Knowledge is POWER; especially when it come’s to what you are putting into your body!
In order to take control of your health, you need knowledge. And one of the fundamental aspects of healthy eating is knowing how to decipher the food labels on things you buy. There are 2 aspects that I’d like to look at: the list of ingredients and the nutritional value.
The first thing you need to know is that ingredients are listed in descending order according to their prevalence in the product (in other words, the ingredient that makes up most of the product is listed first). For this reason, you always want to aim for a product that has nutritious/healthy ingredients listed first. It’s also generally advised to opt for products with as few ingredients as possible, because more ingredients are generally associated with more intensive processing. Another good guideline to follow is that if you don’t know the ingredient (and in fact can’t even pronounce it), you shouldn’t be eating it. This is not always true, as there are perfectly harmless ingredients with very complicated names, and there are dangerous ingredients with very basic names. But it is a good idea to look for foods that contain ingredients you are familiar with, and to know what the ingredients can do to your body.
Nutritional value information:
This is usually presented in the form of a table, and is based firstly on macro nutrients (carbohydrates, fat, protein), and then on other aspects (salt, vitamins, etc.). Generally values are given both per 100g (to make comparisons easier) and per serving size (so that you know exactly how much of what you’re consuming). According to the World Health Organisation, you should limit your consumption of salt to less than 5g per day, your consumption of sugar to less than 25g per day, and your fat consumption to less than 30% of your total energy intake (particularly saturated fats to less than 10% and trans fats to less than 1%). Generally most items in the nutritional value information will mention the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance).
Some common “healthy foods” and why they aren’t actually so healthy:
In the past few years our knowledge about nutrition and health has grown in leaps and bounds. Things that were once thought unhealthy have now been given a new lease (for example, eggs), and things that were once considered virtuous have now been given the label of vice (for example, fruit juice). Apart from this knowledge, we have also begun to realise how many foods have hidden secrets, and are not as healthy as they appear. Let’s take a look at some of the common culprits, as well as healthier alternatives for each:
Once hailed as a wholesome breakfast, it turns out that muesli and granola is laden with undesirable ingredients. In particular, the salt and sugar content in store-bought versions is quite high. To make sure you’re getting a balanced breakfast in, try to include protein in your breakfast. Oats and eggs are always good choices. If you absolutely must have muesli or granola, look for options that have less sugar and salt, or make your own granola mix using nuts, oats, berries, etc. Follow this link for our Healthy Homemade Granola recipe: https://www.body-dynamics.co.za/healthy-homemade-granola/.
Gone are the days when crackers and cheese were healthy diet foods. Most crackers are very refined, with little nutritional value. There are, of course, better (less refined) options. Always have a look at the fibre content, and choose whole wheat wherever possible.
- Fruit juice
While still better than your average soda, fruit juice is full of sugar, with none of the fibre that fresh fruit provides. Rather grab an apple (or any fresh fruit J ), and stick to water and veggie juices. If you cannot bear to part with your morning glass of orange juice, look for one that is more freshly squeezed with less sugar added, and limit your portion size.
- Tomato sauce
The average cup of tomato sauce contains up to 20g of sugar! You can make your own tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes and other whole ingredients, or look for options with better-looking nutritional labels.
Most commercial yogurt is laden with sugar. It is worth noting that there are healthy options- simply stay away from the flavoured ones, and ones with added sugar. A good old plain yogurt, or good quality Greek yogurt is a better alternative, simply add some raw honey for sweetness.
- Granola bars
Again, sugar is more often than not one of the top ingredients in granola bars. There are many recipes available for making your own, healthier granola bars, and where possible try and stick to natural products without any added sugars.
- Fat free salad dressing
Oftentimes, when manufacturers take the fat out of food, they add a bunch of sugar. This can quickly turn your healthy salad into a sugar bomb that spoils your best intentions. Choose the Vinaigrette dressing over the Creamy option, or you can make your own salad dressing with lemon juice, olive oil and herbs.
Oh, the beloved muffin. Once hailed as “nature’s broom”, even bran muffins contain so much sugar that you may as well eat a candy bar. Be careful of these sneaky snack options, and where possible make your own healthier version at home with wholesome ingredients. There are hundreds of recipes for healthier muffins where you substitute the flour with almond flour or even oats. Win!
- Canned fruit
Syrup. Sugar. That’s essentially all you’re looking at. Rather opt for fresh fruit.
- Diet soda
I have a lot to say on the subject of diet sodas. The problems with diet sodas are myriad. Firstly, they confuse your body and dull your senses to naturally sweet foods, which could mean an increase in your consumption of sweet food. Secondly, they trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and promotes weight gain. Thirdly, you may justify the consumption of more calories at mealtimes because you know you aren’t getting any from your beverage.
Studies have found that the consumption of diet sodas over about the course of a decade leads to a 70% greater increase in waist circumference. Participants that downed two or more sodas a day experienced a 500% increase. Let that sink in. Another study has found that one soda a day increases your risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes by 36%, while a separate study found that diet soda devotees are 43% more likely to have a vascular event (in other words, it’s linked to heart trouble).
It also has no nutritional value. The take-away? Try to wean yourself off diet sodas and sodas in general. Plain old water will always be the number one when it comes to beverages. If it’s the fizziness you crave, try sparkling water. While one diet soda every now and then may not have the awful side effects mentioned above, a habit could lead to unnecessary health problems. A diet soda every now and again won’t have drastic consequences, but try not make it a habit. Where possible, opt for the Aspartame-free version.
The more you educate yourself, the better you will be able to make well-informed, healthy decisions. Do your research and expand your knowledge on nutrition. The World Health Organisation’s website contains a lot of useful information. I hope that this blog has given you some insight, and motivation to take control of your health!
by Chanel Serfontein