You want to amp up your healthy eating, but you’re not sure where to start. That’s definitely understandable. With so much marketing jargon and ever-changing news reports on what’s healthy and what’s not, it’s really easy to get confused over the whole affair. What seemed like common sense just a few years ago is sometimes quickly declared as faulty, and conflicting sources only add to your perplexity and misunderstanding.
Snacking itself can almost seem like a minefield, and it’s gotten an unfairly bad reputation. It can be a typical entry point into your diet for harmful items –– high fructose corn syrup, high amounts of cholesterol, artificial colors and sweeteners, sodium nitrites and nitrates, trans fats and refined carbohydrates. However, there’s no need to fret, or cut out goodies in between meals. Selecting nutritionally sound munchies is simpler than ever, with these useful tips.
Beware of Marketing Buzz Words
Just because a product is labeled “organic,” “low fat,” “multigrain,” “gluten-free,” “no trans fats” or other common terms doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you. In some instances, they are nothing more than mere marketing “buzz words,” carefully chosen to influence consumers. A Health.com article recently discussed these –– for example, because the Food and Drug Administration currently does not define the term “all natural,” products with this label may contain preservatives or huge amounts of sodium. And others such as “made with real fruit” can be particularly misleading, because companies are not required to list ingredient percentages.
Look at the Labels
Your best way to navigate the grocery aisles is to read the labels. The FDA has published an excellent, thorough guide on how to decipher them. Labels must contain information about serving size, the number of servings in the package, caloric content (including calories from fat), and the content of other substances such as carbohydrates, sodium, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Percentages and specific amounts (usually listed in grams or milligrams) must appear on the label, and daily values for these are generally based on caloric intakes of 2,000 or 2,500 per day for adults.
Additionally, the ingredients list is a great indicator of what each food item truly contains. The FDA requires it to be ordered by weight: the substances that weigh the most appear first, and then the rest in descending order. For example, a package of canned black beans might list “black beans, water, salt.” Watching which items appear closer to the front of the list –– as well as which are included near the end –– are key helping you decipher whether that “multigrain” item really is what it says it is.
If you’re intimidated by all the nutritional trends and problem ingredients out there, take heart. You don’t have to be a foodie to understand what’s good eating and what’s not. However, some generally useful guidelines for your shopping choices can guide you towards better snacking.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and low-fat dairy tend to be the best for you. They often feature needed nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, calcium, and protein, and give you a better balance of them versus any fats or sodium they might have. Also, they tend to have less fats and sodium, as well as simple carbohydrates that only serve to spike your blood sugar.
Some Fats in Moderation Are Good
Of course, you don’t want to eliminate all fat from your diet. Your individual needs may differ from standard recommendations, but you must eat some in order for normal body functioning. This means getting enough essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, K and E. Choosing monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s are generally a wise idea. Olive oil and canola oil, for instance, are high in monounsaturated fatty acids. And if you love traditionally fatty condiments, dips and spreads, you don’t have to give them up –– just look for healthier versions, such as the Just Mayo product line from Hampton Creek.
Shop Smart to Eat Smart
No matter whether you’re a full-blown healthy eating enthusiast or just want to take a few small steps towards improving your nutrition, you’re looking for better ways to snack. Grabbing some mass-produced, processed junk food while you’re at the grocer might seem convenient, but why do that? When you read product labels and make good choices, it’s easier than ever to nosh on nutritious and delicious eats and put a dent in your hunger pangs.