To those who shop at Trader Joe’s – either instead of or in addition to regular big chain supermarkets – the store has become somewhat of an obsession. With over 450+ stores now open across the U.S., plus an emphasis on unique and creative private label groceries and specialty foods and reasonably priced everyday basics, Trader Joe’s has acquired a cult following.
But while some people adore the store for its gourmet treats – including frozen ethnic entrees and fried foods, seasonal ice cream treats, an excellent frozen cheesecake and all manner of chips, cookies and candies – Trader Joe’s also offers a comprehensive, ever-evolving array of fresh organic meats, seafood and produce and a unique selection of health-conscious groceries.
The company’s written “product information” policy states that their private-label products (anything labeled with the various “Trader” monikers) use no artificial flavors, artificial preservatives or synthetic colors, MSG or trans fats, and are non-GMO. In addition, all Tetra-Pak® cartons and plastic bottles, tubs and containers used in their items are BPA-Free.
So what are the best products available right now at Trader Joe’s for the health-conscious consumer?
Nuts, Nut Butters and Seeds
Trader Joe’s is famous for its enormous selection of bagged nuts, sold in almost every form. Here you can find almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts and more – raw, roasted, salted, unsalted, coated in sugar and spices or mixed into a wide range of trail mixes.
Nuts – notably almonds, pistachios and walnuts – are nutritional powerhouses (especially when raw, unsalted and unflavored); they are heart-healthy and chock-full of healthy fats and protein. I like to use 7 raw almonds in a daily smoothie. A small handful per serving is considered optimum, as nuts are also high in calories.
Trader Joe’s also sells bags of super-food seeds, solo and in intriguing blends. Look for organic chia, flax and hemp seeds (all excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fiber), as well as new mixes, including an unsweetened “Super Seed & Ancient Grain Blend” with sprouted buckwheat and millet, chia, flax, quinoa, hemp and amaranth and a “Super Seed Blend with Cranberry & Coconut Chips,” the same blend with sweetened dried cranberries and coconut. Both are kosher and gluten-free.
Also look for nut butters in jars; I prefer the crunchy almond butter. For a topper, consider a drizzle of 100% New Zealand 10+ Manuka Honey, thought to be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and healing (although its properties are still being studied).
Kosher and Organic Meats and Poultry, Wild-Caught Fish, and Cage-Free Organic Eggs
Protein is king in many health-oriented diets these days. In the refrigerator case, you’ll find fresh organic or kosher chicken and ground turkey, organic meats and wild-caught fish; and in the freezers are vacuum-sealed frozen fish fillets ready to be defrosted and cooked, including Mahi-mahi and wild-caught silver coho salmon.
If you don’t have time to cook, look for cans of skinless, boneless Wild Alaskan Pink Salmon and Wild-Caught Pacific Sockeye Salmon; they are delicious with chopped celery, fresh lemon juice, a bit of mayonnaise and perhaps some curry powder. I like them with an organic baked potato, plain Greek yogurt (“from cows not treated with rBST”) and fresh sliced avocado. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s sells these items too, for one-stop shopping.
If you like egg salad, you can buy fresh Cage-Free Organic Eggs, produced with all-vegetarian feed but without antibiotics; they provide 400mg of Omega 3 per serving (2 eggs).
Gluten-Free Options: Bread, Baking Mixes, Pasta and Rice
If you’re in the mood for gluten-free carbs, there are many options available. If you miss bread, the chain does offer a good selection of gluten-free breads, both private label and brands such as Food 4 Life. You can also find specialty mixes, including Gluten Free Cornbread Mix and a seasonal Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Baking Mix.
While these items are not necessarily a mainstay of a healthy diet (as they tend to be high in simple carbs and sugars), they do work as an occasional treat.
If you like to bake from scratch, you can also buy gluten-free ingredients such as unsweetened coconut flakes and ground almond meal in the nuts and dried fruit section.
If you miss pasta, gluten-free alternatives include sodium-free Organic Brown Rice Penne, made with only organic brown rice and water.
Rice blends are also a good gluten-free choice. I love the fragrant Organic basmati rice from India, in both white and “quick cook” brown versions, and Sprouted Organic California Rice, featuring a mix of brown japonica, long grain aromatic red and California black varieties.
Organic Soups and Broths
A bowl of hot soup can be a delicious, healthy start to a meal (just ask any Grandma). Trader Joe’s offers Tetra-Pak® cartons of Organic Broth to use in any soup recipe (or solo), including low-sodium chicken, vegetable and hearty vegetable. All are fat-free, low-calorie (only 5 to 20 calories per cup!) and gluten-free.
There is also an Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup (100 calories a cup) and a low-sodium Organic Butternut Squash Soup (70 calories a cup) that boasts an amazing 80% of the daily value of Vitamin A, 20% of Vitamin C, and 10% of dietary fiber per 8-ounce serving.
Organic Fruits and Veggies
While I prefer to purchase most produce fresh and un-bagged (from Whole Foods or a local farmer’s market), in a pinch, Trader Joe’s does offer a large variety of fresh, mostly bagged fruits and vegetables, often chopped or shredded, with many organics. Fresh avocados are sold in bags of 4 and are very well priced, as are bags of organic lemons.
You can also find interesting extras in the produce cases, including vacuum-sealed packets of Steamed Lentils imported from France, high in protein and fiber, and ready to use on salads or in recipes, as well as a large selection of tofu and soy products, prepared salads and more.
If you like to make smoothies, look for bags of Organic Berries (strawberries, blueberries, cherries) and berry medleys in the freezer section; most are under $4/bag.
Good Things to Drink
Instead of drinking sugary sodas, I like to check out Trader Joe’s for interesting fresh-pressed juice blends. I recently found Root Juice, a thick blend of beet, carrot, blood orange, sweet potato, plus the distinctly musty flavor of fresh turmeric (a potent anti-inflammatory); a serving provides a whopping 290% of daily Vitamin A (100% as beta-carotene) and 40% of daily Vitamin C.
You can also buy bottles of sparkling spring water at around 80 cents for a 33.8 fluid ounce bottle, plain or with Mandarin orange, lemon, lime and raspberry lime flavors, with 0 calories and 0% sodium.
Fresh Flowers for a Cheerful Spirit
Finally, no visit to Trader Joe’s is complete without picking up a few bunches of fresh-cut flowers, potted plants or orchids, all at great prices. After all, you can eat the healthiest food in the world, but beautiful blossoms can nourish your soul.