My biggest tip to anyone wanting to watch what they eat is to read labels and especially the ingredients list section. Not just the flashy starburst on the front of the package that screams "No Trans Fats" or "No Sugar Added" because many are misleading and actually DO contain trans fats and sugar. Skittles has "A fat free food" written right on their packages! LOL "Well, OK... If it's fat free then it must be healthy." LOL LOL LOL What a joke! LOL And also, not just the nutrition label. Read the INGREDIENTS. That's the only way to really know what's in the food.
So here's my list of the top worst ingredients. If you want to know WHY something is on the list, you'll have to wait for my subsequent blogs going into more nitty-gritty detail!
- Sugar & High Fructose Corn Syrup: These are two of the worst offenders on the market. There are lots of products disguised as sugar too. Raw sugar (the brown packet), brown sugar, sucanat, Florida crystals, and others. Sugar and High Fructose Corn syrup are in everything from cookies, cakes and candies to canned soups, breads and pre-mixed spices.
Sadly, fruit juice concentrate is just as bad because it's a far cry from what the fruit was orignally - stripped of all nutrients. For baking, the most commonly used fruit juice concentrate is white grape juice because once stripped of all acids, vitamins, minerals and grape characteristics, it leaves a totally clear concentrated liquid that has no color or flavor... just sweetness (sucrose, aka sugar water). It's an expensive way to make sugar water. *sigh* But it's worth the extra cost to companies because it can then be falsely marketed as "fruit-juice sweetened", "100% fruit juice" and "no sugar added."
Look for the natural sweeteners like raw honey, pure 100% maple syrup (preferably not extracted with formaldahyde), stevia, Rapadura (composted sugar cane that has been dried and sifted, all vitamins and nutrients in tact), dehydrated cane juice (a runner-up to Rapadura), brown rice sryups or figs and dates.
- Trans Fats: Look out for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list. We all know these are bad, so just avoid them like the plague. They're in everything like cookies, pancake batter, bread crumbs, packaged rice & pasta mixes, ice cream, deli counter salads, hamburger BUNS and frozen dinners. So read INGREDEIENTS. Go through your pantry and you'll be stunned at how many items contain trans fats. Don't trust the nutrition label because the little line that says Trans Fats below Saturated Fats is very misleading. Look at the ingredients list instead.
- MSG: (A.K.A. Hydrolized Protein, monosodium glutamate) Lots of products contain MSG, hidden as other ingredients. Hydrolized Protein is MSG and is found in everything that has a "meat" flavor added. Boullion cubes, frozen meals, canned soups, etc. Sadly, it is also in "other natural ingredients" or "spices" on many labels so there's no way to know if it truely contains MSG. Just use your knowledge of that particular company and keep in mind, the organic version is much LESS likely to "hide" MSG as most smaller organic companies care about what's in their products.
- Artificial sweeteners:(aspartame, saccharin, sucralose) These are most commonly found in diet items, like diet pop, crystal light and is used to sweeten a large number of foods such as sugar-free yogurt, ice cream, chewing gum, toothpaste, fruit preserves/jellies/spreads and pediatric medicines.
- White flour (or even worse, enriched white flour). Just don't buy it. Go for a whole wheat or multi-grain bread, preferably sprouted. Sprouted multi-grain breads and bagels are actually really tastey. This includes hot dog buns, hamburger buns, breads, bagels and english muffins. White flour is used in most cake mixes, cookies and anything you can think of that typically uses flour.
- White rice: All natural brown rice or other natural rices (wild rice, basmati rice, etc - not a pre-mixed box version) is much, much healthier. Buy the rice in bulk or in bags and add your own seasoning. The pre-mixed-spiced versions usually have sugar, msg, trans fats and other nasty ingredients.
- Highly refined oils (canola, olive, soybean, etc - the list goes on). Go for extra virgin, cold pressed versions of all of these oils and buy them in dark glass bottles if possible. Most products don't contain extra virgin, cold pressed oils unless you go to the natural section or a natural food store. Smart Balance seemed like a great idea when it first came out, but look at all of the ingredients! EEEK! And it's made with regular refined oils too. Better to stick with plain unsalted butter - one ingredient *wink*. Organic, of course since dairy is one of the most important items to buy organic.
- Nitrates & nitrites: Found in packaged lunch meats, deli meats sliced for you at the counter, hot dogs, turkey bacon, etc. Ingredients list will say sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. Look for meats that specifically say "Preservative Free." They taste just the same, but they need to be kept in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Nitrates are added to foods as a preservative and once eaten break down into nitrites. Nitrites are added directly to many meats to make them pretty and pink. Most grocery stores carry a cheap brand of deli meat (usually with nitrates and nitrites) and then they carry a premium brand. I know at QFC, Boars Head is preservative free. Safeway's premium brand (Primo something) does contain preservatives so the better alternative is QFC or even better is much healthier lunchmeats from Whole Foods or PCC.
- Unfermented soy: Everything nowadays is made with soy so this is a really, really hard one to avoid. Even the Cliff bars we buy for the girls contains some soy. *sigh* It's actually made out to be a HEALTH FOOD! If at all possible, avoid fresh soybeans, dried soybeans, soy nuts, soy sprouts, soy flour, soy milk, TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein - used in veggie-meat products & bars) and tofu. Look for fermented soy products like soy sauce (naturally brewed kind only), natto, miso, tempeh, fermented tofu or fermented soy milk. Mmmm Miso soup! Just be careful buing the packaged miso soups at the store because some contain tofu chunks and msg.