Are Your Food Choices Really Healthy?

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By Nancy Smorch

I was recently reminded by Lindsey and Frankie (our daughters) about how so many people are eating all of this food that is either void of taste or is labeled low calorie, fat free, or sugar free - all in the name of losing weight. Food companies and fast food chains are masters at preying on people's fear of gaining weight, so they jumped on the band wagon years ago, promoting foods as low fat, low calorie, natural, and “healthy."

In the process of taking out all of the things that add calories (and, by the way, satisfy our body’s need for nutrients and satiety), ingredients have been added in as fillers that are not only void of any nutritional value, but are also addictive and damaging to our bodies

I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while, but when I actually started writing about it, I realized this subject could easily be a book all on its own. So what I thought I would do, is write a series of posts on various aspects of it.

When trying to decipher whether or not a food is actually good for you, one of the top things I look at is, obviously, the ingredient list. I know this sounds common sense on the one hand, and on the other hand kind of a pain in the butt, but unfortunately you really need to get in the habit of reading labels! I cannot stress this one enough. It’s no longer good enough to read the “headlines” of a package or the marketing from a restaurant, and be done. You have to dig a little deeper.

What I always look for is a very short ingredient list. When I stopped eating gluten, one of the things I had to give up was flour tortillas. I didn’t used to be a fan of corn tortillas, but without gluten, corn tortillas became one of my trusted go-to substitutes for bread. El Milagro brand corn tortillas are my favorite. Take a look at their ingredient list: Stone ground corn, water, and lime. That’s it! End of discussion.

Now let’s take a look at a popular brand of flour tortillas, Mission. Since many people still have the mindset that anything labeled whole wheat is good for you, let’s look at the list of ingredients in Mission’s Whole Wheat Heat Pressed Flour Tortillas: Whole Wheat Flour, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Vegetable Shortening (Interesterified Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and/or Palm Oil), contains 2% or less of each of the following: Salt, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate, Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate and/or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Calcium Sulfate), Distilled Monoglycerides, Enzymes, Wheat Starch, Calcium Carbonate, Antioxidants (Tocopherols, Ascorbic Acid), Cellulose Gum, Dough Conditioners (Fumaric Acid, Sodium Metabisulfite), Preservatives (Calcium Propionate, Sorbic Acid and/or Citric Acid).

Holy Moly! Is all of that necessary?? Even if you could eat wheat, you probably wouldn’t want to choose this one. First off, it has hydrogenated soybean oil. Hydrogenated oils are not a good thing. This is basically when they have taken a liquid oil and added an extra hydrogen molecule to the chemical chain, which usually makes it change from a liquid to a solid. Unfortunately, the change is so subtle that your body uses it as if it doesn’t have that extra hydrogen molecule, yet it doesn’t quite act the same. When it becomes part of your cell membrane, for example, it lets things in that it shouldn’t, and lets things out that shouldn’t be let out. Not a good thing.

Aside from the hydrogenated oil, there are just too many ingredients that you can barely pronounce and why would you choose something like this when you have options for something more simple? Usually it’s because of texture and shelf life. These will be softer and more pliable and will have a much longer shelf life. They aren’t very authentic, though - they are highly Americanized, and just like the “Standard American Diet” (SAD), they aren’t contributing much to the health of the population.

Just for fun, let’s take one more example today: SunnyD vs. Orange Juice. I don’t even want to guess at the percentage of people that think drinking SunnyD is healthy. It’s marketed to make you think it’s an orange juice product, but that’s stretching it - by a ton.

Let’s look at the ingredients in SunnyD: WATER, CORN SYRUP AND 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING: CONCENTRATED JUICES (ORANGE, TANGERINE, APPLE, LIME, GRAPEFRUIT, PEAR), CITRIC ACID, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), NATURAL FLAVORS, MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, CANOLA OIL, SODIUM CITRATE, CELLULOSE GUM, SUCRALOSE, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM, NEOTAME, SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE TO PROTECT FLAVOR, YELLOW #5, YELLOW #6.

I don’t know where to begin on this one! OK, how about the Yellow #5 and Yellow #6? If you are drinking a “citrus-inspired” drink, as they call it, shouldn’t the yellow color come from oranges? And how about corn syrup as the second ingredient? No thank you. Canola oil? Yuck!

Now let’s look at Uncle Matt’s Organic Orange Juice (because that’s one of my favorites, and a local down here in Ocala): Organic orange juice.

Hmmm…which one do you think your body will get more use out of? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon - or a nutritionist to figure that one out!

I picked a couple of more extreme examples here, but I did so to make a point and hopefully encourage you to open your eyes a bit more. If you only make one change in choosing which foods to consume, this would be a great place to start. By limiting your food to options with shorter ingredient lists, you are decreasing the amount of chemicals you are putting into your body - putting less stress on your liver and digestive system. You are also going to have an increased chance that you are actually eating something more closely resembling actual “food” and not something created in a laboratory. The closer you can get to how you would find something in nature, the better.

In later posts, I will get into specific ingredients - what to look for and what to avoid, but without overwhelming you, this is a great place to start.