Process Foods vs Fresh Foods: Can you really trust packaged products?

Health Foods: Can you really trust any products in the center aisles of your market these days?

My stock standard answer to all packaged foods is to avoid it all together! Stick to the outside aisles, fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, and dairy products and forget the stuff in between.

grocery store
Entrance

But what about the packaged health foods you may ask? These so called health foods often are no better than a candy bar or soft drink.

In saying that, unfortunately, life gets in the way and we do not always have time to prepare healthy delicious meals or snacks. A trip into the middle aisles is inevitable.

Navigating your way through all the different brands and labels and misinformation you may as well be a colorblind person in a paint store. This is where this article Process foods vs. Fresh foods comes in.

Navigating The Forbidden Aisles

I will help you clear the murky waters that are modern-day marketing and somewhat poor food labeling regulations.

There has been a definite societal shift towards a healthier way of eating and avoidance processed foods. You know the ones in the colorful boxes and cans loaded with artificial flavours, trans fats, salt, and high amounts of sugars.

Healthy Buzzwords

Processed food brands have tapped into our desire to eat a healthier diet and now emblazon their products with buzzwords, influencing shoppers to believe the product is a healthy option.

For example:  “Free from artificial colours,” “high in protein,” “natural colours and flavours” “sugar free” or “fat free.” All the buzz-words we’ve come to associate with healthy eating.

In a majority of the time, this is all fluff. The particular product is not genuinely helping us to be healthier. This adds to the confusion.

Furthermore, depending on where you’re from, the regulations controlling what a particular brand can advertise is particularly lax and as a result, does not protect the general public from misleading false claims. False Labelling Hides The Truth About Superfoods.

Not only is the label misleading, but marketing ploys are also used on all packaged foods to grab your attention and make you believe they are a healthy alternative.

Studies have shown products with green packaging give the impression the particular product is a healthy choice. Good quality packaging and seals create the same effect.

Green Coca-Cola Life bottle

In addition use of ticks give the impression it has passed some sort of regulatory body or approved as a healthy alternative. Most often this is a tick they have awarded themselves.

Tricks,Tricks,Tricks…More Marketing Tricks

Another handy trick is advertising a product as a health product in conjunction with a healthy balanced diet. This obscures the fact that the actual product is unhealthy.

Unfinished sentences are also used. For example, by stating the product has 25% less fat, they do not clarify 25% less than what. So the product may still be over the recommended daily intake but gives the impression it is low in fat. I suggest always have a closer look to identify if it is in fact over the RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake).

Most importantly are the products that make the claim they are 99% free of something (for example sugar). In order to remove a substance from a product a different substance has to be added, often making it worse than the original product.

There are NO regulations on using words such as “Healthy” “Wholesome” “Natural” making the impression they’re a healthy option but may, in fact, be the same if not worse than an ordinary counterpart.

Checklist for Navigating the Aisle

We cannot avoid packaged foods altogether. Here is a checklist of what to look for when trying to navigate the confusing and often misleading food labels.

1. Check the serving size

You may pick up muesli in a single package and it is easy to assume this is one serving. However, often there are actually 2 servings within the packaging. So not only may you be having an indulgence but also consuming double the recommended daily intake.

2. Choose your carbohydrates wisely. Avoid added sugars.

Often demonised in the media, but in truth, carbohydrates are abundant in whole foods. They are a very important source of energy.

The key is to consume complex carbohydrates. Natural carbs found in fibrous foods like fruits & vegetables, rather than simple carbohydrates like refined sugar.

The presence of fiber in complex carbs causes your body to break down food more slowly compared to refined sugars, thus preventing sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.

Food labels are not required to list recommended daily amounts for sugar. Instead, sugar is listed in grams. To understand better try converting grams to teaspoons by dividing by 4. For instance, 12 grams equals 3 teaspoons.

Pro tip: simplify things choose complex carbs, and keep added sugars to a minimum.

3. Fibre

Get some fibre in you. Fibre is an important addition that takes time for your body to digest and is helpful in preventing those sugar spikes which ultimately lead to a sugar low. Fibre is an asset in proper bowel movement too.

4. Sugar that’s good for you?

All foods are going to contain some amount of sugar, so make sure its sugar with some nutritional benefits! Good examples include:

Brown rice sweeteners
Honey
Molasses

They are still forms of sugar, so still, keep them to a minimum.

5. Look out for the hidden sugars

Sugar can come in the form of dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, sucrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, beet sugar, corn sugar, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, isomalt, maltodextrins, maple sugar, sorghum or turbinado sugar. You might even find more than one listed. These are all just variations on high-calorie, low-nutrient, SUGAR.

To be noted is sugar alcohols there are many different types, a few of the most common include: sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol. commonly found in food labeled with “0 grams of sugar. Which is true due to sugar alcohols not being completely absorbed by the body, resulting in less impact on your blood sugar. This may sound like a good thing but has side effects, including intestinal discomfort, bloating and gas.

Pro tip: if you are going to treat yourself to a sweet. Stick to the natural sugars.

6. Stick to a short ingredient list

One way to make things easier for you make sure the ingredient list is short. Thus making it less confusing and reduces the risk of the product containing unrecognisable ingredients.

Its commonly accepted by health experts if the ingredient list is longer than 5 items it is going to contain unnecessary substances.

Pro tip: if you can’t pronounce it or don’t recognise it put it back.

7. Avoid The Bad Fats

Against popular belief, fats are good for you. They are an essential part of a healthy diet. There are many different types of fats, some better than others.

To summarise we want to promote HDL (high-density lipids (fat)) over LDL (low-density lipids). Therefore avoid low-density trans fats.

Pro tip: an easy way to avoid trans fats is to avoid hydrogenated oils, often found in baked goods kept on shelves in the middle isles.

8. Make sure the sodium levels are low

The recommended maximum daily intake of sodium is 2,300 mg per day (about one teaspoon), or 1500 mg per day if you’re over 40 or have hypertension.

Hopefully, this list has informed you enough to understand the different ploys used by modern marketing and will help you avoid those hidden nasties found in packaged foods.

Remember the middle grocery aisles can be a very confusing place so try to keep your diet healthy. Strive to consume mainly category 1-2 foods.

Natural produce is always the best and comes in its very own packaging usually located in the outer aisles of your market.

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