Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Do's & Don'ts of ALDI's Organic Selection

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my apartment snacking on some exotic veggie chips from ALDI's Simply Nature brand. My roommate comes in and I ask her if she has every tried them. She shakes her head no, and I insist she partakes in this heaven of a snack food. After munching on a chip, her eyes light up and she says," These are good! Where did you get them?" I tell her ALDI. A puzzled look comes across her face and she asks, "What is ALDI?" To my dismayed horror, I respond, "You have never been to ALDI?!" 

My roommate is from Hong Kong and she did her undergraduate work at UCLA-Berkeley. Therefore, she has spend the last 5 years in California and is very familiar with grocer's such as Trader Joe's (another favorite of mine) and Whole Foods (the Meca of supermarkets). However, when she said she has never been to ALDI, I immediate go into a rant explaining the grocery store and its array of delicious, healthy options. After hearing my rant, the only thing she wants to know is when we can go!

As a nutrition student, I am very pro-organic, pro-grassfed, and anti-GMO. As a grad student, I am very pro-budget-friendly. Since ALDI has come out with its Simply Nature line, these interest now have a common ground! While I LOVE Whole Foods (and love that my new residence is a mere 10 minutes from one!), my bank account does not share this affinity. ALDI is known for being great for families on a budget, and it has always lived up to that standard for me!

So last night my roommate and I ventured to ALDI for her first time! And boy!, she did not seem disappointed!! Her reaction walking down the aisles was (as most of us nutrition students experience in a grocery store) like a kid in a candy shop! I manned the cart as she scurried away just to scurry back with another handful of goodies! She was amazed by the prices and even more amazed by the selection of healthy foods. Which is what enticed me to write this post.

As more and more companies just aboard the "natural" and "organic" bandwagon, the real meanings behind these words can get lost somewhere between the marketing and their bottom-line. Just because a package says it is "natural" or "organic" 1) doesn't mean it is 100% true and 2) doesn't mean it is healthy. Therefore, I thought I would throw in my two cents on what products from ALDI's Simply Nature brand can give you the best health-bang for your buck! I will also say the ones that may not live up to their health hype.

The Best Simply Nature products:

1. Organic Produce

One of the most common complaints I hear about buying organic fruits and veggies is how expensive they are compared to their conventional counterparts. Which (thanks to conventional farming's government support) is sadly true. Why buy a small container of organic strawberries when you can get the large container of conventional for half the cost?! Which is why when I am at a normal supermarket I usually stick to only buying the dirty dozen organic. However, at ALDI you can have your organic veggies and buy them too! My holy grail produce picks are the bananas, apples, carrots, and spinach. One of my hopes for the future is that they start to carry a wider variety of their organic produce, as right now it can be rather limited.

2. Organic Chicken Broth

Chicken broth is a staple in any chef's pantry! The Simply Nature Organic Free-Range Chicken Stock is a great choice! They have the stock available in regular and reduced sodium varieties. I always stock (pun intended) up on these whenever I go!

3. Organic K-Cups

No, I kid you not!!! The Simply Nature brand now carries organic coffee for Kuerig and single cup brewers!!! I am a huge fan of Newman's Own K-Cups and can not live without a cup of their decadent coffee in the morning (with a splash of So Delicious Vanilla Creamer to top it off). However, when I saw the rival product at ALDI yesterday (a 12 pack for just under $6), I flipped!! An immediate Snapchat to my boyfriend with the text "No freakin' way!" was the result. I can not wait to finish my pack of Newman's so I can try the Simply Nature k-cups! They are also fair-trade (another bonus!).

4. Stonyfield Organic Yogurt

Yes, that is the yogurt in the picture with the baby on it. When my roommate saw it in my cart she asked, "Why are you buying that if it is for babies?" The answer; it's Stonyfield and it's prepackaged so I can quickly grab it for my lunches. I find it cool that ALDI is able to get a brand name like Stonyfield in their store (if you are unfamiliar with Stonyfield and their mission click here). It is important for me to find dairy products that are not only organic, but also have no added hormones (due to my sensitive stomach, dairy is usually a no-no). This brand definitely delivers and I am so excited I found them at ALDI. And apple yogurt sounds interesting, so we'll see how that tastes!

5. Exotic Veggie Chips

OK, these might not be organic or labeled as non-GMO, but they make the list more or less for the price. The competitor brand of these chips found at other supermarkets are $6 and a much smaller bag! This bag is $3! Can't beat that! Keep in mind, a chip is a chip and can not replace the nutrients found in raw veggies, however these are one of my guilty pleasures (although I honestly don't feel that guilty when I eat them). There are worst things out there you could be eating, so a handful of these every now and again won't ruin your health. And they are SO GOOD!!

6. Organic Toasted Oats Cereal

Cheerios are time and again dubbed the super food of the cereal aisle. Yes, it is lower in sugar and may lower your cholesterol, but its GMO infested! Therefore, I love that ALDI took a stab at General Mills with their organic toasted oats cereal. Keep in mind, it does not taste identical to Cheerios. However, throw some blueberries and a packet of stevia in there, and you've got a pretty solid breakfast option.

These are just some of my highlights of the Simply Nature brand. There are a slew of items from this line that deserve to be mentioned and others that I still wish to try. There are also some products I wish they would carry (coconut oil, organic non-dairy creamer). Thus with the good also come the bad. Here are some products from that line that you may want to put back on the shelf.

The Worst Simply Nature Products

1. Simply Nature Energy Bars

I will admit, I buy these from time to time (hey, I'm human). They are set out to rival the Cliff energy bars and just like them (and any other energy or protein bar), the Simply Nature Energy Bars are not the healthiest thing to consume. They are really just a glorified candy bar when looking at its sugar content. It might have some fiber, but if that is your concern then just eat an apple. 

2. Simply Nature Fruit & Nut Bars

These make the do-not list for similar reasons that the energy bars did. Too much sugar. This can be said for most granola bars. Sadly, marketing experts have led us to believe that granola bars are a healthy snack option. But unless you're really going out for a day long hiking trip and need fill your body with immediate sugar, your much better eating a handful of real fruits and nuts.

3. Simply Nature Fruit Snacks

Thus the theme of this section continues. Too much sugar! Essentially that is all fruit snacks of any variety are, and they do not replace the vitamins and minerals kids need from real, actual fruit. Once again, opt for whole food instead of these processed snacks. 

These are, once again, just some items I wanted to feature as the "beware" products of the line. I don't like marking things as "bad," because really it is all about balance. If you really like the fruit and nut bars, then sure, have one every once in a while! Just don't make it your breakfast every morning, because really they won't be helping you much in terms of nutrition.

I also really like that ALDI has come out with the LiveGFree brand and I have dabbled a bit with those products. I am not too sensitive to gluten(UPDATE: Turns out, I do! Read more here.), my boyfriend, however, is. So I like to experiment for his sake, and to be knowledgeable of the products in the off-chance I come across someone newly diagnosed with Celiac. Also, I'm not ganna lie, their LiveGFree Brownie Chocolate Chip Cookies are TO DIE for!! Another (legit) guilty pleasure! :)

Do you like shopping ALDI's Simple Nature brand? If so, what would be your do's and don'ts? Comment below!!


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