With so many clever marketers around, it’s hard to tell the good food products from the “fake” or unhealthy ones. Be warned, most of the foods you get at supermarkets are imposters and might pose a serious threat to your health.
The key to stacking the nutrition odds in your favor when visiting the supermarket is to not fall easy prey to pretty packaging and bold slogans. Instead, learn to read between the lines on the labels. And while we’re no one to police your shopping cart, here’s a list of 9 items to cross off your next grocery store list and what to include instead, if you truly want to stay on top of the health game.
1. Whole Grain/ Whole Wheat Bread
Shelved bread is a common source of added (not natural) fibers, refined grains, sodium, and artificial preservatives. Most of the times, you’re just getting a few grains mixed into ordinary refined-flour white bread. Take a closer look at the ingredient list and you’ll also find that a slice of whole wheat bread contains a good measure of molasses and high fructose corn syrup – a very poor choice for anyone trying to clean up their diet.
Choose this instead: Your better option would be to pick up a loaf of sprouted grain bread from the freezer section. Though it’s frozen, it has never been refined, is actually made of whole-grains and is completely refined flour-free. Or better yet, forgo the bread completely and enjoy your whole grains straight up by choosing to buy some barley, quinoa, brown rice, or steel-cut oats.
2. Low-Fat Peanut Butter
Weight-watchers, beware. When companies take the fat out of your peanut butter, which is totally natural, by the way, they’re replacing it with something artificial to make the food taste delicious. In this case, it’s multiple helpings of extra sugar. Forget sabotaging your weight loss resolutions, this is going to trigger a whole different set of complications like diabetes.
Choose this instead: Just go for regular peanut butter. The fat content is actually the “good” type – the kind that’s very healthy for your heart. Plus, you’ll get plenty of dietary fiber without the fake sweetness.1
3. Flavored Low-Fat Yogurt
Yogurt is healthy, that is until companies start adding extras like artificial colors and flavors to attract more customers. Flavored varieties of yogurt like almond and coconut come with artificial sweeteners that contain more sugar than a scoop of ice cream.
Also, skipping the healthy fat in yogurt can actually lead to weight gain. Healthy fats keep your tummy full because they take a long time to digest. By going for flavored low-fat yogurt, you are actually removing the fat from dairy products and adding unnecessary sugar. This makes your yogurt anything but a smart dietary option because it will only cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate and make you want to binge on unhealthy snacks later on in the day.2 Not a good thing if you’re trying to maintain that trim waistline.
Choose this instead: Yogurt, in its purest form, is an excellent source of calcium, gut-healthy probiotics, and protein. This is why it is more advisable to go for the plain low-fat or full-fat variety; nutritionists agree that both serve as healthy choices. Flavor it yourself with some fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon, or even a few drizzles of honey. That way, you get to control the sweetness and the calories!
4. Grain-Fed Meats
Grains are not natural animal feed and are, therefore, unhealthy for them. They are used by rearers to make animals pack on more meat faster. Plus, most grain-fed meat will be injected with antibiotics as well.3 Thus, each time you eat such meats, you allow these antibiotics entry into your body. The consequences include increasing your risk of contracting infections and an increased frequency of treatment failures (which could, in some cases, result in death).
Choose this instead: Pick only grass-fed, free-range meats. Also be sure to check for the antibiotic-free label.
5. Ready-To-Eat Salads
According to bacteriologists, the most dangerous food items in supermarkets is pre-cut and packaged salad. While the packaging may read “ready to eat”, there’s a high chance that it’s already home to some harmful bacteria that could give you some frightful intestinal diseases. They make their way into the food from the soil and can’t be removed because this type of salad isn’t thermally processed.
Choose this instead: Salads are at their nutritional best when they’re fresh. So your best bet is to buy your greens whole, wash them carefully at home and chop them up to prepare your own salad.
If you really want to keep it convenient, wash and prep your veggies over the weekend, and store them in containers lined with paper towels. This will soak up the excess water and preserve the delicious crunch.
6. Canned Fruit Juices
Nothing quite hits the spot like a tall glass of your favorite juice in the morning. But what you don’t know is that a lot of the fruit juices on the shelf, including the ones that claim to be 100% natural, contain very little juice.
They are instead, artificially sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Drinking these is equivalent to downing sugar-sweetened beverages and can cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar levels because there is zero fat or fiber to slow down the absorption process. This is naturally followed by just as sudden sugar crash which can make you tired and hungry, and extremely over the edge. Drinking store-bought fruit juices also increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.4
Choose this instead: For a healthier option, choose cold-pressed or high-pressure-pasteurized fruit juice. These preserve all the nutrients and vitamins sans the unnecessary sugar.
7. Sports Drinks
A careful scan of the nutrition label will make it clear that sports drinks are better off on those shelves than in your stomach. We’re not denying that these provide you with the necessary supply of post-workout electrolytes, like potassium and sodium. But along with that, they also serve you a generous helping of sugar and empty calories.
Plus, studies have proven that these beverages are also brimming over with stomach-churning additives like artificial dyes and wood rosin that have been associated with hyperactivity in children and cancer.5 6
Choose this instead: Opt for organic coconut water. This is a far healthier and safer way to re-furnish your body with the electrolytes and water you lost during your workout.
8. Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is full of trans fats that will only give you empty calories with zero health benefits. It is also one of the worst foods that are linked to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.7
Choose this instead: Leave out the vegetable oil completely and go for for olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, or even plain vegetable broth. These contain healthy fats that are great for your heart health and your overall immunity.
9. Ground Spices
Store-bought ground spices are very easy to mix in with cheaper additives. Safflower is often sold instead of saffron, while cassia is often sold instead of cinnamon. They also contain sodium glutamate, a taste intensifier. This is quite harmless, but if eaten continuously, they will make natural food flavors seem insipid.
Choose this instead: Buy whole organic spices and grind them at home yourself. You’ll get the natural flavors you’re looking for, without the artificial health offenders.
|↑1||Ros, Emilio. “Health benefits of nut consumption.” Nutrients 2, no. 7 (2010): 652-682.|
|↑2||Bartolotto, Carole. “Does consuming sugar and artificial sweeteners change taste preferences?.” The Permanente Journal 19, no. 3 (2015): 81.|
|↑3||Wegener, Henrik C. “Antibiotics in animal feed and their role in resistance development.” Current opinion in microbiology 6, no. 5 (2003): 439-445.|
|↑4||Bazzano, Lydia A., Tricia Y. Li, Kamudi J. Joshipura, and Frank B. Hu. “Intake of fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices and risk of diabetes in women.” Diabetes care 31, no. 7 (2008): 1311-1317.|
|↑5||Campbell, Bill, Colin Wilborn, Paul La Bounty, Lem Taylor, Mike T. Nelson, Mike Greenwood, Tim N. Ziegenfuss et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10, no. 1 (2013): 1.|
|↑6||Seifert, Sara M., Judith L. Schaechter, Eugene R. Hershorin, and Steven E. Lipshultz. “Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults.” Pediatrics (2011): peds-2009.|
|↑7||Dhaka, Vandana, Neelam Gulia, Kulveer Singh Ahlawat, and Bhupender Singh Khatkar. “Trans fats—sources, health risks and alternative approach-A review.” Journal of food science and technology 48, no. 5 (2011): 534-541.|