How to Eat Healthier: Three Rules When Buying Processed Foods

I don’t’ know about you, but I think finding healthier processed and packaged food options at the grocery store can seem difficult and overwhelming at times.

This can make the goal to eat healthier difficult! (And I think It’s safe to assume most of us have that goal.)

Thousands of packaged products attract us with their gleaming wrappings, promising us that they are a “healthy choice” or “Trans fat-free”. However, you can rarely trust the face of a product.

Reading and understanding food labels is a must if you are serious about making better food choices.

Here are three things to look for when buying processed or packaged foods at the store plus a few other suggestions so you can eat healthier!

Three Rules When Buying Processed Foods (So You Can Eat Healthier!)

grocery shopping

1. Is it hydrogenated? (hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed, and palm oils are most common)

Hydrogenation occurs when unsaturated oil is heated to such an extreme temperature it essentially becomes liquid plastic. Now imagine that clogging your blood vessels. EW! Avoiding Trans fat and hydrogenation is my NUMBER ONE RULE. Stay away from it!

2. Does it have unfamiliar ingredients or ingredients you can’t pronounce?

Ingredients like butylated hydrozyttoluene (better known as BHT), High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Acesulfame-K do not belong in your food or in your body. The FDA allows a shocking amount of harmful artificial sweeteners, chemicals, and enhancers in processed foods. If you’re not sure what an ingredient is, it is probably best to avoid it.

3. Is the sugar content (in grams) higher than the fiber and protein content combined?

Sugar has been linked to diabetes, cancer, obesity, inflammation, heart disease, and liver damage. Unfortunately, sugar is found in virtually all processed and packaged foods. An effective way to evaluate if the sugar content is too high is to compare it to the fiber and protein content. Generally, there should always be MORE grams of fiber and protein than grams of sugar. The fiber and protein content will prevent large blood sugar spikes.

For healthier sugar alternatives click here.   

A Few More Tips to Consider

If you really want to pick the best packaged foods at the store, here are some other suggestions.

  • Make it organic. I know I know, organic is expensive and just because it’s organic doesn’t make it magically healthy. BUT it does usually indicate the better option. Why? Because organic means it cannot have artificial sweeteners, colors, or preservatives. It also means it’s free from harmful pesticides like glyphosate, GMOs, and other questionable ingredients.
  • Avoid processed vegetable oils. Fortunately, I do see less hydrogenated oils in packaged foods and that’s still the biggest thing to avoid. Take it one step further and do your best to avoid commonly used processed vegetable oils* like soybean, cottonseed, palm, canola (no, not heart-healthy), etc. Unfortunately, they are in EVERYTHING from salad dressings to cereal, to granola bars. What to look for instead? Avocado and olive oil are best, but be sure to read labels! Companies love to claim a product uses a healthier oil when in reality they are using a tiny bit of that oil with a less healthy option like soy or canola.

*These types of oils contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Most of us get way too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. This can cause inflammation and other health issues over time. 

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Wrapping It Up

It can be tricky to find better options at the store, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make healthier eating choices. Follow these tips, read your labels, and you’ll be in great shape! Healthy eating really is about making the better choice more often.

For a free guide on how to read food labels click here. For a free healthy grocery list download, click here!

3 rules for buying processed foods so you can eat healthier

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