Read the ingredients in everything you buy and eat.
Ignorance is not bliss, at least not when it comes to what you’re putting in your mouth.
Awareness is key. There is a connection between checking ingredients and making healthier buying and eating decisions. Reading and learning what is in your food will empower you to make better choices— which in turn will keep you on track towards your health goals. If you ignore what’s in your food you are more likely to make unhealthy food choices. So, start paying attention!
“What is in the ingredient list?” That is the question I ask when somebody asks me if a certain food is “good or bad.” (… and labeling a food as “good” or “bad” is a topic for another day! 🙂 ) On the back of the package, usually in small print, is the list of ingredients and that is where your answer lies. Only most people don’t think to look. (Or are afraid to?) But once you form this habit, you will have a refreshing new sense of control and clarity to replace your old confusion.
Don’t ever believe the marketing hype on the front of the package. That’s what it is– it’s advertising, in hopes of getting you to buy the product without taking the time to read the ingredients. I had someone say to me the other day that the crackers he was eating “said something about being made with olive oil on the front so I know they’re healthy.” Sorry, but not the case! Turn it around and the main ingredient, as in most crackers, is “enriched wheat flour”– a low nutrient, highly refined ingredient to think twice about making a dietary staple. Don’t be fooled by claims like: made with whole grains, low in sugar, cholesterol-free, low-fat, etc. They don’t tell you anything about the quality of the food.
A good general rule is: if a product is making health claims, then it’s probably something to put back. Boxed cereals are notorious for this. Check it out–
It helps to know what kinds of things you want to be eating and passing on, of course. You know more than you think you do. See sugar or high fructose corn syrup at the top of the ingredient list? I’ll guess that those are things you already know are not nutritious and that should tell you that maybe you want to avoid or eat that food in moderation. I’m going to put enriched wheat flour into that category too. That is turning to sugar almost immediately once you chew it up. And if you see partially hydrogenated oils anywhere in the ingredient list, don’t even consider it a good option. Another thing to be on the lookout for are “vegetable” oils like canola, soybean, cottonseed (ICK!!), corn, sunflower, safflower, etc. The extensive manufacturing process (high heat, bleaching, deodorizing) for these oils (which, BTW, aren’t even from vegetables) results in a damaged, rancid, inflammatory product.
Once you start to pay attention you will find that most of the processed foods in your grocery store aisles (ex. sodas, cereals, granola bars, pastas, crackers, salad dressings, frozen meals, chips, cookies, etc) are made up mainly of some combo of one or more of those three ingredients. Aha, no wonder so many people are sick and overweight! These foods are what most Americans rely on for nourishment.
Instead of looking at the situation as there being nothing to eat in your store, head over to the produce department and the meat and seafood counters and stock up on some real food. Better yet, find your local farm or farmers market and go there to shop.
If you’re on a mission to eat a healthy, wholesome, real-food diet then unfortunately most packaged products won’t fit in with your plan. If you want to avoid processed sugars, grains and oils then take a look at the ingredient lists on what you’re eating. You’ll notice that many packaged foods and most fast foods are made of these very things. If you are trying to stay away from artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings, etc then watch out for those as well.
I hear people tell me that it takes them twice as long to shop because they are going up and down the aisles picking up packages and reading them now… this is a big clue that you’re relying on too many processed foods. While checking ingredient lists may seem like it’s going to make grocery shopping an ordeal, in reality it’s going to simplify things for you. Switch to buying mostly things without ingredient lists. You’ll realize you have no reason to go down all those middle aisles in the store except to grab an occasional item there.
We’ve been taught to judge a food by looking at numbers rather than the quality of the food itself: calories, grams of fat, grams of protein, grams of carbohydrates, fiber content, etc. What you really want to know is the source of those calories, fats, proteins, carbs and fiber. Fat from coconut butter is a far cry from fat from soybean oil. Carbohydrates from a sweet potato are not even close to the same thing as carbohydrates from a soda, right? Don’t simply look at the grams of sugars. You want to know where they are coming from. It could be something with nutritive value like a fruit OR it could be something without anything but empty calories like corn syrup.
The best thing you can do is to base your diet around natural foods that don’t have ingredient lists. You want to know what’s in your egg? An egg. You want to know what’s in Kraft Mac and Cheese? Be prepared to read a list of 22 words that make up their “cheese” sauce, most of which you won’t even know what they are. I’d place my bets on that NOT being good for you. And of course it’s really not quite that simple. An egg from a factory farm is not the same as an egg from a free range organic chicken. Grass-fed beef isn’t the same as CAFO beef. Wild salmon and farmed salmon aren’t the same. Just like the health of our bodies is related to what we eat and our lifestyle, the same goes for animals.
To sum up a long-winded message: When you buy foods with ingredient lists, watch out for processed sugars, grains/flours and oils. Look out for artificial sweeteners, colorings and preservatives. Another way to put this is… Buy more things that don’t have ingredient lists– foods that are just what they are. For example, an apple or a shrimp. And go for the best quality versions of those foods that you can.
I hope you’ve noticed it’s Cherry Season! They are ready and waiting for you in all the grocery stores….so delicious and nutritious on their own– but if you’re looking for a fun, decadent, no-bake cherry dessert recipe, check out this post from a few years ago for Black Forest Cake:
PS. Ingredient list for cherries: CHERRIES!