Most of us have very busy lifestyles, and we stock our pantries accordingly. We sometimes chose convenience at the potential detriment of our health, when a quick pantry makeover may be just the answer.
The most important thing to consider when selecting healthy foods at your local supermarket is whether or not it is truly a food. Read the labels – if you can’t pronounce it, chances are that it would be best to find a healthy alternative.
In this round of my pantry makeover series, I searched for artificial flavors, natural flavors, artificial sweeteners, empty calories, low-fat labels and processed foods.
Pantry Makeover Suspects
Artificial flavors have a property that will allow them to evaporate, which is how your nose senses the smells, and add a taste on the tongue.
Because of proprietary rights given to the manufacturers of such flavors, the specifics of the chemicals contained are not disclosed on the label. This should raise a red flag when considering if the product is beneficial or potentially damaging for your health. These ingredients may cause genetic defects, tumors, cancers, allergies and brain damage.
Natural flavors may not be much better. The FDA chooses not to fully delineate “natural” ingredients in foods. It only states that natural flavors are naturally derived and do not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic ingredients.
So, what is the color in the salmon that is available in most supermarkets? Naturally derived may also include any body parts or excretions from any animal. That does not sound very appealing!
When it comes to artificial sweeteners, these chemically derived substances provide a sweet taste, but have no nutritional value. They include the popular products Sweet ’n Low, Equal, and Splenda.
Debates have swirled as to whether artificial sweeteners may adversely affect health. Much research indicates the possibility of metabolic disease, neurological affects and cancer. The FDA has approved a “minimum daily intake” and labels these products as GRAS (generally recognized as safe).
Natural alternatives, such as Stevia, may prove useful in satiating that sweet tooth. However, recent productions have combined stevia with other sweetening ingredients that may question its true value. Again, reading labels is crucial.
Foods that contain empty calories provide energy, but very little or no nutritional value. This may include snacks, such as chips and onion rings. While they are full of flavor and offer quick energy, it’s best to limit the amount in favor of finding a healthy alternative, such as peanut butter.
To be labeled as “low fat,” foods must have no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 calories. Low-fat foods have been popular as people look for healthier alternatives to full-fat foods. Butter substitutes are one of the most common low-fat foods.
Your body needs fats, and one must determine the type of fats that are being consumed and, of course, the amounts. As you survey the labels of the foods you buy, look for the word “hydrogenated.” This is a chemical process that creates trans fats, which are the ones to avoid in a healthy diet.
All processed foods are created for convenience and long shelf life. They are made in a way that minimal or no preparation is required.
Processed foods, however, contain lots of chemicals and “foods” that are far from their original structure. Snacks, baked goods, ramen noodles, and such are in this category. Most have very little nutritional value, are simply unhealthy, and best to avoid.
We must be realistic, however, because of the culture in which we live. Most of us have very busy lives and often seek food “on the go.” Completely cutting out these foods is not always feasible, and I admit that I use them on occasion.
The best way to eliminate them is to establish a routine of meal planning and preparation that makes healthy foods available for those “on-the-go” moments.