I challenge you!

I challenge you to compare the many offerings when you visit the supermarket. Not all products are what they first seem to be. Recently I happened to have containers from three types of cottage cheese on hand so I read the labels. It was a trade-off. Where one type was better in one area another had a better count in another.

For years I have been purchasing the low-fat to no-fat cottage cheese even though the flavor was not what the original offered. As I looked at the various ingredient components I was surprised. No longer will I purchase the reduced fat type because I do not like the flavor. To make it palatable I added salt and pepper so was I really any better off? Well, the reduced types already contained more sodium, less protein, less vitamin C, and more sugar. There was a difference in cholesterol but unless you ate the whole carton you probably were not saving much.

It takes me a long time to grocery shop these days because I do read labels. I compare the slices of bread to see if there is whole grain. I also look to see what the fiber content is. Many of us do not get enough fiber in our diets. Any time you are purchasing something that is ready to eat you have to weigh and measure.

I find that if I prepare things from scratch the possibility of saving calories, sodium, sugar and carbs is the greatest. I like having full control of the ingredients. Now, do not misunderstand me I purchase ready-made things for convenience as well as the next guy. I just try to find the best arrangement of ingredients.

The food industry is wonderful at swaying popular opinion on products. They know the buttons to push. Right now gluten-free is the buzz word. Look up gluten. Is it really bad for you? Is it something you should avoid? Unless you have a disease where your body cannot tolerate gluten you do not need to be leery of gluten the experts tell us. Yet, company after company has jumped on the band wagon manufacturing things that are gluten free. Of course, they advertise as such and the public now fears gluten. Do your own research. Avoid certain types of food if they bother your digestive system. It is a case by case scenario.

Then, there is the term “organic”. Years ago I attended numerous seminars on the switch to organic production. At that time the authorities said that a farm had to be without non-organic fertilizer and antibiotics for ten years before they could be considered an organic facility. I believe the time frame has now shrunk to three years. I am not sure that is long enough to turn things around. How can we be sure we are getting produce that is truly produced organically?

Pastured poultry and grass fed beef are what they seem to be. The animals forage for their food. It is natural if the farmer does not use chemical fertilizers.

The buzz word has been to buy fresh, buy local. This is becoming increasingly difficult. The local producers have to jump through so many hoops that many of them have just given up. The government has jumped into the fray. They want their share from even the small producers. No product can legally be sold to the public unless it comes from a government inspected kitchen – that includes honey and maple syrup. Producers must pay for inspection and maintain their license annually by having their water supply tested unless it comes from a municipal source. They must endure periodic inspections to maintain their license.

How can the little guy compete with the mega producers? It is tough. The margin of profit on farm goods is marginal at best. When another cost is added it minimalizes what the farmer can earn.

Personally, I have been trying to make my cooking healthier. I am watching the carbohydrates and sugars. I bought a book “I Quit Sugar” by Sarah Wilson and have put some of her ideas into practice. I have not really quit sugar at this point, but I have made modifications.

I watch a lot of cooking shows. Sometimes I see a dish that I want to try. Usually, I write the recipe down as the cook makes it. Seldom do I make it exactly. I make my own modifications to suit my taste and the taste of the family.

I watched someone make a dish with zucchini squash that sounded very good. You peel the zucchini then use your peeler to shred the whole thing into a pan. (I discard the seeds.) It becomes like pasta and looks like linguini. You cook it in a small amount of olive oil for just a couple minutes. The “sauce” is a pesto. I have made mine two ways at this point. The first time I used fresh kale as the base and added chives, parsley, thyme, and basil from my herb garden. The second time I used fresh spinach. I also added a few walnuts, some garlic, and some onion. Everything goes into your food processor. You chop adding some olive oil to get it to come together. After you remove it from the processor you add salt and pepper to taste. It goes on the hot squash. I served this warm and it was excellent. I must admit this was a different take on pasta. At home we only had it with marinara sauce.

Folks, this was just vegetables, olive oil, and herbs. The combination makes a hearty flavorful but healthy entre that is guilt-free. I tried it adding yellow squash to the mix and it was just as good. Limited carbs, healthy fat, and no sugars! This recipe is a keeper.

Do read those labels. Know what you are eating and where it comes from. If you have your health your whole life is easier.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at