How to Choose the Best Packaged Foods

Choosing the best foods when your busy schedule forces you to supplement home cooking with  convenience (packaged) foods is a challenge. With marketing splashed all over the packages – the latest nutritional buzz words, colors, celebrity images – determining what is really in the packages can be frustrating and time-consuming. What’s the answer? If you want to empower yourself to choose more nutritious packaged foods, learn to read the nutrition labels and ingredients lists.

The front labels on food packages can be misleading, with claims of health benefits that are typically exaggerated and slanted toward selling what’s in the box. You should evaluate the contents with nourishing (not just eating) in mind. Eating is simply consuming food, while nourishing is about choosing foods that contain nutrients that will help your body and mind grow stronger and perform better.

Here are some common misleading claims found on food products, along with the truth about what they may contain:

“All natural” – The product may not contain any artificial colors, flavors or ingredients, but the product could contain strange natural preservatives, added sodium and even high fructose corn syrup.

“Multi-grain” – Instead, look for whole grain or 100% whole wheat. Multi-grain products may be refined, which eliminates the benefits derived from whole grain. Also, dark-colored breads and crackers may contain added colors and sugars to make them appear healthier than they are.

“Light” and “fat-free” – While these claims are appealing to those watching their weight, many of these items are not lower in calories. In many cases, added sweeteners or sodium are added to compensate for the lack of flavor caused by removing the product’s fat.

Misleading serving sizes – Pay attention to the listed serving size, which may be unrealistically small for most people. While the new nutrition label standards are changing this, some manufacturers are still listing small portion sizes in order to claim lower fat and calories (0 grams trans fat per serving, etc.). Watch this video of Chef Marshall analyzing this on Fox9 television with his meteorologist friend Cody Matz.

“No Added Sugar” – Food manufacturers frequently use fruit purees to help sweeten food. While it is true that this isn’t conventional sugar, it is still added sugar, even though it’s fruit. Look for items with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving but beware of those that claim to be “sugar free” since these products may have substituted other ingredients that are not lower in calories. Also, real sugar is sometimes replaced with sugar alcohols, which can cause digestive problems. If you want to learn about code words for sugar, check this out.

Look for recognizable ingredients. Bottom line: If a package lists unidentifiable ingredients, avoid it because it may be difficult for your body to process those ingredients.Our bodies are designed to process and thrive on real food.