How to Choose Healthy ‘Packaged Foods

I just looked up the definition of food (weird – I know, who does that…But interesting as I discovered that a lot of what we actually buy, consume & refer to as food….doesn’t actually fit the definition).   

food:  “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth”.

…you need to take into account the definition of nutritious to see my point.

nutritious: “efficient as food; nourishing. Nourishing, good for one, full of nourishment, full of nutrients, nutritive, wholesome, healthy, health-giving, healthful, beneficial, sustaining, strengthening.”

So our supermarkets are FULL of ‘food’ that can’t actually be described as food!  Non-food items masquerading as food! Who do we sue for false advertising here?! The other day, I saw a packet of 2 minute noodles with a health star rating of 3.5! LOL – this system is hilarious – 2 minute noodles awarded the equivalent rating of 7/10 for healthiness!  Distressingly, this packet was in my pantry – bought home by one of my wayward teenagers. I reassured myself that things could be worse, at least it wasn’t hard drugs or a pregnancy test kit. But still – did he look at the health star rating to make his purchasing decision???

I hope no one reading this bases their food purchasing decisions on the health star system…I hope it just disappears soon actually, replaced by a rating system that takes into account more than food being ‘higher in positive nutrients and lower in risk nutrients’.  about-health-stars – some light reading to get to know the system, & then if you want a bit of a laugh, go around the supermarket & check out all the dodgy ‘food’ products with great star ratings!! I’m imagining a future where we all go shopping armed with a scanner gun that can detect chemical residues & measure levels of nutrients & additives to help us make decisions.  

I’m lucky enough to have spent years learning about the relationships between food, nutrition, health & disease – before I had children to feed. For me, sorting through all the non-food garbage whilst in a supermarket to find (actual) food is relatively simple. (Ok – not entirely true, supermarket shopping is NEVER simple when you’re feeding 4 children, 3 of them teens & all of them fussy in different ways – but…I’m very, very grateful that I’ve at least had some training in the area!) It must be a very difficult task to bring home enough (actual) food that will get eaten by the family with no training at all.

No wonder I get emails from people wondering ‘what is a healthy brand of X / Y or Z pre-packaged food? i.e. muesli, dairy free milk substitute, crackers, bread, sauces…I’ve actually considered setting up a ‘healthy shopper’ training service where you can order a helpful health-nut to come push your trolley & commentate while you do your supermarket shopping (1 month minimum course). Someone needs to teach modern humans how to ‘gather’ enough (actual) food to feed (& nourish) their families instead of just filling up a trolley with stuff that will make them all sick / fat / cranky / sad / unable to live their best life. That’s what happens in many cases..

Here’s how to find healthier packaged food options, in just 2 steps (no need to count stars).

The 2 Step Guide To Choosing Healthy Packaged Foods:

Look past the marketing & product descriptions (don’t even read them, don’t waste your time), ignore the fancy serving suggestions & the stars. When trying to choose healthy packaged food to feed the family, there are only 2 places on the label that are really useful:

Step 1:

Examine the nutritional panel (you only need the far right column, under the heading ‘per 100g’).   Look at the sugar percentage (the grams of sugar per 100g of product). If something is more than 10% sugar, don’t eat it too often / too much of it. For sugar, the lower the better – but do keep in mind that many nutritious & natural foods can be kinda high in sugar also (i.e. an apple, if it had a nutritional panel would read something like this: 0.5 g of protein, 0.2 g of fat, 20g of carbohydrates with 3.5 g of fibre and 14.5 g of sugars. In an apple, the natural sugars come packaged with fibre & polyphenol antioxidants to balance the effects. Not so in a bottle of apple juice, which has next to no nutrient value, minimal fibre & loads of sugar. Next look at the carbs percentage, particularly if the product is quite processed looking (i.e. breads, cereals, crackers  etc). Refined carbs get converted very quickly into sugars once you eat them (refined carbs ie white bread & pasta have very little fibre, fat or protein to slow the absorption rate) so keep carbs low in general & choose something with a higher percent of protein, good fats & fibre (whole foods). Good fats come from natural foods like nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, seafood & grass fed organic animal products. I try to avoid anything that just states ‘vegetable oil’ as an ingredient, also canola oil & factory farmed meat & dairy (go for grass fed & organically farmed / produced wherever you can – & choose quality over quantity in everything).

Step 2:

Look at the ingredients list. Ideally, this should just be a list of real food ingredients. No numbers, no weird scientific / chemical names, no fake colours, flavours, sweeteners, no MSG….just look for real food. If you read a food label & there are words you don’t understand, chances are your body won’t know what to do with them either!

Most processed food companies are finally starting to ‘clean up’ their labels & change recipes to follow the demand for healthier convenience foods, & there are some decent products coming onto the shelves, BUT there is still an abundance of crappy ‘non-food’ foods out there, hiding behind a few stars & just waiting to jump into your trolley!

Love to hear your tips for choosing healthy packaged foods too :)

Jeanie Xx
jeanie@goodmix.com.au

 

Brad & Jeanie