I discovered when I decided to change my family’s diet that reading food labels can be especially tricky. Over the course of 9-10 years of consistently healthy eating habits, I’ve discovered some shortcuts that make the transition much more simple.
First and foremost (and you may have heard this before) it’s wise to shop the perimeters of your grocery store. That’s where you’ll find the fruits, veggies, fresh meat, dairy and whole grain breads. My quick forages into the middle of the store are only for items like all-natural applesauce, organic dark chocolate, marinara sauce, whole-grain flour or pasta, and frozen veggies. Alter your shopping “map” and you’ll significantly reduces the process items that end up in your cart.
Then again, we all know life isn’t always simple, and processed foods will inevitably end up on our table at one time or another. For those times, its easier to know what ingredients to AVOID in order to make the healthiest possible choices.
Here are my top three picks for ingredients to avoid in prepackaged foods. When you cut out these additives, you significantly reduce the chemicals in your daily meals.
1) Artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. Natural sugars, although refined, are much more healthy than these chemically altered substances. Try raw, organic sugar crystals, local honey, 100% maple syrup, unsulphured molasses, or brown rice syrup instead. Contrary to popular belief, “diet,” “low-sugar,” or “sugar-free” groceries are usually not the best choice for a healthy lifestyle, and some studies have shown that people who consume artificial sweeteners in large quantities are more likely to be overweight.
2) Sodium nitrite/nitrate, which is in almost all processed meat products. It is a very powerful preservative which has been linked to cancer. Look for natural or kosher alternatives in your deli section. Better yet, cook a few extra whole pieces of fresh, organic meat when you’re preparing meals so you have extra to slice for a yummy sandwich or snack the next day.
3) MSG (monosodium glutamate), a chemical flavor enhancer. This is a tricky one, because many companies are now changing MSG on the label to innocent-sounding words like “yeast extract.” Check the link at the bottom of this page for more names of MSG in processed foods. MSG is even in natural products like flavored or kettle-cooked potato chips.
The best rule of thumb for healthy eating is to choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. The best wrapping is something is its own skin!
Certified Personal Trainer