Fat-free, sugar-free, low carb, natural, organic….. the nutritional claims on food products available in supermarkets can not only be confusing, but may be overwhelming. Labels that claim they are ‘fat-free’ just have extra sugar added to compensate for the taste of the product and same goes for ‘sugar-free’ items which have extra fat added during processing.

It is important to look closely at the nutritional labeling of foods to be certain that the product is as it seems, and although it may be a little time consuming, it will save you eating unnecessary and somewhat harmful additives.

A general rule of thumb when it comes to reading a nutritional label is – the less ingredients the better, and most importantly, look out for ingredient that you have no clue what it is -that is a trigger sign. Those ingredients may in fact be additives, preservatives and colorings that are pretty much chemicals made in a lab used to enhance the appearance and taste of a food product. Another feature to look out for is the ordering of the ingredients – as per food safety guidelines, ingredients are listed in the order of what appears in the product the most.

Take peanut butter for example; There are low fat options, no added salt, natural and organic. To choose the best one to buy, flip the jar around and look at the ingredients. You may notice that most brands contain hydrogenated oil – what is that might you ask? Hydrogenated oil is a trans-fat that helps make peanut butter shelf-stable, smooth and creamy. If you see that on the label, put it back down and choose another. As it is peanut butter, the ingredient list you are looking for should be: 100% peanuts. Sometimes salt is added but that’s okay because it is a natural preservative.

Another thing that bugs me is the assumption that some foods are healthy, when in fact they are not. Especially when trends are being set, people who don’t know much about health and nutrition are being bombarded with new food trends which they think are healthy, but in fact are just too high in carbs or sugar that they can might as well be put into the junk food category. Here are a few examples that I commonly see

 

Bircher muesli:

Muesli alone, especially the ones premade and bought in store contain considerable amounts of unnecessary sugars and sweeteners. If you look closely at the ingredient labels, many brands add liquid sweeteners such as corn syrup and rice syrup to make the muesli stick together and caramelize when baking which adds to extra calories being consumed that could have been prevented. In addition, Bircher muesli is made with the combination of yogurt (which may or may not be sweetened) and sometimes fruit juices once again adding to the calorie list. If you think about it, one small 100g serving of Bircher muesli contains around 360 calories, which is the equivalent of a cheese burger and small sprite from Mc Donald’s!

Acai bowls:

These days, acai bowls, made from the infamous Brazilian acai berry are popping in every corner café and brunch hot spots. Although they boast an array of fresh fruits high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, when it is all blended up, all the carbohydrates and sugars are condensed into a smaller volume. Just imagine; would you eat 3 bananas, a cup of acai berry, 1 cup of strawberries and some muesli in one sitting? Well that’s what an acai bowl is and people are going crazy over it!

Protein bars:

They are convenient, yes, but healthy? Hell no! Store bought protein bars may be a quick way to get your protein in throughout the day or after a workout, but with the protein, your consuming many fillers and additives such as soy lecithin (common filler) and artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and maltitol. You’re better off eating a clean solid meal as opposed to a store-bought protein bar. The only exception would be homemade protein bars and balls which you make yourself and know what is put into them.

Sports drinks:

AKA sugar, water and sodium. Sports drinks are full of electrolytes which are good after your workout – that is if you’re an ELETE athlete that has just finished a game of high intensity full contact football loosing liters of water from your body in sweat. Athletes require electrolytes as well as the sugar for a speedy recovery, but if you are just drinking it because your thirsty, stick to water instead as you wouldn’t need the excessive sodium/sugar

Dried fruits:

fruits are healthy, so why isn’t dried fruits? SUGAR! Many people aren’t aware of amount of sugar, as well as other additives that are used when making the dried fruit you see in packages at supermarkets such as raisins, cranberries, apricot, banana and mango just to name a few. In addition, because the fruit shrinks during the drying process, the volume decreases, so the amount you would have to eat to be satisfied is more than what it would be if you just ate the actual fruit

Fruit juices:

Fruit juices and drinks made at juice bars are probably one of the worst offenders. If you think about it, would you sit down in one sitting and eat 8 oranges? Well that’s what your drinking when you finish a tall glass or orange juice. The way I like to see it is, if you can’t eat it all, don’t drink at all!

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