Our lives are busy. That is a fact. Our health is important. That is a fact. So often, when cooking healthy we rely on shortcuts to make cooking healthy just a bit fast and more convenient. However, in this attempt to be healthy, we need to understand what we are actually consuming from those cans and packages. There are more ingredients than I can list that can be harmful to your healthy that are commonly found in packaged food. We have to remember we are trading convenience for something... trans-fat, sodium, refined grains and sugar.
We find trans-fats in crackers, pastries, muffins, french fries and popcorn. You may even discover trans-fat as a key ingredient in margarine butter that claims to be "heart-healthy" just to avoid the opposing butter filled with saturated-fat.
Research has concluded that trans fats are twice as dangerous for your heart as saturated fat. It can cause upwards of 53% increased chance for developing heart disease.
Why are trans fats bad? Well, they increase the levels of the bad cholesterol in your body and actually decrease your good cholesterol. When that happens, your arteries are affected because trans fats raise the levels of lipoprotein and triglycerides which both can contribute to clogging your arteries.
So... what key words are you looking for on the back of packages?
Many grain items can be rather deceptive. Labels claim that rolls, low-fiber cereal, pastas, etc... are "made with wheat flour" or are "seven grain." Maybe they fooled us by sprinkling oats or colored the bread with molasses- either way, labeling laws make this difficult. Choosing such refined grain items boost our heart attack risk by 30%. In addition, we risk increasing our cholesterol and blood pressure levels, heart attacks, insulin resistance, diabetes, and belly fat.
If we switch to whole grains such as dark bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, popcorn, cooked oatmeal, brown rice, bran, bulgur, and kasha; we decrease our risk for heart disease by 20-30%. Flip the package over and toward the top of the ingredient list should be whole wheat or another whole grain. The fiber content for whole grain foods should be at least 3g per serving.
Would you believe that most of the salt we consume comes from packaged foods and not actually the salt shaker? It is hidden in cured meats (lunch meats, bacon, ham, turkey), condiments, canned soups and vegetables, and processed foods. Sodium is also naturally in some items such as celery, milk, and beets. Sodium is necessary- it helps regulate blood pressure, make muscles contract, transmit nerve impulses, and replace what is lost to sweat. However, it is important we control the intake of sodium, because in excess, salt can be harmful.
When we consume too much sodium, our body retains fluids to try to dilute the extra sodium in our bloodstream. When we increase our sodium levels, our heart has to work harder making veins and arteries constrict. This results in high blood pressure.
Our limit of sodium should be about 1.500 miligrams per day (3/4 teaspoon of salt). Look at the Nutrition Facts panel on the package to get your sodium count.
In this excerpt, I will be talking about high-fructose corn syrup. However, refer to the Sneaky Sugar blog post to get the dirty on sugar as a whole.
High-fructose corn syrup is the cheap sugar. It is inexpensive, sweeter to the taste AND mixes easily with other ingredients. On average, a person consumes 63 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year- mostly front drinks and sweets. We find high-fructose corn syrup in frozen food, bread, some whole-wheat breads, hamburger buns, beer, bacon, spaghetti sauce, soda, ketchup and that is just to name a few!
Research that is being conducted, is suggesting that high-fructose corn syrup may throw our metabolism out of whack, raise the risk for diabetes and heart disease. In addition, the chemical structure of this artificial sweetener ENCOURAGES overeating.
When you flip over your grocery item look for:
Reflect on the above information about The Truth About Packages- what does this all mean? It means we have to create awareness for ourselves. What are we actually eating when we pop open that can of diced tomatoes? What are we sending our kids to school in their lunch boxes? How do we retrain our taste buds?
The answer to all those questions is obvious for many of us and it just takes the dedication to our health, our spouses health, and our children's health. In making this choice, we will find we feel better, look better and perform better.
Now, in light of whole food eating- here is a recipe for you with a challenge. For the canned items listed below, can you find an item that avoids these added ingredients and/or has low sodium?
Chicken Lime Soup