I know what I eat. I cook most things from scratch using mostly whole ingredients. We buy a lot of vegetables, eat moderate amounts of protein (usually,) and the only starches that we use on occasion are potatoes, pasta, or brown rice. Rarely do our meals come from a box, unless we’re finding ourselves on a budget. Being in Hawaii, our grocery costs can get kind of high, and a few boxes of Hamburger Helper can definitely help bring it down a little.
There are still boxed items that we use, however. I’m not about to start making my own cereal or granola bars. Laura and I are still pretty picky about these items, though. We look at the ingredients. I look for things that I know are terrible for you, such as hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup, and avoid those items like the plague. So it always surprises me when I find out that people don’t do this.
But it shouldn’t. I’m very aware that most people have a huge disconnect with their food. If I asked a random person what cheese it or how, in general terms, it is made, I would get blank stares. So it’s no surprise, that if a person doesn’t actually know what cheese it, then they wouldn’t know that their Kraft Shells and Cheese contains no cheese at all!
We’ve grown up in too trusting of a society. Most people have the mind set that if a product is on the shelf, then it must be safe for consumption. It doesn’t help that nutrition information panels are like encryption devices designed not to inform, but rather to confuse and mislead. Let’s talk about sugar, for instance. Years ago, if you bought a box of sugary cereal, such as Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes, sugar would be the very first ingredient. Today, however, if you look at these same boxes, the word sugar appears further down. We know that the list of ingredients starts with the most commonly found item in the package and descends from there. So does that mean that the sugar content of these cereals has gone down over the years?
Marketers have smartened up and instead of just using sugar as we know it (table sugar aka sucrose,) they’ve starting using other types of sugar that people are less familiar with. Here’s a small list: Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (yes, they are different,) glucose, dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose solids, and maltose are just a few examples. When different types of sugars are used in a product, it changes the ingredient proportions so that the first ingredient in your sugary cereal is probably a grain (corn or rice) and the second ingredient will be sugar. Followed by a third and fourth ingredient and then high fructose corn syrup. So on and so fourth. But the general sugar content is still the same.
Now lets talk about whole grain. What is a whole grain? Well, it’s a cereal grain (now you know where the word comes from) that is used in whole form in food production. This means the grain could be cooked whole, like brown rice, or could be ground whole into a flour, like whole wheat flour. A refined grain, such as white flour or white rice, is a grain where the nutrient rich bran (outside covering) and the germ have been stripped away, leaving only the starchy carbohydrate rich endosperm. Foods that are made with 100% whole grains are very healthy and can actually help with weight loss, despite their carbohydrate content. So foods labeled as “made with whole grain” are healthy, right?
Those words “made with whole grain” only means that the manufacturer of a product decided to add a small percentage of a whole grain flour to the mix. Adding a smidgen of whole grain to an already unhealthy product does not magically make the product healthy.
The above label from a supermarket bakery bread is a perfect example. See how the first ingredient is unbleached flour, which contains wheat flour and barley flour. This is still white refined flour. The fact that it isn’t bleached only means that the flour was naturally oxidized by aging the flour for a few weeks instead of bleaching the flour with chemicals. It isn’t until you get to the fourth ingredient that you find the whole wheat flour.
Are you starting to see how misleading these labels are? It can be pretty frustrating for those that are trying to make healthy decisions. But there is still hope! It starts with learning how to find what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for whole grain foods, start with foods that are labeled as “100% whole grain.” This generally means that there are no other refined grains in the mix. Look at that ingredient panel again. If the first ingredient is “enriched bleached flour” or any variation of that, it means white flour. This is a refined product. Look for the first ingredient to say “whole”. That way, even if it isn’t 100% whole grain, it still will have a high percentage of whole grain in the product. Some great whole grain foods to add to your diet are oatmeal (yup, that stuff you get in the cardboard tube is a whole grain,) whole wheat pasta (again, look at the ingredients,) and brown rice (brown jasmine is my favorite.) If you’re looking for bread, try to find a local bakery and asking about their whole grain and multi-grain products. I know that not every area has one, but it is worth a visit if you do have one.
Be wary at buying products that have ingredients that you can’t pronounce! Who knows what some of that stuff is! It might be preservatives, it might be weird chemicals used to replace actual food, like sucralose instead of sucrose. Tricky! Sucralose, by the way, is another name for Splenda. Stay away from artificial sweeteners, because many of them have been found to hurt your metabolism.
Finally, do a little research. Learn what cheese actually is. If you become a little more informed about what you’re putting in your belly, you might start making some healthier choices. If you don’t read labels, start. Educate yourselves and know what you are consuming.
Let me know what you think!
All images were found using Google image search, except for the Trix nutrition facts, which was a screen capture from their website.