Okay, if you are at this step, I am assuming that you have already taken care of the first step in clean eating, which is a clean environment. To summarize, There are 5 substeps in step 1, clean environment,: 1. Create a supportive environment, 2. Get rid of temptations, 3. Keep your environment clean, 4. Plan ahead and be prepared, 5. Don’t get discouraged. If you missed this post, or would like a refresher, please visit: ” First step to clean eating is a clean environment”.
Your environment is clean and you are planning to keep it clean, so you need to know what to buy and why. You need to know how to shop smartly and healthy, so you are not falling into the trap of what I call, “healthy marketing”. So let’s start working on step 2. This step is so broad that I decided to divide it into 2 parts. In part 1 we will cover the red flags that you need to be aware of and in the 2nd step, I will show you how to choose the best quality foods.
These steps might seem very cumbersome and confusing, but don’t worry. I have created Two separate PDF cheat sheet for each part that you can take with you when you go shopping, until you feel confident enough that you are making the best choices for you and your family. To receive part 1 of your shopping guide, please click the link below to sign up.
- Avoid highly processed foods: what are processed foods? In broad any time that we have made changes to a food before consumption, we have processed that food, this includes, putting multiple ingredients together, cooking, freezing, cutting, packing, etc. As you can see all processing is not harmful and some are actually healthier for us. For example, cooked spinach has more iron than raw spinach, and cooking considers processing.. Now that we are clear on the meaning of processed foods and that all processed foods are not bad, lets talk about what you need to look for when trying to avoid highly processed foods. The simplest way is to answer the questions below, if you answer No to any of the two questions below, then put that product back on the shelf and walk away:
- Is this food naturally occurring? Here are some examples of foods that are not naturally occurring: donuts, cookies, sodas, candies, etc.
- Is this food in its original form? Some examples, frozen meals. Potato chips, crackers
- Be aware of “Healthy marketing”: marketers know that we, consumers, associate phrases such as Organic, Non GMO, fat free, sugar free, low sodium, cholesterol free, Gluten free, etc., with eating healthy, so they try to emphasize on these phrases by putting them in large letters on the front cover of the package. As busy consumers that we are, we tend to see these labels, ignore the most important section in the back side, pay more for that product and walk away happily and be puzzled by not being able to get our weight or our health under control. Here is an example of “Healthy Marketing”, Organic, gluten free potato chips!
- Look for red flags in the ingredient list. Reading the ingredient list is as important as reading the nutritional value, sometimes it is even more important. Here is a list of things that you should avoid in the ingredient list.
- Added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, cane sugar. Basically, any sugar that is not naturally found or has to go through high levels of processing before consuming.
- Natural flavors and artificial flavors: it is easy to grasp why we should avoid artificial flavors, they are chemically produced, but what is the problem with natural flavors? The FDA has given us a long definition of natural flavors, in summary: Natural flavors should be derived from natural sources, such as plant or animal sources, in the form of essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, and is derived either directly from the raw matter or after it’s heated, roasted or fermented. This does not mean that, for example, vanilla flavor, always comes from vanilla beans, unless it states pure vanilla extract. If it’s not a pure extract, food chemists create their own proprietary natural flavors. Natural doesn’t mean that it fell off a tree. The chemist specialized in identifying flavors will identify the “primary” chemical constituents in an essence and extract it from any plant or animal source, or any combination of these, of their choosing. It is scary and disgusting where some of these flavors come from.
- Sodium Nitrates and sodium nitrites (Mostly found in processed meats)
- BHA and BHT these are antioxidant preservatives and they can be either sprayed on the food or added to the packaging
- Artificial colors. I don’t think I need to give you a reason.
- Additives and preservatives such as: Sodium benzoate, diacetyl, Propylparaben, and potassium bronate. Rule of thumb, if it sounds unfamiliar, or too chemically look it up and see what it really is.
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils and artificial trans fats (FDA has banned the use of artificial trans fats, but companies have till 2018 to comply).
Vegetable oils: the argument about healthy oils is far longer to fit into a single paragraph. I have written a blog post on “Choosing the best edible oils“, the same rules, stated in that post, apply when you are buying products that have oil as their ingredient, such as breads.
- Packaging- be aware of the container that holds your food because some chemicals from the container can leach into your food. Here is a summary of what you need to avoid and be aware of: Bisphenol-A (BPA), found in plastic bottles (such as water bottles and baby bottles) and food can liners; phthalates, found in materials made of flexible vinyl plastic (PVC or polyvinyl chloride plastic); and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs, also known as PFCs), applied to some paper food wrappers and boxes to impart stain-resistance.
Okay, I think you got the idea of what should alarm you in general. Let’s get this part completely down, before moving to the next part of this step, which is choosing quality over quantity and how to avoid unprocessed and seemingly healthy foods that can be harmful to our health due to the way that they have been grown or raised.
Choosing clean foods can be cumbersome. It is super hard and sometimes impossible to live on a 100% process free diet, so we have to choose some processed foods, hopefully minimally. To add to the confusion, supper smart food marketers use the key phrases that we, consumers, associate with being healthy to push their not so healthy products on us, or they write the ingredient list so small that you have to carry a magnifying glass with you to be able to read them all. Unfortunately, these are real struggles and I don’t believe our food advertising culture is going to change any time soon, therefore we need to educate ourselves and people around us about these traps.
I would love to hear your success stories or your struggles trying to eat clean, so feel free to share your stories with me in the comment section below.
Don’t forget to get your clean eating shopping guide here.
Stay happy and healthy