If you're confused by all the long words that you can't pronounce on labels of products in grocery stores then this blog post is for you! I hope to help you become more informed about what some of those long words mean and why you need to avoid those ingredients. Ready to get started? Great!
If you can't pronounce it, don't know what it is--then don't eat it. Instead, focus on eating foods that DON'T have a label--the ones God created--and it becomes infinitely easier to discern what's healthy and what's NOT! However, I will show you WHY you want to avoid several of the most common problem additives found in some products today.
First of all, the "foods" that come in boxes and many other types of packages are heavily marketed to us with eye catching designs and colors along with wording to pull us into an emotional purchase. Usually, they are making exaggerated claims. The companies that make these products are very clever.
The next thing to know is that whatever is listed first on the ingredients is the most abundant in the product you are checking out in the grocery store. They are listed in descending order by weight. There are actually some ingredients that are exempt from labels, so it may be that not every component of that product is even on the label. Foods in very small packages, those prepared in the store and made by small manufacturers don't have to list all ingredients, if any.
Always investigate anything unfamiliar to you before purchasing; Get out that smart phone and Google it!
Other ingredients can sound good, like "live active cultures added" but if they are in a small amount, they don't offer any real benefit. Ask yourself: "Would my grandmother or great-grandmother have had access to this and served it?" If the answer is "No", then put it back and walk away!
Look at the nutrition label to see what you'd actually be getting from this product if you purchased it and consumed it. You will find that almost all pre-packaged, processed, convenience foods don't offer the nutrition that whole, organic foods do. Your body needs the nutrients in the foods that God created.
Is the product high in sugar? Is it high in processed sodium? Are there long chemical sounding names that are unfamiliar to me? These are red flags that this product is not going to be good for your physical health and maybe not your mental health either. Too much sugar can cause blood sugar to rise dramatically, the body has to produce more insulin to deal with the sharp increase in sugar and this leads to weight gain. The sodium used in processed foods is heaving processed as well and is not the kind the body needs.
On the other side, how about fiber? The body needs fiber. It's good for the digestive system. Does the product have a good amount and what is the source of it? Choosing whole, plant based foods often, as part of a healthy diet, will offer more nutrients plus fiber. We also need healthy carbohydrates! They are not the enemy. A can of black beans offers more nutrition than a can of coke but has about the same amount of carbs. I think we can agree that, nutritionally speaking, they are vastly different.
How about healthy fats; Are they a part of this product? Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and many others are actually good for us and needed for brain, joint and cardiovascular health. Most processed foods will use vegetable or canola oil. These are not good for us. Make sure you're going to be getting more mono-unsaturated fats and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. These might not always be listed on the label either, which is another reason why eating whole, organic foods are best.
Let's also touch on the subject of cholesterol as well. Your liver actually makes more cholesterol in an HOUR than you can ever eat in one day. The body will produce more of this from eating sugar than from eating fat. There is actually very little correlation between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol which gives you little reason to worry about this on food labels. Again if your diet consists mainly of those natural foods that God created, you have fewer worries about your nutrition and physical health status. We actually need cholesterol in our blood to build the structure of cell membranes, make hormones, produce bile acids (which helps our body digest fats and absorb important nutrients) and helps our metabolism work efficiently. Your brain needs cholesterol and low levels have been associated with an increased risk of depression and even death. The brain has about 25% of the body's cholesterol and most of it is in the myelin sheaths that surround the axons of nerve cells protecting the cells and facilitating the speedy transmission of the electrical impulses that govern thought, movement and sensation. The levels of cholesterol in the brain are much more stable than in other parts of the body as it produces its own cholesterol.
Now, lets look at what to avoid and why. First up is High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS. It's linked to triggering body wide inflammation and obesity, contains contaminants like mercury that are not regulated or measured in any way. High Fructose Corn Syrup absorbs more rapidly than sugar and because it doesn't stimulate insulin or leptin production it prevents the body from having it's signals triggered that tell you that you are full--so, you can end up overeating very easily. Despite marketing ploys, it is NOT just like sugar. It is much cheaper to produce which is why it's found in nutritionally bankrupt foods.
Hydrogenated Soybean Oil- This stuff suppresses the function of the thyroid and slows down metabolism. Soybean oil accounts for 65% of the 28 Billion pounds of oil used annually, but since it doesn't have a long shelf life, they put it through the hydrogenation process. This eliminates any benefits and causes the product to actually become toxic. The majority of soybeans are a GMO product (Genetically Modified Organism) which have been linked to progressive infertility rates and many other health problems. It's basically a cheap filler and increases profits.
MSG or Monosodium Glutamate is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or cell death. It can cause brain damage to varying degrees and potentialy even trigger, or worsen, learning disabilities, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease and more. It is linked to headaches, migraines, obesity, eye damage, fatigue, depression, heart irregularities, seizures, GI discomfort and more. It makes the food taste better by very slightly cutting your tongue so you can taste the robust, salty flavors more intensely. It is a toxic substance containing glutamic acid that can actually kill brain cells. MSG is often disguised by other names:
Autolyzed Yeast Extract
How about Aspartame? It's an artificial sweetener that is 180 TIMES sweeter than sugar, it was created in a laboratory which makes it impossible for your body to recognize it and it's also an excitotoxin that encourages free radical growth which accelerates aging and health problems. Commonly reported symptoms from this and other artificial sweeteners: Brain Cancers, headaches, migraines, sleep problems, hallucinations, memory loss, nausea, dizziness, hives, seizures, cramps, rash, fatigue, diarrhea and others. It stimulates the release of leptin and insulin which are hormones that instruct your body to store fat. The chemicals in artificial sweeteners break down into formaldehyde and get absorbed in the small intestine.
Parabens are also found in processed food-like products. They are used as a preservative and to inhibit mold and yeast in food. They are likely to disrupt your body's hormonal balance, found to decrease sperm and testosterone in rats and have been found in breast cancer tissue.
Lastly, we have Artificial Dyes and Colorings. Since July 2010, most European Countries have labeled their foods with artificial dyes/colors with the warning "May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children". The British Government also asked that food manufacturers REMOVE most artificial food colors/dyes from foods in 2009. Red 40, Yellow 5 & 6 are the most widely used and are contaminated with known carcinogens. Another one, Red 3, has been acknowledged by the FDA to be a carcinogen, but it is still in many products you will find in the grocery stores. Nine of the food dyes approved for use in the United States are linked to health issues like cancer, hyperactivity and allergy-like reactions--These were results of studies conducted by the chemical industry itself. One study found that E-numbered food dyes do as much damage to children's brains as does lead in gasoline, resulting in significant drop in IQ. However, most of these are used in some European Companies. These man-made food dyes/colors are added to food for the sake of appearance and not necessary.
This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the most common and prevalent in packaged products. I can't even bring myself to call these brightly colored boxes and bags of stuff on the grocery store shelves food.. because they basically are made in a factory with additives formed in a lab and don't offer the nutrition we need to be healthy. Hopefully, armed with this information you can make better choices at the store. Happy shopping!
Last week I talked about the importance of a good breakfast for kids. They spend a large amount of their day in school and it requires energy (mental and physical) plus focus and stamina. Protein as part of a healthy breakfast is key!
This week, I'm tackling lunch! Let's face it, school lunches leave a lot to be desired--in regards to taste AND nutrition. After a morning full of activity and learning our young scholars need refueling with some nourishing eats!
Being the gatekeeper of your home and what comes into it goes a long way in preventing childhood obesity which can lead to other problems like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. A large part of our children's success depends on what they eat and their nutritional status. We need to be promoting healthy habits. Eating healthy foods makes one feel good and that along with regular physical activity helps one look good and that promotes self esteem. In short, we are responsible for teaching our kids how to care for their physical bodies; They are worthy of taking care of themselves!
Here are some of my favorite tips whether you are sending your young Einstein off to public school or educating at home, PLUS tips for how to choose a healthy option for your child's lunch.
1. Don't sent "kid-size", pre-packaged foods in their lunch box. While these may be convenient they are more costly and lacking in any real nutrition from whole foods.
2. Do send whole foods cut into to child-friendly sizes and portions. I believe children should eat the same things we eat just in smaller portions. We spend a small portion of our life being kids so we should be promoting healthy habits for a lifetime.
3. Do let your child participate in the process of making their lunch and choosing what goes in it. This is an opportunity to teach them about feeding their body that foods that keep them healthy and feeling good!
4. Do use a resuable tray/container like this one which is a very affordable option. Or you can choose something like this from Yumbox. These come in a variety of colors.
5. Do use re-usable bags for packing snacks or lunch. This cuts down on cost and waste. These from Wexy Bags are cute and fun.
Now, for some really delicious options for those lunch boxes or lunch at home for the home-schooler!
1. Taco bowls, Burrito Bowls or any other type of layered meal will travel well. Some organic, whole grain brown or white rice with a protein source like ground beef or chicken packed in a thermos then have the cold ingredients separate so your child can layer them on at lunch time. Sliced or diced avocado is a must so they get some healthy brain fats!
2. Wraps are a fun way to send some great nutrition with your child. You can use an organic tortilla and build it at home with some Nitrate/Nitrite Free deli meat, spinach, carrot, cucumber and ranch or honey mustard, roll it up then cut into to "sushi" style sections or use lettuce and let them build them at school during lunch time. Talk to your child about their favorite toppings; Letting them have a choice will encourage healthy habits too! My kids loves lettuce "boats" with bacon, grape tomatoes, and avocado! So good!
3. Use the Protein Packed Pancake recipe from last weeks blog, found here . Spread with a nut butter, add some sliced fruit like bananas or strawberries and roll it up! You can then cut into smaller sections or leave whole. Add some raw veggies and hummus plus a small yogurt and lunch is done!
4. Meatballs! Kids love them and they are easy to make ahead and freeze. Just warm up in the oven before packing in your child's lunch, then place in a thermos. You can send a dipping sauce in a separate container. I'd pair it with a small salad packed with dark, leafy greens, a bit of raw cheese (if dairy is ok for your child) and their favorite dressing (check ingredients!)
5. "Snack Lunch" My kids love this! We boil some eggs, cut up veggies and fruit, have some gluten free crackers, nuts and other favorite healthy snacks. We set it all out on our kitchen counter and enjoy! You could pack mini portions of some healthy snacks in your child's lunch too. Be sure there is a protein source like hard boiled eggs or chicken bites (cubed, cooked and seasoned chicken) and a healthy fat like avocado or nuts. You child will have fun discovering all the yummy treats they get!
I hope these ideas are helpful and inspire you to create some new and healthy lunches for your child. Enjoy!