Like each year, January is the month when we set our health goals for the year and are determined to follow through until...life's gets busy again! End of January is typically the time when your resolutions are being tested and how the rest of the year goes depends on what choices you make now. To help you with just one aspect of this year's resolution, that is, eating healthy, here is a checklist of 5 things to avoid when we must rely on processed and packaged foods, especially for snacks.
As a reminder, healthiest options such as fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds for snacks should be at the top of the list and processed & packaged foods should be used occasionally when hosting an event, travelling or just needing a change in taste. If you have children, you know the need to have a huge stack of snacks available at short notice for those sudden hunger pangs, last minute play dates or times when fruit just won't satisfy those tiny taste buds!
The golden rule when choosing packaged foods is of course: Read the Ingredients! Not just how many calories, fats or sugar is in each serving size. Know what exactly you are eating. To make this process quick and efficient (and less confusing) here are the 5 main ingredients/ingredient categories that should watch out for and avoid when choosing your packaged snacks:
Artificial colors and flavors
Multiple studies have confirmed the negative effects of artificial food coloring and revealed a link between the chronic consumption of these with conditions such as ADHD, dermatitis and other neurological and inflammatory conditions. Yet, since these additives are currently FDA approved and they continue to be present in snacks.
High-fructose corn syrup (HCFS)/Corn syrup
The strong link between the consumption of foods with HFCS and obesity, insulin resistance and high triglyceride levels has now been very well established (Review in 2018). The risk is higher when its consumption is on a regular basis. A note of caution here: whether the syrup is derived from organic, non-GMO corn or conventionally grown corn, it still has the same negative effect.
Chemical preservatives or stabilizers
These are added to many packaged foods to increase shelf-life and enhance the taste of the food product.They possess zero nutritional value! Often with some reading you will be able to tell chemical yet benign ingredients, for example, baking soda (listed as sodium bicarbonate) from other risky chemicals such as added sulfites, nitrates and nitrites.These have been linked to many types of gastric and colorectal cancers, though some studies question the direct correlation. Monosodium glutamate or more commonly known as MSG or Ajinomoto has been commonly associated with triggering headaches and migraines, and it’s full impact on the gastrointestinal and neurological systems is yet to be understood.
Artificial sweeteners/low glycemic sweeteners
Aspartame was under scrutiny for a long time due to its potential carcinogenic effects. Though many food companies and large studies claimed that there was 'no direct link’ with consumption of aspartame and specific types of cancer, many major food industry giants have recently decided against it’s use. In many patients it has the ability to trigger headaches & migraines.
Other low glycemic sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol can trigger gastrointestinal side effects such as severs bloating, gas and abdominal pain in some patients with IBS or SIBO
Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats
These are more commonly known as Trans Fats and have adequate research to support their ill-effects on cardiovascular health. Since the 1990s, Denmark and Netherlands have reduced the amount of trans fats in processed foods, including popular foods such as french fries and other European countries are following this trend. In the US, starting in 2006, only foods containing 0.5g or less could be labelled as ‘"Not a significant source of trans fat".
This list not an an exhaustive list of ingredients or ingredient groups that you need to avoid, but a list with the important ones to get you started. When faced with nutritional challenges and dietary limitations such as being gluten or dairy free, it is even more crucial that the processed and packaged foods that you rely on, be free of unnecessary and harmful ingredients.
By consistently reading labels, eventually you will be able to narrow down your choices to a few favorite brands that you can trust. One of my favorite brands is #EnjoyLife- check it out here!
More questions? Please feel free to call our office and set up your Free Consultation. Until next time!