One of my biggest food challenges as a parent is finding healthy foods for my family. Too many conventional packaged foods and snacks are over-processed, over-sugared, have been genetically modified, and offer little nutritional value. We are all tempted to reach for the convenience foods at times, but if you are tempted, it's best to do so with your eyes wide open.
Having worked for one of Canada’s biggest food brands for over a decade developing food products, I learned oodles about food and the processing of it. And from one parent to another, I wholeheartedly recommend questioning what is in your family’s food to make sure you are comfortable with it. Here are some factors I consider when purchasing healthy foods at your local grocery store:
⚘ Genetically Modified
So many foods are genetically modified. As the jury’s out on whether adverse health issues can arise from eating GMO foods, I figure why wait while the scientists and major genetic modifiers are arguing about the details? When we know that some crops are modified to withstand some pretty serious pesticide use which would otherwise kill the plant, why eat it? That’s why I chose organic (especially corn, soy, and sugar) as often as I can.
⚘ High-Heat Processed
Heat kills a lot of nutrients but is needed to kill live components that go off easily to give a longer shelf life. Choose raw or minimally-processed foods whenever possible. One example would be the choice of a piece of fruit vs. a processed fruit juice. No matter how much benefit a juice producer tells you there is in a commercial juice, it has been processed. Raw cocoa is super-healthy in its raw state, but it loses considerable nutrients in its processing. For a healthier treat, chose raw cocoa made into home-made goodies or in a chocolate bar sweetened with a little cane sugar.
I am not a big fan of industrialized wheat. It offers minimal nutrition at best as compared to other grains. Stripped of natural goodness through modifications and processing, it barely resembles the wheat our grandparents knew. More and more people who don't have Celiac Disease are having trouble digesting it. So better choices are the grains not yet tampered with such as spelt, kamut, or red fife. I find these taste better and they are not genetically modified. And surprise, my kids love the baked goods I make.
⚘ Added Sugar
Sugar is added to more foods than you might imagine. Food companies love to add sugar as the human palate loves it. It's so unnecessary in products like pasta sauce and salsa, and conventional yogurt most often resembles a dessert, not a breakfast food with the huge amount of added sugars. Instead, I opt for unsweetened, organic yogurt and use a little real Quebec maple syrup to sweeten as needed. I ditched my fave brand of salsa in favour of one that has no added sugar. Funny thing about the human palate as much as it loves sugar, it adapts to less and less quite easily.
⚘ How Is It Preserved
One thing to know about Big Food is that it generally must preserve the food in some way. The foods go through huge distribution systems, sit in warehouses, then sit on store shelves, and then in your home. I watch for controversial preservatives or any even linked to health issues. This means I avoid BHT (used to preserve food AND cosmetics). As Canadians are being warned against even using it in bodycare, I prefer not to eat it. Who wants to wait while science is proving or disproving suspected links to cancer? Check your breakfast cereals, margarines, enriched rices, and even chewing gum.
⚘ Ingredients In the Packaging
While BPA was banned for use in baby bottles, it remains in the lining of cans and the lids of baby food jars. Cook your own beans from dry and make your own baby food or simply limit the amount of either that you consume.
⚘ Unappealing, Unnecessary Ingredients
Read your labels! Food companies try to innovate to get more of your consuming dollars. Sometimes they miss the mark, developing foods that are in my opinion, really quite unappealing. I recently saw a yogurt ingredient list which included anchovy and sardine oils AND pork gelatin. If the addition of valuable omega 3′s is what they were after, someone should tell them there are great plant-based options for getting your Omegas.
⚘ Real Or Not?
Know your foods and figure out your own tolerance for fake foods. Processed snacks are often not ‘real.’ At only 42% potato, Pringles are not so ‘real.’ And neither are Fruit Roll Ups. With the regulation in Canada requiring only 2% be fruit puree, fruit rollups provide no nutrition for your wee ones. One company, Sun Rype, does offer a real fruit snack so should not be confused with Betty Crocker whose fruit snacks contain artificial dyes and loads of sugars, mineral oil, and carnuba wax.
Read labels, research things you hear about food, and figure out what is important to you and yours. Credible sources of info are readily available online. And next time your kids work you over for something in the grocery store, you just may have a really good come back as to why it's not such a good idea!