“Buyer Beware” can be a very important motto when making large purchases such as a house or car, but what about when you’re buying a food item that costs just a few dollars? If you don’t like a product, you don’t buy it again and you end up only out a few dollars. However, if you DO like a product and it boasts a multitude of wonderful nutrition claims, you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. But, have you?
There are many products that cloak themselves with fancy and health proclaiming packages- but are you they actually providing sound nutrition? Is the bag of heart healthy granola full of oats or the majority of it puffed white rice coated in sugar and corn syrup, or better yet, high fructose corn syrup (pardon the foul language)?
Nutrition labels are often a form of foreign language for many people, and rightfully so. Companies rely on the fact that the majority of consumers will skim the nutrition label and more readily read the health catch phrases plastered on the front of the product. Many of the claims companies make about their products are loosely regulated and various movements to implement stricter regulations are often met by a thick stronghold of opposition.
There is an increasingly loud movement that works to inform the consumer. As nutrition evolves, and the science and research backing it saturates the media channels, people are becoming more aware of the health benefits a product offers. Unfortunately, companies are just as aware of this, and cater and modify their product packaging accordingly. The purpose of most companies is to ensure their stockholders monetarily benefit from the profits, regardless of what the non-monetary cost is. Your dollar, not your health, is at the pinnacle of importance to most companies.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your food was healthy and sustainably sourced? With all of the posers littering the grocery store shelves, how is it that we can discern the seemingly healthy from the marauders?
- Shop the Perimeter (I know, so cliché)
This is where you will find most of the whole foods that don’t have a package, because there is no need for one. There isn’t an ingredient list, because an apple is an apple and an orange is an orange (unless it’s a tangelo, but that’s a whole other beast). Buying frozen vegetables or fruits (without added sauces or sugar) can be a great way to add them to a meal or smoothie. Using whole foods, as the foundation and staple in your diet, will maximize the vitamins and nutrients your body receives in their natural form. Not only are these foods the most nutritious, they are usually the foods naturally lowest in fats and calories.
- Read the Label
Nutrition panels are not included on product packages for fun (as most companies would attest to). They are meant as a guide and tool to inform the consumer of what the product, nutritionally, has to offer. I would be the first to scream that they are not the most user-friendly resource (and changes are currently underway to modify them to be easier to understand), but I would suggest having a brief understanding of what one means. Pay careful attention to the sugar and sodium content of particular products that claim to be healthy. Sugar and salt are fat free “foods” that many health products add to enhance the product flavor without adding fat grams (since the diet wave in the ‘90’s instilled the fear of fats). “Healthy” cereals, yogurts (be aware that yogurt does have naturally occurring sugars in the form of lactose and at this time, sugar content doesn’t differentiate between naturally occurring and added), and canned fruits are common culprits of this “bait and switch”.
- When in Doubt- Check it Out
I am a HUGE proponent in the belief that we shouldn’t have to research food products to determine whether or not they are being truthful in their marketing, but until consumer driven regulations are put in place for food labeling, you might just have to exercise the ‘ol fingertips and do some internet research. Make no mistake, you WILL be fooled by product packaging in the search for a great health product, but I suggest checking out how your new favorite ranks. Is it a hero or a zero (I know, original)? This will help you decide whether it gets your next dollar vote or if you need to try out a different choice on your next grocery trip.
As daunting as grocery shopping might already be, I DO understand the undertaking truly eating healthy takes. Most of the information is probably inherent; it’s just a matter of listening to the angel on your right shoulder, instead of the devil on your left. The bad news is- it might take you some time to acclimate to the little bit of extra work it takes, but it will be worth it. The good news is that before long, you will become a food-marketing detective and identifying food criminals will become second nature. While it’s not something you can slap on your resume, it is something that will be personally worthwhile for the changes it creates in the way you feel and your overall health.