With all the different types of foods out there and a lot of them trying to fool you into believing they’re healthy, things can get pretty confusing. Whether it be giving something a fruit flavour or a nutrition claim such as “no artificial colours” (when if you look at the ingredients it has about 17 other artificial ingredients) food companies try to make you believe their highly processed food is actually good for you. Now that’s great that there are no artificial colours as that has directly been related to several different types of cancer. However, many of the other artificial preservatives and other toxic ingredients are equally as bad for you. Now I’m not hating on all packaged foods as I am human and convenience is definitely something that I like to rely on sometimes. However, I do feel it’s important eat whole, natural foods and avoid packaged and processed foods more often than not if you want to live a healthy lifestyle and look and feel your best. I’m not saying you can never eat things like Kraft dinner or enjoy a chocolate bar every now and then but you should definitely know what to look for on food labels, especially what to avoid.
Beware of conflicting messaging: Nutrition claims such as “fat free” might seem appealing but this means it’s been highly processed. This often is flavoured with sugar to compensate. Let’s take yogurt for example. Yogurt companies, often marketing children, sadly but often have as much as 26 grams of sugar or even higher in one tiny serving. That’s more than the recommended daily intake for the average person. In my opinion, yogurt with higher fat content is more nutritionally dense and better for you anyway (especially for babies and children who need those fats in their diet) and can easily be flavoured with real fruit, cinnamon or for a sweeter treat a natural sugar source such as honey or maple syrup as opposed to refined sugars.
Sugar: On the topic of sugar, take a look at kids snacks. Many of them are completely loaded with sugar! Have you ever read the ingredients list or nutrition label on kids crackers, cookies, muffins, granola bars.. don’t even get me started on cereal! If you’re wondering how much sugar is in something, read the ingredients list. If it’s one of the first ingredients listed, I would avoid it. The ingredient listed first is the one that is present in the highest amount. Also be on the lookout for these types of sneaky sugars in the ingredients list: corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate etc..
Unhealthy Oils: Other ingredients to avoid that I want to touch on are are unhealthy oils such as palm oil, canola oil, vegetable oils and any hydrogenated oils. These types of saturated fats and trans fats are extremely bad for anybody to consume and are “heart clogging”. Luckily, artificial trans fats have been banned from Canada but there is still a lot of food that still contain trans fats on our shelves, for now. To learn more about this topic, check out this article.
Anything that you can’t pronounce in the ingredients list is likely a preservative or something unnatural you should be avoiding! Be on the lookout for nitrates, BHA, MSG, artificial colours and artificial sweeteners.
For a more complete list of toxic ingredients to avoid, read this article:
Nutrition claims you should try to look for:
Non GMO: this is one of the most important health claims to lookout for. It means it's not genetically modified. Foods that are genetically modified pose many health and environmental risks and should be avoided or limited at the very least.
Very high or good source of: vitamins or minerals such as iron, calcium or fibre.
Free of: trans fats, sodium, preservatives, artificial colours and sweeteners.
Organic - This is particularly important for baby food. Luckily most of it is nowadays and baby food is highly regulated so you don’t have to worry so much about the above mentioned ingredients but do read the back of a label before buying. I would aim for non GMO for baby foods as well.
On the top of organic, have you heard of the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen? It’s a good general guideline for buying organic produce.
All that being said, it’s ok to indulge sometimes if you want to. Enjoy life! But you will notice the less you eat that kind of stuff the more you stop craving it and how gross you feel when you do consume it. Be mindful when choosing packaged foods, especially for children and remember the golden rule, everything in moderation!