It’s hard to avoid packaged food these days. Especially for those of us with kids, packaged food can provide quite the appeal whether it’s because there’s a goofy cartoon on the front or it has a label that promises us everything from “no sugar added” to “all natural ingredients.” For the consumer looking for healthier choices, it can be tricky trying to sort out which products are best. Fortunately, armed with a little knowledge, you can learn how to navigate the grocery store and pick out healthy food for you and your family.
The first thing to do is look at the ingredients. You’ll never see me concerned over calorie or fat content, the ingredient list tells me all I need to know. The order of ingredients on the list is based on the order of how prevalent they are in the food, with the most prevalent first. What you want to see is good healthy ingredients such as whole grains or vegetables on top. I also like to see as few ingredients as possible. There just doesn’t need to be many ingredients in a loaf of bread. More ingredients usually mean lots of added preservatives, flavors and other yucky stuff. The final thing I look for are ingredients I can pronounce. If I can’t, there’s a good chance it’s not good for me.
There are a couple of items on the ingredient list I do like to look at more closely. The first is sugar. Of course, you want as little sugar as possible in your food, but you also want to know what kind of sugar it is. Some sugars such as maple syrup or honey are better for you and are preferred sweeteners over sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. The second thing I look for is fiber. I want to see at least 5 grams per serving because high-fiber foods are better for digestion and overall health.
Before we even see the ingredient list, most packages like to include labels with health claims to draw consumers in. I’m always suspicious of these labels and have learned to read between the lines. My favorite is “all natural.” That makes the product sound nice and wholesome, but in reality there are many items from nature we don’t want in our food. How about a wood chip sandwich or rock soup? I’m joking of course, but anything derived from wood or rock would be considered natural. It’s a highly unregulated term and I stay away from products with this on the label.
In fact, most health claims on packaging should cause us to read their ingredient label very closely. I’m even cautious with the claim “organic.” Of course, it’s a regulated term and the ingredients it claims are organic must be. My concern with this label is that we tend to equate organic with healthy and that’s not always the case. Organic products can be high in sugar and salt, items we should ingest in moderation only. Organic chips are still chips and eating a whole bag probably isn’t a good idea.
These guidelines may sound a bit intimidating but they really aren’t, I promise! With a little practice you too can become a savvy label reader and will be picking out the better choices at the grocery store in no time.
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