- First of all, ignore any claims that the product is “lite”, “light”, “low fat”, “heart smart”, or has “no impact carbs” and skip right to the cold hard facts
- Look at the list of ingredients. What is actually in this yummy food thing? Do you really want to fill your tummy with hydrogenated oil (the main ingredient of Cool Whip) or high fructose corn syrup (arguably a main ingredient of obesity and type 2 diabetes)? Forget marketing – use common sense! Ask yourself: “Is this a high-quality food and will it support my health & well being?
- Look at the serving size. It will be different on almost everything and can be very misleading. For example, if the nutrition info tells you what you get for 10 crackers but you eat 20, you’re getting twice as much of everything on the label. This is particularly useful when comparing similar products like cereals.
- Watch out for the sugar monster. Generally sugar is not your friend unless you are recovering from a workout or eating natural sugars from fruits and such. It is creeping around in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect – pasta sauce, soups, salad dressings, breads, and even peanut butter. Ideally, you would make these things yourself but I realize that is unrealistic for many so instead, try to choose products with less than 5g of sugar/serving (the lower the better!).
- Assess the fat content. The type of fat in processed foods is not usually the good kind. Whenever possible your fats should come from naturally-occurring sources like nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish, and eggs. Moreover, when processed foods have a high fat content and are high in carbs they are a recipe for fat gain. High fat foods should be low in carbs and vice versa. Natural nut butters are an exception to this, but beware of those containing “roasted” nuts. When it comes to nuts ROASTED = FRIED IN OIL. Yuck.
- Look at the salt content. Salt = sodium and unless you have super low blood pressure, eat no processed foods, and/or workout a lot, you probably eat more than you should. The daily limit is ~2000mg so try to cut back on high sodium foods like soups, beef jerky, bacon, fast food, etc. or look for low-sodium options.
- Seek out high fiber foods (5g or more/serving). Your daily aim should be 25-30g of fiber – if you eat lots of fruits, veggies, and wholesome grains you should have no problem reaching this. For the athletic folk, there are times when you want to avoid high-fiber foods because they take longer to digest. Pre, post, and during workouts for example are bad times to eat high fiber foods.
- Buy food that doesn’t have labels. No, I’m not talking about the unidentifiable canned goods with no labels that they sell for a quarter; I’m talking about nature’s glorious harvest made from sunshine and fresh air. It’s pretty amazing that plants can turn sunshine into food for us (and animals that we eat too). Vegetables, fruits, lean meat & dairy should be the foundation of your diet. Add in healthy starches (oats, quinoa, brown rice), some occasional treats (you are not a robot), and a few things to make you sane (like tea or coffee) and voila! you have yourself a nutritious diet.