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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #127

Updated on March 8, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Eating to Be and Stay Healthy

Just for the heck of it, I looked back at #23 of this series—exactly two years ago. Then, the comments were pretty lighthearted. There were questions about how to cook spareribs, how to preserve food by freezing, the shelf life of dried herbs and spices, and "which potato should I use?"

This past week the questions were more serious in nature, every one focussing on eating healthy. In fact, the last one broke my heart. So, let's get started.

By the way, if you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join us? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

Are There Any Healthy Microwave Meals?

The first question today is from Shauna (Bravewarrior):

"I used to sometimes head for the freezer section to buy (supposedly) healthy lunches I could pop in the microwave at work. But since I was diagnosed with high blood pressure years ago, before I even read the ingredients, I check out the sodium levels. It astonishes me that companies that purport themselves to be "all-natural" (Amy's, Evolve, etc.) have sodium levels so high I can feel my blood pressure rise as I read.

I do know that salt has been a "natural" preservative for eons, but is there an alternative? Yes, I know, making my lunch makes much more sense, and I do for the most part. But there's got to be something else out there that is not synthetic or doesn't raise your blood pressure with every bite! After all, when we freeze cooked foods, we (you, me, and the rest of the population who may be apt to have too many leftovers) don't add salt before freezing.

What would you recommend to companies who freeze already-cooked meals?

There's got to be a healthier way!

Sha, you and I know that sodium is an essential nutrient, but according to the AHA (American Heart Association) Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day—that’s way more than the recommended 2,000 per day. And, if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, your goal should be even less than 2,000.

Be careful about “diet-friendly” foods in the frozen section of your grocery store. For example, Weight Watcher’s Classic Favorites has a Salisbury steak entrée with macaroni and cheese. They tout the 6 grams of fat and 260 calories. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it packs in a whopping 900 mg of sodium. If you cut the fat you’ve gotta beef up (sorry, I couldn’t resist) the flavor in some way, right? If you opt instead for the Weight Watcher’s bistro selection you’ll get your Salisbury steak served with vegetables instead of the macaroni; calories are 230 and sodium is reduced to 740 mg. That’s better but still not good enough.

Here’s what to look for when shopping for a healthy microwaveable frozen entrée:

  1. Check the portion size. Some companies offer entrees in which a portion is less than the entire package. Doesn't that stink? Did you know that one package of ramen (the blocks of noodles with copious amounts of sodium) are two servings?
  2. If you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably an artificial preservative and not a good thing to put into your body.
  3. Strive for 600 mg or less of sodium.
  4. Aim for 250-300 calories per serving.

I have found one manufacturer who truly embraces healthy portions, fat, sodium, and calories. You mentioned Amy's as one of the baddies, but they do have nine frozen entrees that are marketed as light in sodium. Look for the packaging that has an orange band across the top. (By the way, that clue about orange band works on their canned soups too).

Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl
220 mg
Black Bean Vegetable Enchilada
360 mg
Indian Mattar Paneer
390 mg
Macaroni and Cheese
320 mg
Vegetable Lasagna
340 mg
Country Cheddar Bowl
345 mg
Mexican Casserole Bowl
370 mg
Veggie Loaf Meal
330 mg
Spinach Pizza
390 mg

Amy's Frozen Meals

There are other ways to control the sodium in your eat-at-the-desk meals. Shauna, I know that you do this, but I'm going to list them anyway for the rest of the readers of this article:

  • Take a portion of your heart-healthy leftovers from last night's meal to work with you. I'm assuming that you have a microwave available.
  • If the microwave is not an option, you might still be able to change a part of last night's meal into today's lunch-on-the-go. Salad (we do lots of cabbage, tomatoes and shaved broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts in our home) can be a meal on its own or rolled into a flour tortilla.
  • Leftover rice, cooked bulgur wheat, quinoa, or orzo can be the start of a good Buddha bowl. Add meat (if you want), toss in fresh veggies (grape or diced tomatoes, cucumber, olives, etc.), maybe some chickpeas and/or avocado.

Turmeric for Arthritis Pain

Last week Manatita asked if there are certain foods that mimic arthritis (cause painful inflammation). Audrey Hunt provided some valuable information in her comment, and I'll repeat it here so that everyone can benefit from her words:

"Turmeric has given me more relief from arthritic pain than anything else. It helps reduce inflammation. I use organic turmeric powder and sprinkle it on eggs and legumes. Using pepper with it to enhance anti-inflammatory effects. The key compounds in turmeric are called curcuminoids. Curcumin itself is the most active ingredient and appears to be the most important.

"Turmeric supplements are unsafe if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have certain conditions. Supplements can also interact with blood thinners and diabetes medications. However, turmeric seems to be safe when used as a spice in food."

Turmeric chickpea cakes
Turmeric chickpea cakes | Source

And, in one of those "this was meant to be" moments, just an hour after writing this, I found a vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free recipe on Pinterest that features turmeric. The author says that this makes four servings, so perhaps Shauna could have one of these turmeric chickpea cakes for her lunch. How's that for hitting a double?

Healthy Meals on a Tight Budget

"I am a college student and my parents' financial circumstances have significantly changed. I've gotten a part-time job in addition to classes and tried to cut financial corners with my food and expenses, but I have lost a bunch of weight. What inexpensive but nutritious food and meals can I eat? People are starting to ask if I'm on drugs, and I absolutely am not. For technical reasons, I do not qualify for my local food bank. Help!"

Jonathan, your question has really touched my heart. I am assuming that you have access to at least a minimal kitchen and can do some cooking. You need meals that are not only cheap but will provide you the nutrition you need to stay healthy. If you're hungry you won't be able to do your best at work or in the classroom. Here are my ideas:

  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup
  • Peanut butter and jelly

Yes, I recognize that these sound like lunch for kids, but there's a reason that they are so popular. Not only do they taste good, but they are easy to fix, inexpensive, and nutrient-dense. If you can find reduced-sodium soup please buy that. You should be able to buy a loaf of whole wheat bread for about $1.00 and the generic brands of soup, peanut butter, and jelly are just as good as the name brands, and often much cheaper. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Scrambled eggs and salsa
  • Quesadillas made with cheese and or eggs and beans
  • Use bagels or English muffins, cheese, and pasta sauce to make "pizza."
  • Oatmeal and bananas. Don't buy packets of instant oatmeal. They are loaded with sugar and not very satisfying.
  • Baked potato and chili
  • Macaroni (buy generic) and canned beans. Any type of bean will do. Here's a table to let you know how they compare.

Calories (in 1 cup)
14.5 grams
16% of the RDI
Kidney beans
13.4 grams
Black beans
15.2 grams
Soy beans
28.6 grams
Pinto beans
15.4 grams
Navy beans
15.0 grams

One food item that is often omitted when we are on a fixed budget is produce. Please be good to yourself do your best to keep fruits and vegetables in your life. A sack of carrots is cheap and healthy. Spinach has more going for it than lettuce. Cucumbers are inexpensive. Bananas are always in season and at this time of year, you should be able to get a sack of apples. Don't rely on canned fruit—too much sugar and the vitamins really plunge in comparison to fresh fruit.

If you have room in your freezer, buy generic-brand sacks of frozen corn, peas, and green beans. They are much healthier than canned veggies.

Also, if you are shopping at one of the major retail grocery chains, they usually have a shelf devoted to items that have been marked down, either because they are slightly damaged or because they are out of season. In-store bakeries also discount their day-old bread and rolls. If you are feeling particularly bold, you might try introducing yourself to the produce manager. Often they toss out perfectly good fruits and vegetables because they have a slight imperfection.

Jonathan, I hope that you are reading this and that my suggestions are of help to you. Please don't hesitate to write again. If you need more ideas, I'll put on my thinking cap.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


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