MAKING INFORMED FOOD CHOICES
The month of March is National Nutrition Month which emphasizes on making informed food choices and promoting healthy food habits. Our food choices greatly affect our health and mood. It’s important to look at the food label of an item before purchasing it as it will include important information like nutrition facts, product ingredient lists, manufacturing date, and expiration date. (Aim not to add words like “so on” in a blog post. It implies lazy writing. State something specific or just end your sentence with a period.) Gathering this information is part of making informed food choices and is of great help in avoiding food allergies and sensitivities.
IMPACT OF PROCESSED FOODS ON HEALTH
The food products which grab the most attention amongst the precautionary foods are processed foods. The processed foods are those which have been altered by freezing, canning, baking, drying or adding high amounts of fats, salt or sugar. Therefore, the uneven distribution of nutrients and calories in highly processed foods is considered unhealthy and should be eaten sparingly. Research shows us that sugar sweetened beverages can lead to metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity. However, all processed foods are not bad as most foods need some degree of processing to increase their shelf life.
A healthier aspect of processed foods is fortification. In this, the foods are fortified to enhance their nutritional value such as, by adding fiber, calcium or vitamin D.
HOW TO MAKE INFORMED FOOD CHOICES WHILE PURCHASING PROCESSED FOODS
- Go through the food label
This is the easiest way to learning about all the ingredients in a food item. Providing nutritional information enables the consumer to monitor their diet and stay fit. QR codes are also being used to make consumer-manufacturer communication even simpler. However, there are some considerations to be taken into account while going through the ingredients list:
- The ingredients are listed in order of weight which will bring the most abundant food ingredient to the top of the list.
- Ingredients like sugar and salt may be mentioned by other names. For instance, alternate names for sugar may be corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, malt syrup, and molasses. (Same note as above. Don’t write “so on” in a sentence, simply end the sentence on the last item in the list.) Salt may be termed as sodium, monosodium, glutamate or disodium phosphate.
- A highly processed food item will include several food addictives such as artificial flavors, colors(artificial FD and C), preservatives(ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate), emulsifiers(soy lecithin), thickeners(xanthan gum, pectin).
- Fortified foods will have added vitamins and minerals either to compensate for the loss during processing or to enhance the average diet. Foods are usually fortified with B vitamins, beta carotene, iron, vitamin C or vitamin D.
- Color-coded schemes are used on food packages too. For example, products can be identified as high in calories, fiber or protein based on the color code. Milk packets have a red color dot to display full fat milk. Even the symbols for vegetarian and non-vegetarian are clearly mentioned on the food packets in green and red respectively.
- The food labels follow a standardized format defined by the Food and Drug Administration.
- Choose frozen and canned foods
The frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are an affordable and convenient option as they possess just the same nutritional content as the fresh produce. However, to make healthier choices go for varieties without salty sauces or sugary syrups. Did you know, if you can not find the lower-sodium version, you can rinse the frozen beans under the tap for a few seconds and wash away sodium by 40%.
Canned fish like tuna and salmon are also good options for you, if you are residing in regions where fresh fish is not readily available.
- Dairy milk, soy milk and greek yogurt are good
Although milk is processed, it is high in calcium, proteins, vitamin D, potassium and phosphorus. If you are a vegan, go with soy milk, it has complete protein even when it is plant based milk. To make it healthier, soy milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Greek yogurt is another high protein, high calcium food that is great for you.
- Cereals are good for breakfast
Even if you are 60, you can join your grandkids for a bowl of cereal. Any kind of cereals will be fortified with assorted B’s and D, vitamin A, zinc and iron. Just make sure they aren’t loaded with sugar.
- Avoid ultra processed foods
You may find the ultra-processed food tempting and pocket friendly but, they pose a risk to your health. For example, refined carbohydrates present in highly processed foods are the cause of frequent increases and decreases in blood sugars further leading to type-2 diabetes.
They are also low in essential nutrients as compared to minimally processed foods. Although some artificial vitamins and minerals can replace the nutrient loss, many other healthful compounds cannot be compensated. These compounds are flavonoids, anthocyanins, tannins and carotenoids and are essential for your body.
They have less fiber content which serves as prebiotics to feed the gut-friendly bacteria and make people feel more satisfied. So, ultra-processed foods are easy to eat and digest but add more calories as you feel hungry shortly.
They are high in unhealthful, cheap fats which raise the levels of bad cholesterol increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes.
So, it’s best to avoid highly processed foods or replace them with healthy options. Some examples of highly processed foods are white rice, bread, potato chips, chocolates, ice cream, bakery products, syrups, jams, and sugary drinks.
An informed food choice is all about making the right decision for food consumption. It aims at increasing the transparency of the food market to enable consumers to judge, compare and choose foods best for their personal health needs and preferences. This will promote a healthier lifestyle too!
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