These days, it's becoming increasingly challenging to know what's actually healthy to consume anymore. Cold-pressed juices, bottled smoothies, and vitamin-enhanced waters were all the rage, and then we found out that they were loaded with sugars and syrups. Trail mix and granola sounded like a good idea, but upon reading the ingredients list, we're bombarded with sugar, salt, fat and additives that we can't even pronounce. Now, when we go to the grocery store, hundreds of colorful boxes flash enticing buzzwords like, "Healthy," "Fitness," "Gluten-Free," and "Energy." But, does it really mean that those are better choices for us? Too often, the opposite is true.
To make matters more complex, big food companies have teamed up with universities and nutritionists to push their brand of nutrition education, which undoubtedly favors their products, even if those offerings are the ones driving the obesity and chronic disease epidemics. When dietitians are being taught by companies like Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay and nutrition reports are being authored by people who have financial ties to food, beverage and weight loss product makers, it may be time that we take educating ourselves about what we put into our bodies a little more seriously. Thankfully, you don't have to spend hundreds of hours becoming a nutrition expert before your next trip down the grocery aisles. Here are five tips to protect yourself and your family from getting duped by food companies that make the bottom line their top priority:
EAT WHOLE, UNPROCESSED foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and lean proteins. Avoid foods that are in boxes and cans, or that you find in the middle aisles of your grocery store. Some examples of processed foods that you want to steer clear of are baked goods, chips, pasta, cakes, biscuits and cookies, canned fruits and jams, frozen meals, soft drinks, confections, and margarine. A full list of processed foods can be found here.
Stick with foods that come from a farm, not a factory!
BUY LOCALLY-SOURCED, ORGANIC produce and protein sources whenever possible. Many of the produce in stores today are laced with harmful pesticides that have been linked to cancer, reproductive disorders and autoimmune diseases. The majority of meat sold now is factory farmed, injected with hormones and antibiotics that can cause serious health issues over time. Yes, I realize that organic food is more expensive, but making this kind of investment in your health is priceless. Cultivate relationships with local farmers and food vendors who support the movement toward organic, hormone-free and antibiotic-free foods. I order the bulk of my meats from The Barbie Girls- distributors of hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef, chicken and fish- and there are several companies here in Singapore that specialize in organic fruits and veggies, like Zenxin Organic, SG Organic, and Sabine's Baskets.
KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS and learn how to read food labels. If you happen to buy a food product in a package, box, carton or can, read the food label! Food labels list ingredients in descending order of predominance, so if an ingredient like sugar is first or second on the list, you may want to reconsider. Are you familiar with all of the ingredients listed? If you don’t know what something is or you can’t pronounce it, do your research before buying the product.
THINK CRITICALLY and do your research. Many new products have harnessed the power of marketing to get you to believe that they’re healthy for you, even if the opposite is true. They’ll cleverly use buzzwords on the packaging, like “multigrain,” “all natural,” “no trans fat,” or even “organic,” with the aim to keep you from scrutinizing the actual ingredients. Items like granola, cereal and energy bars, energy drinks, bottled smoothies, banana chips and frozen veggie burgers may be loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and unhealthy oils. If it’s boxed, canned or frozen, you want to make sure that you know exactly what it contains instead of blindly trusting the splashy marketing on the package.
USE YOUR WALLET to influence change. Purchase products from businesses that you know and trust, and educate yourself on who is manufacturing what. Company websites will usually have their full list of brands, and you may find a few unexpected surprises. For instance, did you know that Naked Juice is owned by PepsiCo, Odwalla is owned by Coca-Cola and Kraft has staked a claim on Boca Burgers? You can also effect change by publicly letting companies know how you feel about certain product ingredients and manufacturing practices. You might not think that, as one consumer, you can make any difference, but if enough people feel the same way that you do and express it as well, you can bet that you’ll be heard. After all, without happy customers, where would these companies be?
How do you ensure that you and your family are eating healthy foods? Would you be willing to switch over to a whole foods diet and scrap the processed stuff altogether? Do you buy organic or look for antibiotic-free produce? Leave your comments- I'd love to hear from you!