Walking down a grocery store aisle, you might think we are the healthiest eaters ever.
“Fat free!”, “Certified by the Heart Association!”, “Proven to lower your cholesterol!”
At least, that’s according to the fronts of the food packets.
In reality, we know it’s different, because we SEE the problems around us. Diabetes. Excess weight. High cholesterol. High blood pressure. Feeling tired all the time.
Clearly there’s a disconnect.
The problem is that in our overstimulated, overwhelmed, stressed out lives, we just read the front of the packages … and want to believe what the marketers tell us.
It’s always funny reading vintage advertising. “Dr. Chase’s miracle pills for curing everything!” Did people really believe that stuff?
But we are still falling for the same tricks … it’s just that marketing today is much more subtle and savvy.
Fortunately, there is a way to find healthy food that avoids label confusion – and once you start doing this, you’ll never read the front of packets again…
What makes a food healthy?
First, let’s take a step back and look at the purpose of healthy food. You want to eat healthy foods to boost your health. To nourish your body. To give you essential nutrients that act as the building blocks of your body. To make you feel good. To give you real, steady energy. To help you cope with the stress that life throws at you. To make your body operate at optimal levels.
So what makes a food healthy?
Well, it depends on who you ask. The thing is, depending on the dietary theory you follow, the list of ‘healthy foods’ will be different! It can get confusing.
So I recommend to my clients that we go back to basics.
We want to eat whole foods. Foods that our great-great grandmother would have recognized. Foods you can pronounce. Foods that look like how they came out of the earth.
What are whole foods?
Whole foods are foods like they are found in nature.
Whole foods include vegetables and fruits. Humanely raised meat and minimally processed dairy products (if you eat those). Whole, unprocessed grains. Naturally occurring fats (vegetable oils, coconut oil, avocado, nuts). Natural sweeteners (honey! maple syrup!).
Eating whole foods is what our body is meant to do!
Processed foods, food additives (colors and flavors), and packaged foods have only existed for a bit more than 50 years. Until then – for thousands of year – humans ate whole foods, because that’s all that was available.
It makes sense that our bodies haven’t yet adapted to eating these processed, packaged ‘food like’ substances (thank you, Michael Pollan!)
In my opinion, the safest and healthiest way to eat – is to eat whole foods as much as possible. That’s how our body is going to take in, and absorb, the maximum amount of nutrients to keep us healthy!
Stop reading the fronts of packets. Do this instead.
In an ideal world, we would buy fresh fruit, veg and meat – and cook everything ourselves. No packets to mislead us with marketing claims!
But I’m a realist. I know that’s not practical for most people … we’re going to buy some packaged, frozen and canned foods for convenience.
So here’s the secret to choosing the healthiest foods possible:
1) Only read the front of the package for fun, or with a very skeptical eye.
2) Flip the package over and find the ingredients list.
3) Read the ingredients, and ask yourself these questions:
- Do I know what this ingredient is? Can I picture the actual ingredient as food? (you can imagine what “wheat flour” looks like, but can you imagine “Tricalcium Phosphate”?)
- Would great-great grandma recognize this ingredient? (“Cheese” she would recognize. But “Enzyme modified cheddar and pasteurized process cheddar” gets a big NO!)
- If you cook – are these the ingredients I would use, if I prepared this dish at home? (“High Fructose Corn Syrup” – extra sugar – is in SO many processed foods, but you’d never add this at home!)
If you’ve never done this before, give it a try on your next grocery shopping trip.
Even seemingly innocent foods can be loaded with unpronounceable ingredients, food additives, extra sugar or artificial sweeteners!
Your turn: do you read ingredient labels? Do you find that eating whole foods makes you feel better? What is the hardest food to find a whole foods alternative for?