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21 Days of Self-Care: Day 10 - Read the Label

In our Day 9 post we talked about eating mostly whole foods, and how processed foods are basically the opposite of whole foods. To recap:

  • You generally can’t recognize what processed food used to be. Bread or cereal doesn’t look like seeds. Juice doesn’t look like fruit. Baloney looks like no animal I can name.

  • Processed foods come in packages, like boxes or bags. They are in the dreaded inner aisles of the supermarket.

  • Processed foods have multi-ingredient labels. The ingredients almost always include sugar or salt, plus some chemicals you can’t pronounce.

  • Processed foods take many steps to get to you. Think about how many steps it took to turn a whole grain seed into a box of Cheerios.

  • Processed foods will keep for a long time. They are designed to stay “fresh” on a shelf for weeks, months – even years.

  • And as we mentioned yesterday, processed foods are often sold at places that aren’t grocery stores – like gas stations.

And all the health benefits that whole foods have? Processed foods are pretty much in Opposite-Land there too.

  • They have had their nutrients stripped away

  • They require an industrial process that often includes harsh chemicals such as solvents, deodorizers and bleaches.

  • They are “fortified” with chemical analogues of the nutrients that were removed (because otherwise, they would have almost no nutritional value at all)

  • They contain substances that we didn’t evolve to digest, absorb or tolerate well.

  • They generally contain lost of sugar, fake fats, sodium and other industrial additives

  • They can play havoc with our natural appetite, hunger and satiety signals; it’s really easy to overeat processed foods.

Remember that everything you put in your body should add value and earn it’s digestive real estate. If you are buying something in a box, bag or bottle, the ingredient list should be short, with names you recognize and can pronounce. If you are not sure what something is, why it’s in your food, or what it’s potential effects are on your body, look it up. Get the information from a trusted resource. (Fun exercise when you read about research-backed health claims: look at who is funding the research. Be skeptical if it is the industry or manufacturer who can benefit from those findings.) is a good independent source for science-based nutrition and supplement information.

Let's do a comparison from my own pantry. On one side is a packet of Nature's Path Organic instant hot oatmeal, multigrain raisin flavor. On the other is a bag of Bob's Red Mill Old Fashioned Rolled Oats.

The Nature's Path ingredient list: whole grain rolled oats*; wheat flakes*; cane sugar*; raisins* (coated with sunflower oil*); brown rice flour*; corn meal*; cinnamon*; sea salt. The '*' indicates the ingredient is organic. The label also indicates the product contains wheat, and was produced in a facility that uses milk, tree nuts, peanuts and soy. So, I'm guessing that the wheat flakes, brown rice flour and corn meal are what makes it "multigrain". And it has added sugar (organic, sure; but still...) and salt. The nutrition facts show 100mg of sodium, and 18g of total sugars, including 11g of added sugar. The processing facility also mean this product is out of bounds for people common allergies, such as wheat, milk, nuts and soy.

The Bob's Red Mill ingredient list: whole grain oats. The label also indicates it is gluten free, tested and confirmed in their quality control laboratory. The nutrition facts show 0mg of sodium, and 0g total sugar.

Now, I'm not saying the Nature's Path is a bad product. I buy it for when I'm traveling, because it packs well and offers a good option for making breakfast in my hotel room; I know what I'm getting. But the Bob's oatmeal has fewer ingredients, less processing, and if I want to add a sweetener, I get to choose what and how much, and I can add my own organic raisins that don't need to be coated with anything.

So read your labels, and work on the continuum to making better choices.

Information for this post was sourced from my nutrition coaching program, powered by Precision Nutrition's ProCoach platform.

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