You’ve probably heard the phrase before that many Americans are “overfed but under-nourished’ when it comes to their poor diets. People in developed nations, especially in the US, are eating far too many calories and processed ingredients that their body does not actually need, yet they are still not consuming enough important nutrients. Basically, they are eating loads of the wrong stuff and not enough of the good stuff, and these two habits are leading to increased rates of obesity and disease across the country- and in other nations too that are now eating more like Americans do. A big part of the problem is that many people do not understand the basics of which ingredients to avoid and which to purposefully seek out.
When we don’t feed ourselves the proper nutrients every day, we will keep having cravings and the desire to eat more and more food because it’s our body’s way of making us search for more food in hopes that we will take in more nutrients. This problem can be solved easily- eat more nutrients and avoid excess junk, calories, and harmful ingredients.
Why Do Ingredients Matter So Much?
By only paying attention to the marketing claims that appear on the front of food packages- like “whole grain,” “gluten free,” or “diet” for – you do not get the full story of the quality of the food. You need to actually investigate exactly which ingredients are used in your food to know is they are in fact healthy or harmful. As a general rule, the less ingredients in your foods the better.
The most nutritious foods actually have very few, or more likely only one ingredient. This is because healthy, unprocessed foods are ingredients themselves: foods like broccoli, almonds, eggs, avocados, berries, and fish. These are one ingredient foods that have not been processed or combined with added preservatives, flavor enhancers, binders, and artificial ingredients; this mean they require no ingredient label at all. These are the kinds of whole foods that can save your life.
These types of one-ingredient whole foods are naturally low in calories because of their high water content, yet they have large volumes and nigh amounts of nutrients, so you can continue to eat satisfying big meals if you’d like, without gaining any weight . Eating in this way means you are consuming so many nutrients that you will find your hunger signals and cravings dissolve quicker, or even diminish. Your body will not be crying out for more food because you will be meeting your nutritional needs on a cellular level.
The more you can focus on establishing a way of eating in which you are taking in a high amount of nutrients every day, the better you will feel and look, plus the quicker you will see results in term of bettering your health, losing weight, and maintaining energy.
How About Calories, Sugar, Fat, Sodium and So On, Aren’t These Important?
You may be wondering, “what about calories, fat, sodium, sugar and things like this?” The answer for the most part is that it’s probably a good idea to keep these macronutrients and micronutrients in mind- like the amount of calories you are aiming to consume for example- but overall to focus more on the quality of your foods by looking at the ingredients. Calories and grams of fat alone do not tell us enough about a food’s quality, health benefits, or potential risks; 100 calories from a processed cup of cereal is not the same thing as 100 calories from a banana for example. So it’s best to have a rough idea of how many calories and grams of protein, fat, sugar etc. that should eat every day, but also aim to get those calories from the best whole food sources possible (veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, healthy plant based proteins).
What Ingredients Should I Try to Avoid Most?
When you do eat packaged foods that contain multiple ingredients, make sure each ingredient is pronounceable, familiar to you, and something you would keep in your kitchen; for example baking soda, salt, and honey are acceptable added ingredients that you may find on a food package, while chemical-founding ingredients like evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, and soy lecithin are not.
Here is a list of known ingredient offenders that are very common in packaged foods and are either harmful to the body, or have not yet been researched enough and proven safe because they are relatively new to the market. Nearly all of these man-made ingredients are created synthetically in labs which means our bodies do not naturally know what to do with them and how to digest them. The bottom line is that although these are included in many foods and the FDA considers them “generally safe” for human consumption, we do not have solid evidence yet as to what the effects of eating these ingredients will be long term.
You will want to check your food ingredient labels carefully to make sure these ingredients are not listed, and whenever they are included, limit the amount that you consume:
1- “Hydrogenated” anything- this usually includes oils including palm, kernel, soybean, corn, canola
2- “Artificial flavoring”- these are by name artificial and not natural foods, therefore our body does not know what to do with them
3-“Artificial coloring”- look for anything with # such as Red #2, Blue #4. These have been shown to be harmful and linked with increasing cancer risks
4- “Enriched wheat”- this is the finished product when healthy whole grains are bleached and their nutrients are removed, then some vitamins are synthetically added back in to increase the marketing value of the food. Enriching does not make a food healthy and these foods still negatively affect blood sugar levels and the body
5- “MSG”- hides behind names with words like “hydrolyzed” and “isolated”
6- “High fructose” ingredients- usually corn syrup
7- Conventional soy & corn- best to get organic since these crops are extremely likely to be GMO
8- “Isolated” ingredients – including soy protein, pea protein, whey
9- “Lecithin” ingredients – usually soy lecithin
10- Artificial sweeteners- aspartame, acesulfame, sucralose
11- Words ending in “ose”- these are all disguised sugar names including fructose, dextrose, etc.
12- “Cane”, “evaporated juice”, or “syrup”- this means more sugar
13- Refined oils- canola oil, safflower oil, palm fruit oil, sunflower oil
When you eat unprocessed plant foods more often- the types of food that don’t need an ingredient label like broccoli, apples, salmon, and almonds- while you also cut out packaged foods from your diet, you will not need to worry about these harmful added ingredients because the only ingredient you will be eating is the food itself! Generally speaking, the fewer ingredients included in your food, the better.