which hopefully we’ll have equipped you with the knowledge and resources to do so by the end of this post.

Easy Tuna Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Mayo

Our 8 Top Picks for Safer Seafood

  1. Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon – Read the label to be sure you’re getting the real deal!
    • Though wild-caught Alaskan salmon is considered the gold standard by some, there are threats to overfishing that come with high demand (and higher price tags too). According to Seafoodwatch.org, there are other great salmon options out there that aren’t all Alaskan wild-caught if you know what to look for. Our go-to’s for wild-caught Alaskan salmon when you want it delivered to your doorstep is Butcher Box.
  2. Chunk light or skipjack tuna – Look for those that are pole-and-line caught in the Eastern, Western and Central Pacific. Our go-to is light tuna packed in water (we like this brand because it’s widely available and tested for the lowest possible levels of mercury).
    • Because there are so many types of tuna, we encourage you to check out the Seafood Selector to determine which is the best choice for you, your family and your budget.
  3. Albacore tuna (white tuna) – Though higher in mercury, solid white tuna is high in omega-3 fats so the key is to choose low mercury brands and limit your intake to no more than 6 ounces per week. Look for pole- or troll-caught from the U.S. or British Columbia) and those that are tested for mercury (we like this brand packed in water and this brand packed in olive oil).
  4. Pacific Sardines – Sardines are small fish and thus are low on the food chain making them a great low mercury choice. They’re also high in omega-3s and are super portable. If you’re new to sardines, we recommend choosing those that are boneless, skinless and packed in water as they’re the most ‘mild’ (like these, these or these). They’re not as scary as you think and taste remarkably similar to tuna. Of course, they’re also delicious when packed in olive oil, but slightly more ‘pungent.’ Consuming sardines with the skin on provides more healthy omega-3 fats.
  5. Sablefish or Black Cod (wild caught from Alaska or Canadian Pacific) – Though moderate when it comes to mercury, this tasty and versatile white fish can be part of a healthy overall diet. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends that adults limit their intake to 4 servings per month and that children 12 and under consume no more than 2 servings per month.
  6. Scallops – Scallops are a delicious, low-mercury seafood option and both wild and farmed versions are good choices. Look for those labeled as ‘dry’ that have not been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, or STP.
  7. Crab – Though low in mercury there are some that are better than others from a sustainability perspective. Better choices include Red and Blue King Crab (from the U.S.), Stone crab (U.S.) and Snow crab. Dungeness crab is a fairly solid option too though it’s subject to overfishing.
  8. Shrimp – We love shrimp, but treat it more like a delicacy than an everyday food because let’s be honest, ‘clean’ shrimp isn’t the easiest to source. Knowing what you’re looking for (wild vs. farmed and imported vs. domestic) is the key to selecting the safest shrimp.
    You can compare the different types here or look for U.S. farmed or wild shrimp from the Northern U.S. when reading labels – these tend to be more widely available though they do have a ‘moderate’ environmental impact which is why we include shrimp in our diets less often than other types of seafood.
    • A note about preservatives: Shrimp often has preservatives added to it during processing. Look for words like Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STP), sodium bisulfate, and ‘Everfresh’). Though considered ‘safe’ by the FDA they can have adverse health effects including sensitivity and excess sodium content and possibly even exposure to xenoestrogens in the case of Everfresh). It’s best to choose those without additives. 

Other good options

  • Tilapia – Tilapia can be a good addition to your diet just be sure to choose wisely as farming conditions can vary from acceptable to downright deplorable (like those raised in China). Your best bet is to choose those that are farmed in the U.S. in recirculating aquaculture tanks where pollution can be closely managed. Learn more about better tilapia options here.
  • Mussels – Unless you grew up on the coast you’re probably not familiar with mussels and all the delicious ways to enjoy them. Not only are they low in mercury and present a low environmental risk, but they’re also high in protein, rich in iron, good sources of vitamins A and B12, and a good source of omega-3 fats.
  • Pollock – This versatile, low-mercury white fish lends itself well to many dishes and is relatively budget-friendly. Look for those that are from the Atlantic (U.S., Norway, and Canada) as they are the most eco-friendly.

 

How to choose the freshest seafood.

Whether you’re buying fresh or frozen, here are some tips to help you choose the freshest seafood.

Fish – Fresh, frozen, whole and filets

  • Look for firm flesh with a mild scent – Avoid those that have a strong ‘fishy’ smell. Saltwater fish should smell ‘briny’ or like the ocean and a freshwater fish should smell like a clean pond.
  • Fish should be moist but never slimy.
  • Fresh fish should appear freshly cut.
  • Frozen fish should not have a strong fishy scent and the packaging should be taught and tightly sealed without evidence of blood or ice.
  • If buying whole fish, look for those with plump, bulging eyes, the skin and scales should be bright and metallic and the gills clean and bright pink or red.

Mussels or Clams

When choosing mussels or clams, only select those that smell fresh (in this case, pleasantly briney) and whose shells are tightly closed. Avoid those with open, chipped, cracked or otherwise damaged shells as they are unsafe to consume.

If the shell is slightly open, give it a tap with your finger. If it closes quickly then it’s still alive and safe to eat. If it doesn’t close, discard it.

Shrimp

Avoid shrimp that smell like ammonia or have soft or slimy shells. They should have a mild ocean or briny scent and be firm without evidence of browning or blackening on the edges and free of black spots.

Scallops

Scallops should be ivory, white or light pink without browning on the edges. Their texture should be firm (not mushy) and they should have a sweet smell. Sour smelling scallops are rotten and should not be consumed.

One-Pan Shrimp Fajita Bowls

What does ‘previously frozen’ mean on fresh seafood?

Fish (and shellfish) is often ‘fresh frozen’ shortly after it is caught to ensure it retains its flavor, nutrition, and freshness. When you buy ‘fresh’ fish it may have been previously frozen. Take, for example, wild-caught salmon whose “season” only happens at a particular time of year. This fish is frozen then thawed before hitting the shelves at your local market as “fresh” seafood is more convenient for consumers – you can smell the fish (which is hard to do when it’s plastic-wrapped and frozen) and take it home to cook right away without having to thaw it first.

While this is still a solid choice and often the only choice for those not living on the coast, just know that once fish that has been previously frozen is thawed it should not be re-frozen. You can cook the fish then freeze it but if you don’t plan to use it within a day or two your best bet is to stock up on frozen fish or shellfish instead.

How to thaw frozen seafood.

There are two ways to safely thaw frozen seafood:

  1. Place it, in its wrapper or package, in a bowl in the fridge to thaw overnight, or
  2. Place the fish or shellfish in a large bowl in the sink and turn on the faucet just enough so that cool, running water continuously fills the bowl. Note, it’s important to keep the water running and for the water to be cool, not warm or hot for food safety reasons.

That concludes our How to Choose Safer Seafood post!

We know that it was a lot to read – and if you’re still reading, congrats – you’re now armed with all the info you need to make smarter decisions when it comes to seafood and your health (and that of the environment, too!).

Pin this & share the love!

 


This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage of the sale if you use the link to make your purchase. This does not change the price of the product. This income directly offsets the cost of web hosting and maintenance so we greatly appreciate your support.

 

About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.



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Greek Quinoa Salad with Avocado

Greek Quinoa Salad with Avocado


Feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, avocado, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, cucumber and quinoa are tossed with a homemade vinaigrette to make this full-of-flavor Greek Quinoa Salad.

Photo of Greek Quinoa Salad with Avocado in a light gray bowl.

Perfect for lunch packing, summer potlucks and serving as a tasty side dish.

Your summer meals are about to get a facelift with this Greek Quinoa Salad! I love a big a ol’ salad. In fact, I probably eat one once a day. They’re my favorite kind of recipes to share during the summer months! You simply can’t go wrong with a salad that’s chock full of Greek-inspired ingredients and all the veggies.

This salad is one you’ll want to add to an upcoming menu whether it be for a weekend meal prep, a side dish, a potluck or summer grill-out. In other words, it’s a must try! It’s one I make often during the summer when tomatoes and cucumbers are practically given away at local Farmers’ Markets or from gardening friends. The salad ingredients are tossed in a vinaigrette that’s quick to make and can also be used as a marinade for chicken or veggies. All you need for the vinaigrette is avocado oil or olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and salt & pepper. So simple yet so delicious!

For an even quicker vinaigrette option, you could also toss the salad in Primal Kitchen’s Greek Vinaigrette. It’s what I use when I have it on hand.

Close up photo of Greek Quinoa Salad with Avocado in a clear bowl before it has been mixed. Off to the side is the homemade vinaigrette in a small clear bowl.

Give this Greek Quinoa Salad a boost of protein if you wish.

I love serving this salad as a veggie-loaded meal for lunch or dinner in the summer, and when I do I like to add a boost of protein. So if you’re looking to do the same and serve this Greek Quinoa Salad as a main entree vs. a side, I recommend adding 1 cup of cubed chicken (or garbanzo beans for a plant-based option). As a result, this salad will have everything you need in a meal to feel satisfied – quality protein, healthy fats, veggies and fiber.

Feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, avocado, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, cucumber, fresh basil and quinoa are tossed with a homemade vinaigrette to make this full-of-flavor Greek Quinoa Salad. Click To Tweet

Photo of Greek Quinoa Salad with Avocado in a light gray bowl with serving spoons holding a scoop of the salad.

Make it dairy-free and vegan-friendly.

Greek Quinoa Salad is super easy to make dairy-free and vegan-friendly. All you need to do is omit the feta cheese and you’ll have yourself the most delicious plant-based salad. In fact, I often have a hard time finding organic feta cheese in my rural location, so I simply make it without. You could always add a little extra avocado to make up for it!

Photo of Greek Quinoa Salad with Avocado in a light gray bowl with serving spoons holding a scoop of the salad.

I hope you’re as excited as I am about this Greek Quinoa Salad!

If you’re in search of more simple and healthy salad recipes, we’ve got you covered! You can find all of our salad recipes here.

Hungry for More? Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered straight to your inbox! And be sure to stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.

Let’s Get Cookin’

Greek Quinoa Salad

This Greek Quinoa Salad is perfect for lunch packing, end of summer picnics or serving  as a tasty side dish.

  • Author: The Real Food Dietitians
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins
  • Yield: 5 side serving 1x
  • Category: Salad | Side Dish

Ingredients

For the Salad:

  • 4 cups spinach or mixed greens (about 4 handfuls)
  • 1 cup sliced cucumber
  • ¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup sliced red onion
  • ½ cup artichoke hearts
  • ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 small avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa*

For the Dressing (may substitute 1/3-1/2 cup Primal Kitchen Greek Vinaigrette):

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl or jar with lid, whisk (or shake) together the dressing ingredients. Pour over salad and toss gently to coat.
  3. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Notes

*To make quinoa, follow package instructions.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/5 of recipe
  • Calories: 220
  • Sugar: 3 g
  • Sodium: 200 mg
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 5 g

Pin now to make later!


Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Jess of Plays Well with Butter. 

This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage of the sale if you use the link to make your purchase. This does not change the price of the product. This income directly offsets the cost of web hosting and maintenance so we greatly appreciate your support.

All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

About Stacie Hassing

Stacie is a Licensed and Registered Dietitian from rural southern Minnesota where she and her husband reside on 5 acres with their two pups, Walter & Lucy. She’s a creator of simple and wholesome recipes, a lover of nature, a crossfitter, a seasonal runner, and she’s on a mission to inspire as many as she can live a healthier and happier life from the inside out.





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Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers – The Real Food Dietitians

Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers – The Real Food Dietitians


When you want a better burger, reach for these Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers!

This post was created in partnership with our friends at Organic Valley. 

 No judgments here.

When I say a ‘better burger’ I’m not pitting beef against chicken in terms of nutrition because I think both are great (so much so that we even wrote a post about quality beef and poultry), but rather I’m talking about flavor. Because flavor is everything, am I right?

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good beef burger (like these Grilled Bacon Burgers or these Bison Burgers with Grilled Pineapple and Sriracha Aioli), but sometimes I want a little something more like these Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers. Studded with melty, cheesy goodness and just the right amount of smoky heat, they’re guaranteed to add a little heat to your next burger night. 

Before you think, “Whoa, girl. This sounds like way more work than a simple burger…” let me show you how it’s done because you’re definitely going to want to make these Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers.

Cheddar makes it better. 

Especially when it’s perfectly aged, organic cheddar cheese. Though not the most exotic cheese out there, cheddar is still one of the most popular cheeses in America (trumped only by mozzarella and I’ll let you guess why…) and for good reason. It’s good on everything, in everything and even by itself. My favorite though, are the Mild and Sharp Cheddar shredded cheeses from Organic Valley because 1.) they’re organic which means no toxic pesticides, no antibiotics and no GMOs ever, 2) they’re finely shredded so they disperse particularly well into and onto dishes, 3.) each serving provides 6 grams of protein and a healthy dose of calcium, and 4.) they’re delicious and perfect for adding a little melty goodness to these Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers. And boy, does this cheese melt beautifully!

Did you know that Organic Valley is a cooperative of family farmers? 

It’s true. Organic Valley isn’t a giant corporation, but rather a cooperative made up of over 2,000 family farms and 900 employees across the country who are driven by principles, not profits. Their cheeses are made by farmers and artisans who care about the health of the environment, the animals and your family. In a cooperative, farmers share the cost of getting their products to market and share the profits when they do well so it’s in their best interest to do their part to create a healthier, more sustainable food system. The result of all this? Farmers who are invested in quality, organic foods for you and your family. 

About that cheddar…

Organic Valley believes that to make the best cheese you have to start with the best milk, so their cows spend most of their time grazing on pastures, enjoying ample sunshine, exercise and a proper diet of grasses. One bite (or a handful right from the bag) and you’ll see for yourself. 

Bun, wrap, naked, open-face…it’s your call!

Feel free to serve these Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers however you like – on a gluten-free bun (I used this brand), in a lettuce wrap, on a bed of greens alongside some roasted sweet potato wedges or on a slide of toasted bread – it will be delicious no matter how you serve it. And they’re great for leftovers because they’re just as tasty cold as they are hot.

If you’re feeling really ‘extra,’ I’d suggest whipping up a batch of these Quick Pickled Onions to pile on top of your burger and a side of these Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges – so good!

Hungry for More? Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered straight to your inbox! And be sure to stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.

Let’s Get Cookin’

Chipotle Cheddar Chicken Burgers

  • Author: Jessica Beacom
  • Prep Time: 15 mins.
  • Cook Time: 15 mins.
  • Total Time: 30 mins.
  • Yield: Serves 4 1x
  • Cuisine: Grain-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground chicken (preferably dark meat/thigh) 
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1 chipotle pepper, canned in adobo sauce, chopped (seeds removed for less heat if desired) 
  • 2 Tbsp. almond flour (may replace with oat flour or finely ground oats for nut-free) 
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ⅛ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup finely shredded Organic Valley Mild or Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • Optional: Gluten-free buns, lettuce leaves, a bed of greens, sliced red onion or Quick Pickled Onions, tomatoes, avocado and/or mayo for topping and serving. 

Instructions

  1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.*
  2. Place ground chicken, green onions, chipotle pepper, almond flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix with a large spoon or your hands to combine.
  3. Add shredded cheese and mix again to distribute cheese throughout.
  4. Divide chicken mixture into 4 portions and pat into patties about ½-inch thick. Wetting your hands with a little water will make this easier.
  5. When the grill is hot, cook burgers 5-6 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in the center or an instant-read thermometer reads 165℉. 
  6. Remove burgers from the grill, serve on buns, lettuce wraps, over a bed of greens, etc. with desired toppings.

*Burgers can also be cooked on the stove in a skillet or broiled in the oven. Cooking time will vary depending on the method used. Cook until no longer pink in the center or an instant-read thermometer reads 165℉. 

Notes

All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 4 ounces
  • Calories: 243
  • Sodium: 534mg
  • Fat: 11g
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Protein: 33g

What’s your favorite way to change up burger night? Are you on Team Bun or Team Lettuce Wrap? Share in the comments below!

 

Pin it now & make it later!


This post was made possible by our friends at Organic Valley. Although we received compensation for this post, the opinions expressed here are – as always – 100% our own. Thank you for supporting the great companies we work with thereby allowing us to continue creating great recipes and content for you.

This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage of the sale if you use the link to make your purchase. This does not change the price of the product. This income directly offsets the cost of web hosting and maintenance so we greatly appreciate your support.

About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.





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