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Friday, October 31, 2014

There is a place on Earth where baseballs caps, burkas, turbans, kippahs, sombreros, bald heads, hair extensions, and Madison-Avenue highlighted manes all get along peacefully. The UN should go to Costco to take notes on how to make it happen, as everyone happily belongs to The Club! 

You walk into The Wearhouse and happiness, possibility, and excitement hit you like fresh wind. There's no hatred, no differences, we all turn into equal beings breathing the promise of realizing the American Dream. We grab an enormous cart and the magic starts: in goes a gigantic flat screen TV, 1000 rolls of cotton-soft toilet paper, a never-ending supply of soap, a 6 ft Teddy bear, cereal boxes the size of apartments, enough coffee to keep us awake for the rest of our living nights, and/or whatever else our insatiable heart desire--always at a fraction of the price of any other store and at massive portions/sizes. Plus, even less if you brought in your coupons and/or if you have a special membership that gives you money back. How's that for unifying happiness and cross-cultural peace? 

With so much merchandise and cheap prices it's easy to get lost in our personal Costco shopping experience. Impulse buys are hard to avoid... As a health coach, I think the most concerning temptations Costco offers are the excessive amount of hyper processed, artificially flavored and colored, sugar, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt ladened "foods" that come in XXXXL brightly colored packages and that cost $0.15. But this is not to say that Costco only sells the wrong stuff. Within the last couple of years, they've also realized that the health food revolution is undeniable (and quite profiting) and they've added some great products, which are the ones I'd like to focus on in this post.

So here we go (I apologize in advance for the horrible photography, but it's hard to push an overflowing cart, chase two children who think free food samples are the best thing in the world--part of the whole Costco experience--  add the needed items, resist my impulses, read all labels, while taking pics. Something had to give, and sadly, the quality of the photos were it...).

The following are my Costco musts:

I'm a huge fan of organic frozen produce. It's quickly frozen at the peak of the season, so most nutrients are retained, and you can keep it in your freezer for a long time, being ready and easy to use. I love having these organic frozen berries around for smoothies, sauces, dessert and my berry chia bars.  My kids and their friends love when I place the frozen berries directly into drinking water instead of ice. They flavor the water a bit, as they chill it. Yes, they are imported from South America, where the organic laws might (or might not) be as strictly followed as in here, but I think that overall, these berries, are a great product at a great price, and awesome value, as berries are really high in antioxidants, vitamins (especially C) are low in sugar, and a minimally processed fruits (that come WAY cheaper than getting out-of-season in fresh form during fall and winter), and are a great addition to the plant-derived rainbow we should all be eating every day.

I was more than hyped when I saw this brand at Costco. I've been loving their lentils for a while. They cook in under 5 minutes, and by being sprouted, they have more nutrients available to our bodies. The initial problem with them was that they are kind of pricey in other stores, but by getting the huge bag at Costco, the issue has been solved! I like them in salads, soups, made into patties, tacos, or just drizzled with a bit of walnut oil and sprinkled with Himalayan salt and nutritional yeast. My children love them, and they totally beat mac 'n cheese in termos of time and nutrition! Their quinoa is also very good, and I like keeping it around to use in salads, side dishes, desserts and I even use cooked quinoa in recipes that call for bread crumbs as a binder (like in meatballs, patties, etc). I cook 1 batch and I use a many bits during the week.

When I first started baking with coconut oil, the price was prohibitive and the quality was very inconsistent. Some coconut oil can have a soapy flavor. That's why I was hesitant to buy Costco's at first. But once I tried it, never looked back! I always have it around for baking, roasting, sautéing and even for my skin as a moisturizer, eye makeup remover, and for applying essential oils.

This oil only is worth the trip to The Club, yes, despite the lines and all!!! Avocado oil, as I've written before, is one of the best oils to cook with, as it can withstand high temps and has basically no flavor. It's quite expensive in most health food stores and not super easy to find. Costco's is a great value.

Given the quick turnover in Costco, you can usually get really fresh produce in there at more than reasonable prices (take note Gristides!!!). I've been pleasantly surprised to find organic fruits here and there, although the great majority are not. If you are concerned about not consuming GMOs, always remember to check out the PLU (the number in the annoying little sticker your produce always comes with, right next to the bar code). If the number has 4 digits and starts with 3 or 4, the product was grown conventionally (non organic, but it's not GMO); if the PLU has 5 digits and starts with a 9, it was grown ORGANICALLY, but if it starts with an 8, it's a GMO (genetically modified organism). Also, if you'd like to know what products are worth to purchase organic, you can always look at the EWG's Dirty Dozen Plus (TM) list here or you can download their great app (EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce).

Pre-portioned, kosher certified wild Alaskan salmon. I love having this in my freezer. No comparison to the prices elsewhere. Great quality for this incredible source of omega 3s and excellent quality protein. Other wild frozen fish are also great offerings.

Many lox or smoked salmon brands are made with farmed salmon and have a bunch of additives in them, even artificial food coloring. This one is made with just the wild Alaskan salmon, salt, brown sugar, and natural wood smoke, kind of the old fashioned ingredients. I love having it around as a great source of quick protein and omega 3s, especially for breakfast or lunch. However, it's important to mention that the suggested weekly consumption of fish is 2/week (sometimes I do 3 times or in rare occasions, even 4, but try to keep it at 2). This is important to keep in mind, as fish is definitely very healthy and we should eat it, but fish every day, given the pollution of our oceans, is not a great idea...

If you know me, you know what a big fan I am of chia seeds and how I use them in everything: from salad dressings, to desserts, puddings, overnight jams, in yogurt, breads, and a whole encyclopedia worth of recipes. They are a great source of Omega 3s, fiber, antioxidants, minerals and protein. Costco's are great and again, awesome price!

Awesomely, they just added the organic certification to their pure maple syrup, which trust me (I've looked EVERYWHERE), is the best priced one I've seen. It has a nice flavor, and is the real thing! Beware of pancake syrup, which is basically colored high fructose corn syrup. Real maple syrup is an investment, but you get what you pay for, and a little goes a long way.

I'd love if they were organic, but I'm happy their raw nuts (please note I'm not talking about their roasted nuts, which might have some undesirable oil additions) are just that: nuts. Again, their value is great. Just remember to store nuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity and nuts are more digestible and their nutrients more available when soaked in water overnight, then rinsed and drained. If you don't like the softened effect this gives the nuts, just dry them back in the oven at 200 F for about 15 minutes. I like their almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.

Beware because a lot of their dried fruit is sweetened, but their organic dates and figs are great for cooking and baking and are unsweetened. Read the labels!

From all the processed snacks and bars out there, KIND bars are my favorite, as they are made of recognizable ingredients, have versions with 5g or less of sugar, and are nicely portioned, tasty and satisfying. Again, best value at Costco, although unfortunately, they don't carry my favorite flavor: dark chocolate chili almond.

This is not a food, but a great tool to prepare food. A power blender allows you to do amazing preparations such as smoothies, soups, sauces, desserts, and purees quickly and easily, while clean up isn't that bad! They are a great tool to have. Costco often offers Vitamix, which is The Blender, but which comes at The Price. If you are looking for a great blender for less, Costco often sells the Ninja, which is the one I happily own. For either product, Costco has great prices, although unfortunately, you might not always find these products in the stores.

Pretty please, if you are a Costco connoisseur and have any tips or favorite products, I'd love if you added your tokens of wisdom to the comment section. I'm sure all my readers (and by that I mean me, and 3 more people) would love learn more. Don't be shy!

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