Read the Label

There are a couple of simple rules to good nutrition. One is if your grandmother (or great grandmother) didn’t use it in her cooking you shouldn’t be eating it. The other rule is only ever eat ingredients that you can pronounce. Taking that a step further, let’s include a new rule and that is we know what all the ingredients are and why they are in what we are eating.  

The more processed a food is the less healthy it is for you.  Essentially, a food is considered unprocessed if it is solely made up of the natural edible parts of plants and animals. Sure some fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils are considered processed because they are a step beyond their natural form but the focus today is on processed foods and highly processed foods.

  • Processed: Foods like canned fruits and vegetables, some cheeses, freshly made bread and canned fish are examples. They are made from 2-3 ingredients (can include salt, sweeteners, and/or fat) and can be eaten without further preparation. 

  • Highly Processed: In addition to the incorporation of salt, sweeteners or fat these foods can have artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. They are typically ready-to-eat. Sugary drinks, cookies, chips, luncheon meats and breakfast cereals are all examples of highly processed foods.  

Now getting on to understanding some of those hard to pronounce ingredients… here goes:

  • Preservatives: Ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbet, and tocopherols 

  • Emulsifiers (prevents the separation of liquids and solids): Soy lecithin, monoglycerides 

  • Thickeners (to add texture): Xanthan gum, petit, carrageenan, guar gum 

  • Colours: Too many to list – pick a colour any colour. Using artificial colours in foods is less expensive and have a longer shelf life. 

Food processing came about for convenience but there has been a cost. There have been studies that have shown that the combination of sugar, fat and/or salt can intensify cravings and lead to increased consumption. I am a close relative of the Cookie Monster and living proof of addictive behaviours when it comes to cookies. We do not have packaged cookies in our house. There are other foods that affect me that way but apples and carrots do not make the list. The point is that it’s important that we educate ourselves so we are able to make healthy choices. Sometimes it’s not possible to cook a meal from scratch due to time restrictions or other demands. That’s cool. The important part is knowing if a meal is not nutritionally sound and working toward making it the exception instead of the rule.

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