Ideally, your focus should be on whole, fresh vegetables and fruits. Foods grown on a plant, not made in one (there are exceptions).
However many healthy options do come canned, frozen, or packaged. It's just very wise to understand and read the nutrition label before purchasing. There are lots of apps out there than can help you break down a nutrition label so you can quickly find out if something is good or bad for you. Two of my favorites are Fooducate and Restaurant Nutrition for when you're eating out.
Whether you are shopping at the market or cleaning out your pantry, start by reading the ingredient list.
- - Ingredients are listed in terms of proportion. The first ingredient listed is the primary and most abundant ingredient. The rest of the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The top three ingredients are mostly what you are eating.
- - Look for labels with five or less ingredients. If it has more than five, put it back or toss it (there are exceptions to this as well).
- - If a label starts with sugar, salt or something unhealthy, put it back or toss it.
- - Look for labels that you can understand what the ingredients actually are. Ingredients that your grandmother would recognize, not something from a chemistry class. There are lots of health foods/superfoods with strange names, these do not count ;-)
The Big, Bad Ingredients to Eliminate
- - Partially hydrogenated oils or hydrogenated oils – the damaging trans fats. Don’t believe the label if it says zero grams. Read the ingredient label. Manufacturers are allowed to round down if there is a half-gram or less, so there still might be trans fats. Zero in our diet is the goal.
- - High Fructose Corn Syrup. Always the warning for low quality, processed foods and a toxic, deadly sweetener.
- - Added Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a chemical flavor enhancer. Look for anything hydrolyzed, autolyzed, yeast extract, glutamic acid, soy protein isolate and many more. It’a another hidden threat to our health. See the link below for a site that provides a great list.
- - Watch the sugar. Understand that 4 grams = 1 teaspoon. Sugar goes by many names such as organic cane juice, honey, agave syrup, molasses, sucrose, brown rice syrup, corn syrup solids, to name a few.
- - Carrageenan. An unnecessary “natural” food additive made from seaweed that adds texture to foods. (so many foods I buy even some brands of store bought almond milk have this in it and ice creams! I'm trying to make this change too!!)
- - Hidden sugars. Anything that ends in “ose” such as maltose, dextrose, or sucrose.
- - Artificial colors and flavors. Toss the fake stuff.
- - Artificial sweeteners. Toss things with Splenda, Aspartame, sucralose, and most sugar alcohols that end in “ol”. For some, they cause problems with digestion, may increase hunger, and slow your metabolism.
- - “Natural” flavorings. They are anything but natural.
- - Nitrites and nitrates, often found in cured meats like deli meats, hot dogs, sausages, bacon and linked to cancer.
- - Reading nutrition labels can be confusing, but there is information there you should be aware of.
- - Is the serving size realistic? Often not.
- -Products that are organic are required by law to have the "USDA Organic" label on it. "All natural", "made with real fruit", mean nothing.
- "Fat Free" and "Sugar Free" labels should mostly put up a red flag. Because they are fat and sugar free, meaning all the flavor is taken out, it's gotta be replaced with something. And most of the time it's some yucky chemical concoction of fake flavors and chemical sugars.
- - Be wary of sugar content. Four grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Even super yummy and clean juices have loads of sugar. It doesn't mean you can't have them, I just advise to have them in moderation and maybe only consume 1/2 the bottle, etc.
- - Be wary of high sodium levels, a flag for highly processed foods. Guidelines say most of us should get no more than 2300 milligrams per day, and for many on a sodium restricted diet, it could be 1500 milligrams or less.
- - Labeling for allergy or sensitivity-inducing ingredients is often hidden. Look for ingredients such as eggs, dairy, soy, gluten, peanuts, tree nuts just to name a few. Labeling for hidden gluten is whole other post by itself.
- - Beware of health food claims and healthy names on front labels. Marketers try to convince us that their products are healthy to get us to buy when they may not be healthy at all. That marketing spin may be hiding some unhealthy truth. If a can or package has a health claim, put it back (or read hard).
- "No sugar added" If you’re concerned about calories and carbs (maybe because you have diabetes or are trying to prevent it), you may toss no sugar added products in your grocery cart.
But foods, including fruit, milk, cereals, and vegetables naturally contain sugar. So although these products may not have added sugar they still may contain natural sugars. And no sugar added products still may contain added ingredients like maltodextrin, a carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates—which can be simple sugars or more complex starches—raise blood sugar, and no sugar added doesn’t mean a product is calorie- or carbohydrate-free.
- - Unfamiliar ingredients? Look them up at Chemical Cuisine or type them into your search engine. They have a app as well for your smart phone.
- - When choosing canned foods, look for BPA-free cans. BPA is a synthetic estrogen and industrial chemical that leaches into food and drink from food cans and polycarbonate plastics. BPA disrupts our hormone levels and balance.
If you have any questions or would like more help with your nutrition, I'd be more than happy to help guide you and share with you what has worked for me! Please don't hesitate to reach out!