Since we’ve been on this real food journey for awhile now, I have learned over the years the difference between what many labels and ingredients mean. It’s become second nature to me. It’s important to know what foods to buy but also what foods to avoid. Food marketers have become very sneaky and savvy in their advertising. Knowing that consumers want healthy food, they bet on the fact that many may not read or know exactly how to decipher food labels. It becomes a big marketing game at your expense. Keywords such as “natural,” “low-fat,” “whole grains,” and more are used to give us the illusion that we are buying healthy products.
This list contains ingredients or labels that I try to steer away from while shopping. I think it’s important to be aware of these so that you, too, can easily avoid them and make better choices. And while it may sound restrictive, the good news is that there are always alternative real food options that are easily found at many conventional grocery store, health food stores, or even on the internet in places such as Amazon.
- The words, “healthy,” and/or “natural.”
Even after all these years, seeing these words still makes makes me pick up the package or box. It’s a truly magically marketing word that makes us think we are doing something good for ourselves. Avoid products that use these words on the front of the package to proclaim it’s qualities.
Alternative: ALWAYS read the ingredient labels!
- High Fructose Corn Syrup, Refined Sugars, and Artificial Sweeteners.
Stick with sugar that is as minimally processed as possible. Look for sweeteners such as raw honey, 100% maple syrup, dates, coconut sugar, or stevia. Read the ingredient labels as many products contain hidden sugars.
Alternative: Look for products without refined or added sugars. These can include corn syrup, cane sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
A highly debated product, carrageenan is found in many products ranging from dairy products to toothpastes. It’s used to make the texture of products creamier, but can be harmful if ingested in large amounts. I choose to steer clear of this ingredient since it’s not something that fits the real food rules and I would NOT have found in my great-grandmother’s pantry.
Alternative: Look for products without carrageenan. Silk brand of almond milk does not contain this ingredient. Or make it yourself! This almond milk recipe is easy and tastes delish!
- Canola, Soybean, or Vegetable Oils
Even though “vegetable” oil sounds healthy, in all actuality it’s not. All of these oils are highly refined and most likely genetically modified.
Alternatives: Coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, or ghee. You can even use unsweetened applesauce as a substitute in baking or use water when sauteing.
- Low-Fat or Fat-Free Products
In the late 1980’s the “fat free” and “low fat” craze hit and these products flew off the shelves. In turn, these companies added sugar, artifical flavors, and carrageenan for flavor and texture. Any time you see the words, “low fat” or “fat free,” put down the product and run!
Alternative: When purchasing dairy products, always purchase full fat, plain varieties. For all other products, read the labels and avoid any artificial ingredients and sugars.
I try to avoid all artificial flavorings including the infamous “natural” flavorings. You’d be surprised how many granola bars or cereals contain “blueberries” or “strawberries” that are nothing more than an artificial flavor.
Alternative: Buy real ingredients. Flavor foods yourself including oatmeal, yogurt, or baked goods.
- Food Dyes
There are many questions to the effect of food dyes on our children, particularly their effects on mood and behavior. Naturally, we avoid it whenever possible.
Alternative: When you need food dyes for things like a birthday cake, try to use whole food options such as strawberries or blueberries.
- Soy Lecithin
Used primarily as an emulsifier, you can find soy lecithin in anything from salad dressings to tea bags to chocolate. Because it’s derived from soy, it most likely is genetically modified and is refined.
Alternative: Make your own foods to avoid this ingredient. Try chocolate made without this ingredient. I love Theo’s chocolate bars and use Enjoy Life’s Dark Chocolate Chips.
- Too Many Ingredients
A huge red flag for me is an ingredient label that is loaded with unidentifiable ingredients. Most companies will highlight ingredients on the front of the box to make you think they are healthy, but the ingredient list doesn’t lie. When you turn the package over to read the list, if you see more than 5 ingredients that you most likely wouldn’t find in your own kitchen, put it down and walk away.
Alternative: Try to purchase ingredients rather than ready made products. If you do purchase a product, make sure the ingredient list is short and you can pronounce each ingredient.
- Pasteurized Juices or Ultra-Pasteurized Milk
Pasteurizing or ultra-pasteurizing heats juice or milk to a high temperature to kill any bacteria. The problem is, it also kills any beneficial nutrients resulting in a “dead” food.
Alternative: Make non-dairy almond milk easily from scratch. If you are looking for a dairy milk, and your state allows the sale of raw milk, then purchase grass-fed raw milk from a reputable farm. You can make your own juice at home using real fruits and vegetables. All you need is a juicer or try a green smoothie in your blender.
- Read ingredient labels.
Always ask yourself if you would use those ingredients in your own kitchen. If not, put it back.
- Use ingredients instead of buying pre-packaged foods.
Learn to cook with these ingredients and make your own homemade versions. Your food will taste better and you won’t have to worry if the ingredients are real or not.
- Be informed!
Question products and get to know which companies you can trust. Once you learn, shopping will become easier!
Until next time, keep it real.
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