"Healthy Foods" + Mexican Quinoa Salad

Sorry for the time off between posts! I've still been cooking, but it was a busy and eventful winter break, and I was unable to write due to an unfortunate passing in the family and a lot of travel. However, I'm back in New York now, and I will be jumping right into my usual routine of cooking and writing frequently.

I decided to write today's posts on fake healthy food products and what to watch out for on nutrition labels. There are a lot of items for sale that advertise themselves as healthy or good for you, but a lot of the time they are processed or full of sugars and additives, making them not-so-healthy. It's really important to check labels before purchasing, and here are some of the things you should look out for when grocery shopping.

Added sugars: These include plain sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose etc. These refined sweeteners are bad for your cholesterol, cause weight gain, and cause degradation to your body. Especially avoid high fructose corn syrup.

Sugar Substitutes: Products that say sugar-free generally include replacements like aspartame, which are carcinogenic. They also have a plethora of other side effects, including emotional disorders, tumors and diseases. Most of the time, sugar-free is the worse way to go because it is more unnatural. Avoid added sugar if you can, but definitely avoid sugar substitutes at all costs.

Hydrogenated Oils: These are oils that have been converted to become more stable and last longer. However, the fatty acids in these oils then change from being the healthy, unsaturated fats to the dangerous trans fat, which are even worse for you than saturated fats. Hydrogenated oils cause obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Hydrogenated oils are very common, so look closely before buying.

Sodium Nitrites/Nitrates: Found commonly in lunch meats and hot dogs, nitrites and nitrates are used as preservatives, but they are very carcinogenic. You'd be surprised how often meats contain nitrites and nitrates, so look carefully on the label, and go for organic brands like Applegate for luncheon meats to avoid these chemicals.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate): I'm sure you've all heard about Chinese food being filled with MSG, but it can also be found in soups, chips and frozen foods, as well as other restaurant entrees. MSG is bad for your weight as well as your brain, as it can cause both obesity and neurological damage.

Food dyes: Dyes like Red #3 and #40, Yellow #6, and Blue #1 and #2 are linked to behavioral problems as well as cancer. I would avoid any unnatural dyes because they really do nothing for you other than stain your food.

Foods like cereals, bars, meats and many prepackaged goods contain these additives, so look out! It took me a really long time to realize the dangers involved, although my mom and grandma have been on this for year. It's very easy and possible to find foods that don't contain these ingredients, but it just requires an awareness on your part.

Now onto to the good stuff! This is an easy recipe that includes whole grains as well as protein. It's vegetarian, but chicken can be added for those who want extra protein. It can also be made vegan by removing the cheese.

Mexican Inspired Quinoa Salad

1/2 cup quinoa
Black beans
A handful of grape tomatoes
2 green onions
Low-fat cheddar blend

Red peppers
Garlic Powder
Red chili flakes

1. Cook the quinoa ahead of time, in order to let it cool. For more flavor, cook in chicken or vegetable broth instead of water. Let sit or refrigerate to cool the quinoa down.

2. Chop the tomatoes, green onions and cilantro and mix in with the quinoa.

3. Mix in beans and top with cheese and avocado. Squeeze lemon on top and sprinkle on any optional seasonings. Mix in and enjoy!