Like me, you have a choice when you walk into a grocery store, health food store, or even a discount wholesaler to choose healthy products over convenience products. The healthy products we seek, however, are not always placed in the most prominent or convenient places in the store. In fact many stores put less healthy products at eye level or in other areas where the consumer is more likely to make an impulsive purchase.
Furthermore, there is a disturbing trend of taking otherwise healthy ingredients and mixing them with unhealthy ingredients or insinuating that unhealthy products or ingredients are somehow healthy. For instance, one company recently released a “from fridge to mouth in 60 seconds” deli sandwich—calling it “an innovative new alternative for today's busy lifestyles...a quick-eat that's flavorful, nutritious, and convenient." The sandwich is basically processed meats, cheeses, condiments and sauces—all put in a special microwave-friendly packaging—and marketed as healthy. There is something terribly wrong with this scenario.
As consumers, we need to be on the lookout for these kinds of products—unhealthy goods being paraded as healthy. One primary item to look into is the products’ ingredients. The unhealthy ingredients found in many processed foods include trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavorings, and/or high levels of sodium—any of which can get you off track health-wise. However, you should never compromise your health for convenience. Never.
Not only can convenience foods be unhealthy, but a “convenience first” way of thinking can be counter-productive. Our culture has bought in to the idea that convenience foods (processed or fast foods) can somehow add to our lives and busy lifestyles. But what does it really add? Does it add health when we choose and eat processed foods? Does it add more time so that we can add more activities to our already packed schedules? The truth is that it really may not add anything at all but, in fact, may detract from our lives.
So how can you and I be sure that we are not compromising our health for the sake of convenience? Here are some suggestions for maintaining a “No Compromise” status.
Know the Layout of a Store; Select Only What Is on Your List; Shop at a Farmer’s Market
One way to circumvent impulse or unhealthy product purchases is to know the layout of your grocery store and how it is designed to lure in unsuspecting consumers. Most grocery stores have a similar floor plan — with produce, bread, dairy, and meat products placed along the store’s edges or up against its walls. Commonly purchased items are often placed in a back corner so that consumers, while en route to pick up the common item, will be forced to pass displays and shelves of other items—thereby fostering an impulsive (if not unhealthy) purchase.
Stores will also reorganize their aisles to gain purchases through impulse buying; they will move items around—making the consumer look at each aisle and shelf, while increasing the odds that you or I will spot something new and buy it How do we get around this? Be smart and buy only what is on the list. Better yet…we can get out of the supermarket and visit a farmer’s market where there is fresh whole food packed with nutrition.
Know What is in Your Food; Read Labels and Select Wisely
Know what is in your food, avoiding products that contain ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, are more than five in number, or contain high-fructose corn syrup—all indicators that the food item is highly processed. Be sure to note that ingredients are listed on the label in the order of how much they are used.
Additionally, the term “natural” does not necessarily mean that is it healthy, since some companies use phrases like "natural flavors,” even though the product may contain additives like high-fructose corn syrup, which, incidentally turns to fat more readily than any other sugar. High fructose has other ill-health proclivities; it is not easily metabolized by the liver and increases the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes, and cancer.
Other additives to watch out for include:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is found in most canned or packaged soup mixes and canned and frozen foods. Even if the label says that there was no MSG added, the product may still contain some. MSG goes by other names, too, like "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" and "sodium caseinate”, so be on the lookout for it.
- Sugar is found in everything from candy to ketchup; the FDA requires that the amount of sugar per serving be listed in grams under "nutrition facts."
- Sodium is found in soups, pretzels, chips and other snacks. It is often listed in both the ingredient list and in the "nutrition facts."
- Trans fats increase harmful cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, and contribute to heart disease; they are found in margarine, dips, French fries, donuts, cookies, cake mixes, crackers, and chips. Be on the lookout for the words "shortening," "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" and "hydrogenated vegetable oil"—other terms for trans fats.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) is created by mixing vegetable oil with bromine; it gives soda’s flavoring oils the same density as water and can increase heart and liver triglyceride and cholesterol content.
- Artificial Colors & Flavorings are chemicals made primarily from coal-tar derivatives and have been linked to allergic reactions, asthma, skin rashes, hyperactivity, headaches and fatigue.
- Artificial Sweeteners: The artificial sweetener aspartame can cause headaches, dizziness, and hallucinations; the artificial sweetener saccharin has caused cancer in the uterus, ovaries, skins, blood vessels and other organs in lab rats; the artificial sweetener sucralose is made by chemically reacting sugar with chlorine—and is commonly used in diet foods.
- Sodium Nitrite and Nitrate are used in preserving, coloring and flavoring cured meats and fish and can combine with stomach chemicals to form nitrosamine, a highly carcinogenic substance.