October 30, 2010

Clean Eating #2: Getting Started

To get started to eat a cleaner diet, begin by reading the labels not only in your own food pantry, but also when shopping to acquaint yourself about what is actually in your food. Once you have a good idea of what you are currently eating you can decide what you want to change. When reading labels I look for:

Nutrient content claims. I use this to quickly identify healthier options, such as "no added sugar", "100 percent Natural", "Whole Grain." While I use them to find healthier foods, I always check the rest of the label to see if their claims are accurate and if it meets my standard of healthy.

Ingredient List: Not only will you want to look at the nutritional breakdown of the product and what the portion size is, but you will want to pay particular attention to the ingredients list as well. First off, the fewer the ingredients the better; optimally there should only be one or two. Your goal is to get as close to the original, whole food as possible. Specific things to look for in the list include:
  • Added sugar: The "sugars" listed on the nutrient fact panel of the label under "Total Carbohydrates" is the sum of all naturally occurring and added sugars in the product. Some foods such as milk, fruit and grain contain natural sugars, while helpful for managing carbohydrate intake, the listing for sugars won't  tell you much about how much of those grams of sugar are added. Until labels show the amount of these added sugars you will need to estimate how much added sugar is in the product by reading the ingredient label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Look for foods where sugar is not among the first few ingredients. Look for words ending in "ose" (suffix meaning sugar) and other names for sugar:
    barley malt, beet sugar, brown sugar, buttered syrup, cane-juice crystals, cane sugar, caramel, carob syrup, confectioner's sugar, corn sugar (high-fructose corn syrup), corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn sweeteners, crystallized cane sugar, date sugar, dextrin, dextrose, diatase, diastatic malt, erythritol*, ethyl maltol, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, glucose solids, golden sugar, golden syrup, grape sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, isomalt*, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltinol,* maltose, mannitol*, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, refiner's syrup, sorbitol*, sorghum syrup, sucralose (Splenda), sucrose, sugar, syrup, turbinado sugar, and yellow sugar , xylitol* (*sugar alcohols, while low in calories, they are highly processed and while some might be "found" in whole foods, they are not natural).
    • Whole grains. The FDA recommends that at least half of the grains we eat should be whole. Look for the words "whole" and/or "100% whole" before the name of the grain, such as "100% whole wheat", "100% whole grain oats." Just because the product says "whole grain" on the label does not mean it is entirely made of whole grains: it could be a blend of whole and other grains. Likewise watch for the words "whole grain blend" as this is also a combination of grains. When a package lists multigrain, wheat flour, bran, semolina, etc, these are not whole grains. Only whole grain, by FDA definition, contains the 3 main parts of the kernel of grain in the same proportions as they are found naturally (bran, germ and endosperm). The best grains to buy and eat are whole grains you need to cook before eating, such as quinoa, oatmeal (not instant), brown rice, wheat berries, whole barley and amaranth.
    • Fats.  Do not choose foods that contain trans-fats. Trans fats listed on the label should be "0". But even if the label says 0, the food, by law, may still contain .5 gram per serving and still be listed as 0 trans fat, so look in the ingredient list for hidden trans fat. Any fat listed on the label as partially-hydrogenated is a trans fats. For more guidelines on trans fats see Know Your Fats (Am. Heart Assoc.). Avoiding hydrogenated oils is also preferable, as they are processed manufactured fats and saturated, the worse kind for your heart! Choose foods made with vegetable oils, such as canola and olive oil. 
      Once you have acquainted yourself with what is in your pantry and grocery store shelves go through your pantry and toss out what you no longer want to eat. Yes food is expensive, but your health is priceless! But don't get rid of anything you aren't comfortable parting with, the best way to make lasting changes in your diet is to gradually ease into it.

      Next post: tips on transitioning into a cleaner diet.

      Sources:
      http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/whole-grains/NU00204
      http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/ucm059088.htm
      American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide

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