How many times do you find yourself walking down the packaged food isle, making decisions based on what the front of the package says?
I remember as a kid, the cereal packaging was the worst! Thinking back I can feel the disappointment in my body, when whatever was supposed to be in the package, wasn't. Most often it was the free toy or whatever that was featured prominently on the front, but in reality it wasn't anything like the picture.
Or, the nice photo of the cereal with fresh fruit and a beautifully laid out table. "Why doesn't my cereal look like that?"
Processed foods have become even more popular for their convenience and portability. Toaster pastries, tubes of yogurt, cans of soda, individually wrapped slices or pieces of cheese are usually heavily processed and contain various additives and chemicals to preserve their shelf life.
Unfortunately, they come at a price.
Processed foods cause a variety of health problems including, gut lining damage, impairment to the mechanisms that protect your DNA. They confuse the immune system causing chronic inammation and auto immune disease. The symptoms range from nausea and headaches to more serious conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.
Now you know why these days I'm more worried about what is in the package, than what isn't! The information on food packaging is often confusing or misleading.
How can you figure it out without holding up traffic in the grocery aisle and spending all day at the store?
FIVE TIPS TO DECODE INGREDIENTS LISTS QUICKLY
1. Focus On The Information On The Back Of The Package
The claims on the front of the food packaging don't always match the facts on the back. For example, the copy on the front can say things you want to hear like, "packed with antioxidants!" or "a great source of protein."
Pay attention to what's on the ingredients list on the back of the packaging. That way you'll see what's actually in your food.
But even then, the ingredients list and nutrition facts can look complicated. So, what do you look for?
2. Look at How Many Ingredients It Has.
Limit packaged food with more than five ingredients.
If you're cooking at home, the more fresh ingredients, the better! But while many dishes cooked at home call for a long list of ingredients, a bit of this spice and a bit of that, or a variety of different oils, a long list of ingredients on a packaged food isn't promising.
Less is best when you purchase pre-made food items. A long list of ingredients is often indicative that a food is highly processed.
3. Can You Pronounce The Ingredients?
If you can't pronounce the ingredient, chances are your body won't recognize it as real food.
Back when I was taking college level organic chemistry, one of our assignments was to diagram the chemical structure of food additives. Honestly, it was pretty scary.
You don't need to go back to school to take chemistry again, just limit foods with ingredients you can't pronounce. These processed chemicals are added to food items mainly to increase the shelf life, change the coloring, or improve or add to the texture or flavor. They don't contribute any added health benefits and often cause harm.
4. Limit Foods Containing Sugar.
Sugar can hide in ingredient labels under words that end in --ose, like glucose, fructose, sucrose. They also hide in syrups, such as corn syrup or brown rice syrup. For more on the effects of sugar and ways to balance your blood sugar click here.
Crowd out sugary foods with these alternatives:
5. Can You Make It At Home?
If you can't make it at home, it's probably not a healthy food. If you can make it at home, consider making it yourself to avoid the artificial flavors, colorings, preservatives, and chemicals that are often added to pre-made foods.
You'll save money and you can often freeze extra, so you'll save time as well! Examples: Hummus, Smoothies, and Muffins
For more information on specific ingredients to avoid and why, read The Keys to Avoiding Processed Foods and What to Eat Instead.
I don't know about you, but the lack of healthy snack foods drive me to purchasing processed foods more often than not. So, I put together ten easy recipes for healthy snacks. Most of them have less than five ingredients and take less than 30 minutes to make.
A few can be made ahead of time, so that you or the others you cook for can have something healthy to grab on the go!
What are your go-to snack foods when you want to eat healthy foods?
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Hi, I’m Crystal!