Does your life revolve around store-bought, heavily processed food?
Though the ideal diet consists of unprocessed, whole foods, we all buy packaged foods from time to time. The problem is deciding which processed snacks are actually healthy—today a slew of products are labeled as “organic” or “trans fat-free” or “whole grain”, leading the average consumer to buy unhealthy snacks under the guide of their healthfulness. So what baseline tests should we use when deciding which packaged foods to buy?
- Buy foods with five or less ingredients. Any packaged food with a laundry list of ingredients—many of which are artificial—simply cannot be good for you. As often as possible, make sure those five ingredients are foods you have heard of.
- Buy products that feature 100% whole grains. Often “whole grain” products also include refined grains, such as white flour. Check the ingredients to make sure the whole grain is listed first, e.g., “stone ground whole wheat flour”.
- Don’t buy any product that announces it’s trans fat-free. If it has to advertise that fact, it probably isn’t good for you, even without the trans fats.
- Don’t buy any product that contains high fructose corn syrup. Many nutritionists and doctors have pointed to HFCS as a leading factor in America’s growing obesity epidemic—its effects on your body are much worse than regular sugar. In addition, since HFCS’s main purpose is to cheaply sweeten a food meant to sit on a shelf for months (if not years), the product’s other ingredients are probably very low quality as well.
My favorite packaged snacks:
Mary’s Gone Crackers: I’m sensitive to gluten, so I don’t eat a lot of crackers. When I was in Miami for a yoga retreat, a friend introduced me to Mary’s Gone Crackers, which have quickly become a staple in my cupboard. They are wheat- and gluten-free and full of protein, fiber, and omega-3. They’re 100% organic and made from brown rice, whole quinoa, flax seeds, salt, and whatever the flavor you choose (onion, black pepper, caraway, etc.) Don’t worry—they’re as tasty as they are nutritious. I often serve them at parties with hummus or cheese and my friends love them.
You can buy them at Whole Foods or here.
Siggi’s Skyr Yogurt: I very much enjoy yogurt both as an afternoon snack or breakfast, but most yogurts are full of sugar and artificial flavors/colors. My newest discovery, Siggis’ yogurt, is traditional strained Icelandic yogurt (which has a similar consistency to Greek yogurt, but lighter) and is from grass-fed, hormone-free New York State cows. The yogurt is lightly sweetened with agave nectar, which is low on the glycemic index, and comes in amazing flavors like passionfruit-pomegranate and orange-ginger. Try eating it with a tablespoon of ground flax seed for an extra kick of fiber and omega-3.
If you live in NYC, you can find this at Whole Foods (they offer the lowest price), Murray’s Cheese Shop, and Westerley Market.
Larabars: Great for people who want something sweet after lunch or for a mid-afternoon snack to avoid hitting up the cookie or candy tray at work. They’re 100% raw, vegan, and gluten-free and made from a base of dates, nuts (usually cashews, almonds, walnuts or pecans), unsweetened coconut, and unsweetened fruit. They have a fair amount of (good) fat and protein in them, so they’re filling and satisfying.
My favorite flavors are Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Coconut, Lemon Bar, and Pecan Pie. You can buy these at almost any health food store or order them from the company’s website.