Even when we try our best to remember that great article we read last weekend (… "sugar is bad", "fats are good"…) we can be tricked by the companies who are on to the latest trends. And really, it is full on deception. As much as I suggest shopping as much as possible from the outside perimeter of the grocery store (produce, meats, etc.) I know that crackers and breads and rice and cereals and sauces all find their way into our carts at times. Here is my list of things to watch for when you are buying packaged foods.
Yes, I love the idea of purchasing a 'natural' product as well, but really this doesn't mean anything. Natural colours, natural flavours, and anything else natural doesn't mean what you think it should. There isn't regulation over this term and often it's meant to trick you into thinking you are buying something healthy. On the contrary, the terms 'organic' and 'GMO free' are monitored and more reliable bets.
2. Fat Free
You may know by now that after decades of being told that fats are bad for us (blame the sugar companies for that one), we actually need fats as part of a healthy diet. Up to 30 or even 50% of our calories should come from healthy fats in order to nourish our skin, nervous system, and provide a nice shell called a lipid bilayer around each of our cells. Eating fats helps us to feel full, and turns off the hunger signals to prevent overeating and cravings.
I am upset at the term 'fat free' because the implication is that you won't put on body weight by eating such foods, when actually the reverse in true. Fat Free foods are filled with sugar as well as other artificial ingredients to add flavour. They don't fill you up, they make you want to eat more… and more...
You see this a lot with dairy products. As an alternative, use a smaller amount of a full fat product to stay fuller longer, choose Greek yogurt because it is high in protein (not sugar), or do a swap like avocado instead of mayonnaise.
3. Sugar Free/No Sugar Added
This one actually makes me madder than "Fat Free". All this term means is that pure sugar has been replaced with artificial chemicals that taste sweet (eg. aspartame). The danger of artificial sweeteners, besides being toxic to your nervous system, is that they actually trick your body into thinking you are about to receive a nice batch of sugar, but you don't. Then the next time you have something sweet, your body attacks it and stores the energy as fat. What?!
Besides aspartame, look for sucralose and acesulfame potassium, they are the most common artificial sweeteners. You will often see them in coffee creamers for example.
4. Hidden Sugar
Since we're not all human thesauruses, it's impossible to know all of the different names for sugar. There has been some creativity in the industry to find multiple sources of sugar and therefore making production cheaper, but also it is hoped that you won't notice how much sugar really is in a product. The thing is, a rose by any other name really is just as sweet. Here is a list of ingredients to look for:
agave nectar, molasses, cane sugar, diastatic malt, confectioner's sugar, date sugar, golden syrup, galactose, maltodextrin, muscovado, refiner's syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup, diatase, fructose, glucose, grape sugar, maltose, organic raw sugar, rice syrup, treacle, barley malt, dextran, ethyl maltol, fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, maple syrup, sorghum syrup, turbinado sugar, beet sugar, cane juice crystals, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, honey, sucrose, malt syrup, maple syrup
Since I fully doubt that you'll be shopping with this list with you, here are some helpful clues to identify sugar in the ingredient list of your foods: the ending "-ose", syrup, and juice. The other way to look for sugars is to find the total grams of sugar on the nutrition label. The World Health Organization recommends that we limit our diets to 25g of sugar per day (one Coca Cola has 39g) in order to prevent the most common chronic diseases.
I have found a lot of organic and gluten free items to have some of the trickier to identify sugars in their products. They can also be hidden in foods you wouldn't think of like crackers, spaghetti sauce and salsa.
5. Ingredients List
It is required that companies list their product ingredients in order based on how much is present from most to least. One of the tricks to watch for is that sugar could be used from three or four different sources in smaller amounts, yet combined amount to a large portion of the product. Instead of worrying about this too much, use the Nutrition Label to find out how many grams of sugar are in each serving. Again, you're aiming to be under 25 grams per day. The most common products to watch for this deceit are granola bars, gluten free breads, and cereals.
Now that you're aware of some of the things to watch for in your foods, please let me know if I've missed something! I'd love to review your diet with you and help you to make better food choices based on your body's nutrient needs. And if you think reducing your diet to 25g of sugar might just kill you, we can discuss why your body is sending you these signals in the first place and how you can stop being a slave to your sweet tooth.