Although we want to keep processed foods at a minimum, there are certainly times when we’ll be purchasing cereals, breads, peanut butter, and frozen entrees. When purchasing processed foods, however, it’s important to know what’s in that can, box or freezer package. You’d be surprised at how many products which appear to be ‘healthy’ contain negative ingredients. It’s important to keep a watchful eye on what you and your family are consuming – your health depends on it. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Never, ever, ever believe the outside of the box! “Vegan”, “Organic”, “Gluten-Free”, “Natural”, “2 Percent Fat’, “Healthy” and many more assertions are terms manufacturers use to lure you into purchasing their product. Don’t be fooled by savvy packaging.
- Pay attention to the ingredient list. The value of a food is determined by the ingredients, not by the numbers on the nutritional chart. The fortification of foods has caused many unhealthy foods, like sugary cereals, to look healthful, making the examination of the ingredient list the best way to determine the food’s value.
- Check the fat. The fat should be no more than 20%. How do you check the fat? NOT by the nutritional chart. Determine how many calories per serving – let’s say it is 100, next look at the calories from fat; if the “calories from fat” is less than 20%, you’re in good shape. In this example, the calories from fat should be less than 20. A product may have a higher fat content if it contains nuts or seeds, but could still be acceptable if the other ingredients pass the test.
- Avoid oils, especially hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and tropical oils such as palm and coconut; oils are typically found in bread, crackers, cookies, tortilla shells and many other packaged goods.
- Crackers, bread and pasta are not whole grain unless the first ingredient listed says “whole” followed by the type of grain (whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat, etc.). Enriched wheat flour is not a whole grain.
- Check for sugar. If it says high fructose anything – put it back. Any other kind of sweetener should be one of the last things listed. Manufacturers often list 3 or 4 different forms of refined sugar in order to avoid “sugar” being listed as the number one ingredient. There are four (4) grams of sugar in one teaspoon. If your soda pop contains 39 grams of sugar, it contains roughly TEN teaspoons of sugar (39 divided by 4 = roughly 10).
- Avoid artificial sweeteners – especially aspartame. I could devote a whole column to this (and I have in the past). Contact me for a copy of that article.
- Take a look at the amount of sodium in the packaged, boxed and canned foods in your home and you will be surprised. Most cans of commercially produced soup have upwards of 500 – 1000 milligrams – per serving! (And most cans contain two or three servings). An easy rule of thumb to control sodium: Limit the amount of sodium per serving to the number of calories per serving – and of course, the fewer the better. (100 calories? Shoot for 100 or less mg of sodium)
- Don’t buy processed ‘sweets’ or baked goods. There are plenty of wonderfully satisfying foods (and desserts) at your disposal which do not contain processed fats and sugars. If you start bargaining with store-bought treats, you may end up on a slippery slope. Fruit based smoothies, yonana ‘ice cream’, quick rice pudding, chocolate earth balls and many more delicious recipes are available to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Packaged foods contain thousands of additives, preservatives and dyes. The bottom line is to eat as close to nature as possible, and choose products that contain recognizable ingredients, such as food.