I have come to realize that many people believe they’re eating healthy when they’re really just ingesting weird chemicals and lots of sugar in so-called “health foods.” A big part of this problem lies in the marketing of manufactured foods. The more labeling a product has (fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, light, low-calorie, made with whole grains, natural, etc.), the more people are likely to believe it should be consumed. Many times the exact same product, in its natural form, is available elsewhere in the store and sometimes you just have to get creative with making your favorite treats from scratch. I’m sure this list could be longer than six items but these were the first that came to mind. I have eaten all of the foods below or had them in my house in the last five years but not in the last year. Like any wellness-related goals or changes, baby steps work best. If you are dependent upon one or more of these foods, consider making the change!
1. Microwave Popcorn – I have fond memories sharing a bag of popcorn with my mom while watching Miss America or Miss USA. It’s strange, really, because neither of us are what I’d call pageant people. That’s not the point though. The point is that microwave popcorn can contains chemicals, artificial flavors, and usually some kind of hydrogenated oil. Popcorn is one of my favorite treats and now I make it the old fashioned way – on the stove. It’s just kernels, grapeseed or coconut oil, and a little salt and butter. If I’m feeling creative I might add sage or cinnamon or nutmeg. I know the stuff you pop in the microwave is more convenient but It really only takes about 10 minutes to make it the old fashioned way!
Labels on the packaging that makes it seem healthy is the “94% Fat Free” “Healthy Pop Butter” and its reference to Weight Watchers. On the ingredient panel below the second ingredient is partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
This is a recipe I got from Iowa Girl Eats! If you love sage you will LOVE this treat!
2. Peanut Butter – I love peanut butter and eat it several times a week but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I started getting 100% natural PB. By natural, I don’t mean the Jif or Skippy natural varieties, because that’s what I had been buying. Even the popular brands touting healthier options are full of added sugars and oils. I’m a big fan of East Wind nut butters because they are as natural as you can get! The ingredients listed on their peanut butter include peanuts and salt! You can even go so far as making your own nut butters. I tried this with sunflower seeds last month. It was fun but realistically I’m not going to make my own very often. Good peanut butter costs more but like Michael Pollan said, “pay now or pay later.” That paying later is in the form of chronic disease and medical bills, by the way.
On the Jif Natural PB, the second ingredient is sugar. While the amount of sugar per serving seems low, there is no need for added sugar in peanut butter!
3. Baby Carrots – This may come as a surprise to anyone who worked with me many years ago but I can no longer tolerate baby carrots. I used to have a running joke with my friend Zac about how there was always a baby carrot that I just couldn’t stomach. It was usually dehydrated or deformed or had some weird dark spot. Well now I can’t stomach any baby carrots for pretty much the same reasons. I used to buy them out of convenience, mainly, but let me ask you this – when was the last time you had a real carrot? If it’s been a while you might be surprised at how much flavor they have. The pre-cut/compacted baby carrots are rather flavorless and you’re really just paying for the convenience of a tasteless vegetable. I’m not dogging baby carrots as being a health food in disguise, because they are a very healthy snack or meal accompaniment. I just think it’s smarter to buy full-sized carrots for cost savings and added flavor!
4. Instant Oatmeal – I hear a lot of people talking about how healthy their breakfasts are because they are eating instant oatmeal. Instant oatmeal earns a pretty low grade in my book due to the amount of sugar and preservatives in each packet. There are a few options for people who can’t let go of the oatmeal for breakfast idea. The first might seem outlandish but you could make your own instant oatmeal. I did this several years ago and it turned out really well. The second option is to do more of a slow-cook variety – your breakfast cooks in the crock pot while you sleep. The third option would be to make oatmeal at home, over the stove, instead of in the microwave. If eating on the go is your thing, there are way better options out there! Think hard boiled eggs, peanut butter sandwiches (natural PB only!), or fruit!
In the packaged oats to go, the second ingredient is sugar. I’m not anti-sugar but as you can tell, sugar is lurking it a lot of processed foods, sometimes as one of the most prevalent ingredients! You can find recipes online for DIY instant oatmeal. Some of them call for added sugar but you can always modify. I find that dried fruits have enough natural or added sugars that you don’t need any additional for DIY instant oats. Also, I recommend looking for dried fruit that doesn’t have any added sugar. Its sweet enough in its natural state!
5. Yogurt – Like oatmeal, yogurt can be really healthy or borderline junk food. Most of the single serving offerings at the store have a lot of sugar, some as much as 19 grams! The fruit on the bottom yogurts can even contain high fructose corn syrup. Also, lots of added dyes and artificial flavors. My advice is to make your own fruit on the bottom yogurts. It’s pretty simple. Take a plain yogurt or Greek yogurt (note: plain is different from vanilla) and add your own berries! I put mine in little glass jars and make several at once.
6. Salad Dressing – I eat a lot of salads but I never buy salad dressing. I love making my own and it’s really not that much work. A little oil, vinegar, and maybe some spices is all it takes. Occasionally I get fancy and do a buttermilk dressing but it’s usually oils and vinegars. I found this Newmans dressing which appears healthy on the front but when you turn the bottle over and see what the ingredients are it’s more than just oil and vinegar. If you live in Des Moines I recommend visiting All Spice, a great little oil, vinegar, and spice shop in the East Village! Eating healthy can be really challenging and I’m not an expert. Sometimes I’m at a loss when comparing different items at the store and occasionally I break down and purchase something due to its convenience instead of cost or healthfulness. If you’re eating any of these foods don’t feel bad. Instead, think about what you could easily change to either save calories, chemicals, or cash the next time you go grocery shopping. This is just my opinion, I’d love to hear yours! What would you add to this list?