Today, more and more people are trying to make healthier choices when it comes to their diets. However, with the vast array of packaged foods lining store shelves, it can be difficult to know which ones are truly healthy and which ones should be avoided. In this article, we’ll take a look at what you should consider when choosing packaged foods so that you can make the best decisions for your health.
Understanding Nutritional Information
Reading labels is one of the most important steps when it comes to choosing healthy packaged foods. Nutritional labels can provide a wealth of information about the nutritional content of a product, including the amount and type of fat, carbohydrates, sugar, sodium, vitamins and minerals. That said, it is important to be aware of serving sizes as they are often much smaller than what one might expect. Paying attention to the percentage of daily values can also help you determine if a food is truly healthy or not.
Serving sizes can be an important factor to consider when choosing healthy packaged foods. It is important to pay attention to the stated serving size on nutrition labels as it can be much smaller than what one might expect. For example, a granola bar may list a serving size of ½ a bar but many people may consume the entire bar without knowing that they are consuming double the calories and fat listed on the label.
Calories and macronutrients
When choosing packaged foods, it is important to consider the total number of calories as well as the macronutrient content. The macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Generally speaking, proteins provide the body with energy and help build and repair muscle tissue. Fats provide the body with energy, help regulate certain hormones, and can actually help people feel satiated after eating. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, providing four calories per gram.
Ingredients to avoid
When choosing packaged foods, it is important to pay attention to the ingredients list. This can help you identify unhealthy or potentially harmful ingredients that should be avoided. Some of the most common ingredients to avoid include high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and added sugars. High-fructose corn syrup is a type of sugar commonly found in processed foods and can contribute to weight gain, while hydrogenated oils are a type of trans fat that has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to potential health issues, while added sugars can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Assessing the Quality of Ingredients
Whole food ingredients
When choosing packaged foods, it is important to assess the quality of the ingredients. Whole food ingredients such as whole grains, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats are generally much healthier than processed ingredients like white flour, refined sugar, and hydrogenated oils. Whole food ingredients are minimally processed and provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than their processed counterparts. Additionally , they are often lower in calories and fat.
Artificial additives are substances that have been added during the manufacturing process to improve flavor, texture, or shelf life. They can also be used to enhance or preserve the appearance of a product. Unfortunately, many artificial additives have been linked to health issues and should generally be avoided when choosing healthy packaged foods. Some of the most common artificial additives to look out for are preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and dyes.
Preservatives and chemicals
Preservatives and chemicals are often added to packaged foods to extend their shelf lives and improve their taste, texture, and appearance. Unfortunately, many of these preservatives and chemicals have been linked to health issues such as allergies, cancer, and reproductive problems. Some of the most common preservatives to avoid include BHA/BHT, sodium benzoate, sulfites, nitrates/nit rites, and MSG.
Freshness and expiration dates
Freshness and expiration dates are also important factors to consider when choosing healthy packaged foods. It is important to check the expiration date on any product before purchasing it, as well as any “use by” or “best before” dates. Additionally, many products have a freshness seal that can be broken upon opening and should be checked for signs of tampering or discoloration
Evaluating Sugar Content
Types of sugar
Types of sugar are an important factor to consider when choosing healthy packaged foods. Not all sugars are created equal, and some can actually be beneficial for your health. Natural sugars such as those found in fruits and honey are generally healthier than processed sugars such as white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. Natural sugars provide essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function properly.
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that can be used to add sweetness to food without the added calories. However, artificial sweeteners have been linked to potential health issues such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Additionally, they can lead to sugar cravings and an increased risk of overeating. Therefore, it is best to avoid using artificial sweeteners when possible and opt for natural, whole food sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup.
Hidden sugars can be a problem when it comes to choosing healthy packaged foods. Hidden sugars are added to many foods and beverages, but they are not always listed as an ingredient on the nutrition label. Common sources of hidden sugars include ketchup, cereals, breads, flavored yogurt, granola bars, and condiments. To identify hidden sugars, check the ingredients list for words such as “maltose”, “dextrose”, and “corn syrup solids.”
Recommended daily limits
It is important to be aware of the recommended daily limits for sugar, fat, and sodium when choosing healthy packaged foods. The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume no more than 25 grams of added sugars per day. Additionally, they suggest limiting daily saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total calories and sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. Keeping these recommendations in mind can help you choose healthy packaged foods that are low in sugar, fat, and sodium.
Considering Fat, Sodium, and Fiber
Saturated and trans fats
It is important to consider the types of fats in packaged foods when choosing healthy items. Saturated and trans fats should generally be avoided as they can increase cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. These fats are usually found in processed and pre-packaged foods such as crackers, cookies, chips, and frozen meals. Instead, opt for healthier unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and fish.
The importance of fiber
Fiber is an important nutrient to consider when choosing healthy packaged foods. Fiber helps to maintain a healthy digestive system, reduce cholesterol levels, and control blood sugar levels. It can also help keep you feeling full for longer periods of time and reduce the risk of obesity. When looking for packaged foods, look for items that are high in dietary fiber such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
Sodium content is another important factor to consider when choosing healthy packaged foods. High sodium intake can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. To reduce your sodium intake, look for products that are labeled as “low-sodium” or “no added salt.” Additionally, look for unsalted versions of canned vegetables, soups, sauces, and condiments.
Daily recommended values
It is important to be aware of the recommended daily values for fat, sugar, and sodium when choosing healthy packaged foods. The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume no more than 25 grams of added sugars per day, limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total calories, and limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. By keeping these recommendations in mind, you can make sure that you are choosing foods that are low in fat, sugar, and sodium and high in dietary fiber.
Packaging and Marketing Ploys
It is important to be aware of deceptive packaging when choosing healthy packaged foods. Many companies use words such as “natural” and “healthy” to describe their products, but these terms can be misleading. Additionally, some packages may feature images of fruits and vegetables that are not actually included in the product. To protect yourself from deceptive packaging, look for ingredients lists and nutrition labels to ensure that the product is healthy.
“Organic” and “natural” claims
It is important to be aware of organic and natural claims when choosing healthy packaged foods. Organic products must meet specific standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Products labeled as “organic” must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients, with no synthetic additives or processing aids. Additionally, organic products cannot be irradiated or genetically modified. However, it is important to note that “organic” does not necessarily mean “healthy” – organic products can still be high in fat, sugar, and sodium.
Front-of-package labeling is an important factor to consider when choosing healthy packaged foods. The front of the package can provide helpful information about the product’s calorie count, fat content, sugar content, sodium content, and other nutrition facts. Additionally, many products are now labeled with symbols such as “heart-healthy” or “low-fat” that can help you identify healthier options.
Choosing wisely is an important part of selecting healthy packaged foods. It can be tempting to choose the most convenient or appealing option, but it’s important to take a few moments to evaluate the nutrition facts and ingredients list. Read labels carefully and look for items that are low in fat, sugar and sodium, and high in dietary fiber. When possible, opt for organic products with no artificial ingredients or added preservatives. By taking the time to choose wisely, you can ensure that you are selecting nutritious and delicious packaged foods.
Choosing healthy packaged foods can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can make sure that you are choosing nutritious and delicious packaged foods. Pay attention to sodium content, recommended daily values, packaging and marketing ploys, organic and natural claims, front-of-package labeling, and choose wisely. Doing so will ensure that you are selecting the healthiest options available.