Choosing healthy foods is a tough task.
Sure we know that we should be eating more veggies, drinking more water and eating lean meats like chicken, turkey and fish. But what about all those foods with labels that tell us they are healthy? With a plethora of health marketing labels like low fat, high fiber, dairy free, sugar free, organic, GMO free and all natural, it can get confusing to figure out if something is really good for us or if the companies are just trying to sell us the product.
I’ve come up with a few rules to consider whenever buying healthy foods to keep you on the nutritional straight and narrow.
Sugar filler: A general rule, whenever a food company highlights that their brand is low in one thing, it’s probably high in another thing. Many foods that are sold as low fat, low salt or low cholesterol also end up being low flavor. Food companies substitute that flavor loss by increasing the grams of sugar in each serving.
Some of the biggest culprits are granola bars and juices. Granola or oats can be healthy, but many of the granola bars we find packaged in the grocery stores have been processed and pumped with as much as a day’s worth of sugar per serving. Check out the nutrition facts on the back of the label to make sure your granola bar has nine or less grams of sugar and does not have high fructose corn syrup. If you’re up for it, be brave and take a Sunday afternoon to make your own granola. You’ll learn how easy it is to make and you’ll know exactly what’s in your food.
When it comes to juice, even when it’s 100 percent all natural, it’s basically liquid diabetes in a bottle. Fruit juice without the fiber that comes with the fruit is pretty deadly. The fiber that goes along with the fruit helps to keep the blood sugar down, but when you’re drinking straight juice, your body takes in way too much sugar.
Also know that all natural only means that the food does not contain artificial colors, flavors or synthetic substances. It doesn’t mean that it’s organic, unprocessed or even good for you. If you’re a juice consumer, check out the juice percentages on the bottle. Many juices contain less than 10 percent actual juice and the rest is filled with sugar and additives. If you’re craving juice, just eat a piece of fruit.
Got milk?: I feel like every week I hear of more and more people who are going dairy free. Now don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of limiting your cow’s milk intake for a whole host of reasons (which I have written an entire previous article on), but I do think we have to investigate all the nutrition facts of the popular diary alternatives.
The most popular alternative to dairy is soy milk, which packs in more protein than cow’s milk, but studies have associated soy milk and soy consumption with elevated estrogen levels and thus a higher risk of breast cancer in women. In a few cases a high soy diet in men has been linked with gynecomastia or the formation of man breasts. That’s always been enough for me to say, “Bye soy!”
The newest on the scene of mainstream dairy alternatives is almond milk. At first glance, almond milk is perfect: it’s high is omega 6’s, rich in antioxidants, low calorie and tastes good. The biggest issue to watch out for with almond milk is what food manufacturers are adding to it. Most almond milk brand’s original flavors contain seven-10 grams of sugar per serving and the vanilla or chocolate flavors contain 16-20 grams of sugar.
When selecting almond milk, choose the unsweetened milk option with zero grams of sugar. There’s also a thickening additive called carrageenan, which has been loosely linked to ulceration and inflammation in the digestive tract. Though the Food and Drug Administration differentiates that there are two different types of carrageenan and that only the safe kind is allowed in food, some nutritionists recommend staying away from almond milk with this additive entirely. You should make sure your dairy alternatives are GMO-free and low in sugar.
Thoroughly examine the nutrition facts on foods before purchasing anything that catches your eye. Remember — food manufacturers are out to make money, not to make you healthy. The best foods don’t come with labels.