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Has anyone heard the term garbage-in, garbage-out? That is what happens when we eat poor quality, processed foods. And many people wonder why they don’t feel well. Often the answer is as simple as the foods we are choosing to eat. I think that the biggest impact we can make on our nutrition is to read the ingredients on our food labels. And I don’t mean that we should read the nutrition facts (grams of fat, carbohydrate, and protein). Read the ingredients. Obviously eating food in their natural state and preparing home cooked meals with whole, natural foods is even better. However, let’s be honest… we lead very busy lives and sometimes we don’t have a choice but to eat packaged foods.

Here are some rules of thumb:

Avoid if:

1) The ingredients take up the entire side of the package.
2) You don’t recognize the ingredients or the ingredients sound like they belong in a chemistry lab
3) If it contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colors, nitrates, artificial sweeteners, enriched or bleached flour (there are other ingredients to avoid but these are the big ones)

Look for:

1) The fewest ingredients
2) An ingredient list that sounds like a recipe
3) Sweeteners like cane sugar, sugar, or honey
4) Monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or palm oil

Here are a couple of examples of packaged foods with two very different products side by side:

Granola bars: These are one of the worst culprits for having an enormous number of ingredients. We tend to assume that breakfast bars are healthy but look a little deeper and you will find otherwise.

Special K Strawberry Bar: Ceral (Rice, Whole Grain Wheat,  Sugar, Wheat Bran, Soluble Wheat Fiber, Salt, Malt Flavoring, Maltodextrin, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2]), Corn Syrup, Soluble Corn Fiber, Fructose, Strawberry Flavored Fruit Pieces (Sugar, Cranberries, Citric Acid, Natural Strawberry Flavor With Other Natural Flavors, Elderberry Juice Concentrate For Color, Sunflower Oil), Sugar, Vegetable Oil (Soybean and Palm Oil with TBHQ For Freshness, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Oil)†, Maltodextrin, Contains 2% Less, Sorbitol, Glycerin, Nonfat Dry Milk, Natural and Artificial Strawberry Flavor, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Niacinimide, Color Added, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), BHT (Preservative).

Clif Crunch Granola Bar – Peanut Butter: Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Sunflower Oil, Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter Chips (Evaporated Cane Juice, Palm Kernel Oil, Peanut Flour, Soy Lecithin), Rice Crisp (Rice Flour, Barley Malt Extract, Evaporated Cane Juice, Salt, Calcium Carbonate), Honey, Organic Barley Flakes, Organic Rye Flakes, Roasted Peanut Extract, Oat Bran, Oat Fiber, Sea Salt (Real Salt®), Natural Flavor, Inulin (Chicory Extract).

Salad Dressings: We are programmed to look at the number of calories in our salad dressings so food companies do everything they can to decrease the calorie count. The final product often is transformed into something that isn’t even really food. I like to eat salad with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a little crumbled feta cheese. If you prefer to buy salad dressing, my favorite brand is Annie’s Naturals.

Kraft Fat-Free Zesty Italian: Water, Vinegar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Contains Less than 2% of Dried Garlic, Soybean Oil, Garlic, Modified Food Starch, Xanthum Gum, Dried Onioins, Dried Red Bell Peppers, Spice, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, With Potassium Sorbate, *Trivial Source of Fat.

Annie’s Naturals Tuscany Italian: Water, Expeller Pressed Vegetable Oil (Canola and/or Sunflower), Balsamic Vinegar, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Sea Salt, Garlic, Xanthum Gum, Oregano, Basil, Parsley, Black Pepper


Keebler Club Multi-Grain Crackers: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Soybean Oil With TBHQ For Freshness, Sugar, Whole Wheat Flour, Defatted Wheat Germ, Contains 2% or Less of Oat Bran, Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Degerminated Yellow Corn Flour, Cornstarch, Caramel Color, Soy Lecithin.

Triscuit Thin Crisps: Whole Wheat, Soybean and/or Palm Oil, Salt.

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