As the food industry continues to expand, there are more and more food-like products on the grocery store shelves. And because health is currently trending, food companies are making it harder and harder to tell whether a food is actually healthy. Have you ever picked up a food and tried to figure out if it was really as healthy as it seemed to be? Use the tips below to give the food a thorough look before throwing it in your shopping basket.
- It makes a health claim on the package. Most foods that are healthy don’t have to scream they are healthy. Ever been around someone who keeps telling you how good of a person they really are? You probably side-eyed them. Because if you’re good, the actions should follow. It shouldn’t have to be shouted from the rooftops. Same with food. Companies add gluten-free, fat-free, all-natural, “made from REAL ingredients,” etc. on the package because they want you to buy the food. This isn’t to say that’s it’s guaranteed not to be healthy. But I can guarantee that you need to double-check the nutrition facts before purchasing it blindly. Notice how this box of Frosted Flakes says “good source of Vitamin D?” What about all the sugar that comes with it??? #Next
- There is green on the packaging. Ooooh, this is a good one. People know that the color green is associated with health, so companies will put green on the food container even if the food isn’t really that healthy. They know most people don’t read food labels and will buy it based on the package color. Don’t be like most people, and don’t take their word for it. Always read the nutrition label, and don’t make assumptions based off the packaging.
- The package says “veggie” on it. You know, like veggie pasta, veggie chips, veggie drinks. Never grab a food item just because it has veggies added to it. Many times, the veggies are just overly processed powders that add very little nutrient content and are sometimes only used as food coloring. Check the label to ensure the food is at least providing you with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and fiber, which are the main nutrients we get from veggies. Better yet, just eat the real thing.
- It has zero calories. The purpose of food is to provide our bodies with energy. A calorie is a measure of energy. It tells us just how much energy a food will provide. When we eat calories, we should also be consuming nutrients along with those calories. Now, there are foods with very little calories, most of which are vegetables. One cup of spinach? Seven calories. Two celery stalks? Eleven calories. But these are both natural foods that also naturally provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients our bodies need. Zero-calorie drinks and snacks only provide our bodies with artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and preservatives. The research is still out, but most of these ingredients have been linked to cancers, migraines, increased appetites and cravings. Calories are not the enemy. Low food quality is the enemy. Aim to eat foods with high nutrient content
- The sugar content is high. There are tons of food products that seem healthy but belong in this category, like granola bars, sports drinks, yogurts, cereals, fruit juice, etc. Of course, some brands are better than others. But those others?? They know you think of these as health foods, so they pile on the sugar to make them taste good with no concern for your fitness goals. Look on the nutrition label to see how much sugar a food has in it. About every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. The recommendation is for women to have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (24g) and 9 teaspoons for men (36g). Whenever you are purchasing a product in a box, package, or can, check the label for added sugar.
- The fiber content is low. Whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are all naturally good sources of fiber. When a food has been highly processed, or isn’t a real food, it will have very little fiber. Fiber is a nutrient found in plant products. It helps to push food out of our bodies, helps regulate your blood sugar, and reduces cholesterol levels. The result? It lowers your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. It’s recommended to consume at least 25g of fiber for women and 38g for men. A food that is a good source of fiber will have 3g or more.
- The sodium content is high. Sodium is added to food for taste, as well as to preserve it. The worse contenders are canned goods, frozen foods, soups, dried meals, and prepackaged sauces. Quick tip- glance at the nutrition label. If the sodium is 20% or more, that means it’s high. The current recommendation is to consume less than 2300mg of sodium per day. Eating foods as natural as possible will help to reduce your sodium intake.
- Ingredients list. After a food has been highly processed, a lot of its natural flavor is normally stripped away, if it had any to begin with (because some “foods” are created in a lab). This is why food companies then load the foods with “natural” and artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners (sugars and syrups), oils (especially hydrogenated), and salt. It doesn’t take long to spot these on the ingredients list. Check the label to see what’s been added.
Overall, you can’t take any food product at face value. Always keep in mind that most food companies’ primary goal is to make money, so they will do what it takes to persuade you to purchase their product. It’s always up to you to investigate the foods you eat so you can make the best choice for your personal health goals.