For the most part, all of us want to live healthier lives and make the right food choices every day. With the over abundant access to junk food in our grocery stores and fast food restaurants on every corner, this is becoming more and more difficult. In some cases, the best options are obvious, like organic dairy products and locally sourced produce. However, oftentimes food additives, preservatives, and high salt content can be hiding in plain sight in items you may have in your pantry or fridge. Below are five very common foods that you should avoid to maintain a healthy lifestyle:
#1. Cured Meats & Cold Cuts
This might be a tough one for some to swallow, but cured and deli meats are not a great option for an easy lunch. High sodium (or salt) quantities are the big culprit here, but there are others, too! Cold cut turkey, for example, contains around 700mg of salt per serving. Ham has about 600mg, and then cheese adds another 300mg. By the time you add bread and condiments, the salt is piling up. Depending on your specific medical situation, the FDA recommends between 1500-2300mg of salt per day — that ham and cheese sandwich could be your whole day’s worth of sodium!
Most brands also contain artificial additives, and the ones that don’t tend to add in sugar and (more) salt to compensate. Nitrates and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) are used as preservatives and can also be found not only in deli meats but also in sausages and hot dogs. Interestingly, BHT is in your gas tank as it is also used to stabilize fuel. If that isn’t good enough reason to skip the deli at the market, then the price of these “foods” should be! Averaging around $7 per pound, the nutrition to cost ratio is tipped totally in the wrong direction.
Attention, expecting moms!
You shouldn’t have cold cuts at all. That slime that develops after a few days could be contaminated with bacteria called listeria. It can be fatal to your fetus if ingested.
The better lunch choice is homemade chicken or egg salad.
This way you can control the amounts of salt and sugar that go in, completely removing the artificial ingredients and having a delicious meal you can feel good about. My favorite is chicken salad made with curry powder and cubed pineapple. Add dried organic cranberries and chopped walnuts to make a delicious, high protein lunch that will having you feeling full for hours.
#2. High Sugar Drinks
Sugar is one of the leading causes of obesity. Being overweight puts you at a higher risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. Since sugar is not a required nutrient, there is no specific recommendation on how many milligrams should be consumed on a daily basis. However, the American Heart Association suggests that for women, no more than 100 daily calories should come from added sugars.
Where are added sugars hiding?
Soda is a huge contributor. Even the zero calorie, no sugar added options have artificial sweeteners, and the problem isn’t just the fact that these are chemicals made up in a lab. Adding ingredients like stevia, a natural sugar substitute, condition your taste buds to want sweet flavors and sugar more often. Switch to fruit juice? Not a great decision. Juices like orange, grape and apple (which is in almost all fruit juice blends) can have even more sugar than soda!
Can’t kick carbonation?
Swap out your usual soda for sparkling water infused with fruits and herbs. Cucumber and fresh basil make a very refreshing summer drink, or try lemon and lime if those clear sodas are your vice. Morning sickness? Add ginger and lemon to your sparkling water and you’ll be feeling much better fast.
Your neighborhood coffee house is another place where sugar abounds. Relaxing with a beautiful layered coffee concoction in the corner of a hip lounge does sound like a great afternoon. However, that americano, macchiato, or venti something-or-other can tip the scales in sugar and calories. Added flavored syrups, chocolate drizzle, caramel and whipped cream are commonplace. Having these beverages every day or even once a week can up your caloric intake about 500 per drink.
The Good News
You can still hang out in a comfy lounge chair in the coffee shop. One to two cups of plain coffee has shown medical benefits such as reducing Parkinson’s Disease and depression. If you do add cream and sugar to your coffee, start by reducing each by just a little over each day with the goal of using neither in two weeks. This gradual decrease will drastically cut down your sugar and calorie intake and may actually accustom your taste buds to not crave dessert, too!
#3. Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn is generally thought to be a good low calorie snack food, before the butter and salt, of course. This is still true, but how you make it is the important part.
Here’s the secret
“All Natural” and “Organic” labeled products are required to refer to the food item itself — in this case, the corn kernels and any flavorings. It does not need to describe the packaging! Microwave popcorn bags have been shown to contain perfluorooctanoic (PFOA), a known carcinogen. This chemical can come off during the popping process and onto your evening snack.
Furthermore, any artificial “butter flavor” is also unhealthy and has actually made employees sick from inhaling them in the factories where these items are produced. Need more proof? Just cut open a bag before it’s popped and look for yourself. Look appetizing?
Homemade popcorn is super easy and fun!
Just add 3 tablespoons of oil (olive, grapeseed or peanut) to a large pot, add ½ cup of kernels, cover with foil (making slits to allow steam through) on medium heat for 3 minutes. Add salt and butter to taste.
All done! Any kiddos in the house will love watching and listening to the excitement.
#4. Canned Vegetables
All veggies are good veggies, right? Some are better than others. I’m sure most of us have at least a few cans of beans or corn in the pantry, but try to save these for emergency situations only. Canned veggies, even organic brands, can have high quantities of salt and in some cases, pesticides. Annually, the United States Department of Agriculture reports on their levels of pesticides — the full report can be found in the Pesticide Data Program.
The problem compounds when the item is canned. Remember back to high school biology? When water with a higher level of a substance, in this case salt, has the opportunity to cross a membrane into a lower concentration, it will. This process called osmosis is what makes canned veggies higher in salt than their fresh counterparts. After sitting in salty water for potentially years, the salt becomes part of the cellular structure of the vegetable and cannot be removed by rinsing.
Fresh is Best!
Fresh, organic produce will always be the best option — even bigger bonus is if it’s local. If you can’t find a veggie you are looking for or if it’s out of season, frozen is the next best option. Look for organic brands, because pesticides can still lurk in frozen produce, but the issue of sodium is gone. We also have some great recipes that your baby will love!
#5. Farm Raised Fish
Everyone knows that salmon is a great healthy fish. Full of omega-3 fatty acids, it can help lower cholesterol, improve brain function, and provide high levels of protein. All salmon is good, right? No. Farm raised fish do not have near the amounts of omega-3s, and salmon may even be dyed to get that pink color. Also, heavy metals such as mercury and lead can be found in many fish products.
How Does this Happen?
Like any animal kept in an enclosure, fish raised in a “farm” do not develop the strong flesh and oil from a lifetime of swimming in cold waters. This in turn produces a soft, bland, dry fish that is less expensive and less beneficial.
Heavy metals get into the fish population due to contamination in the water. Large fish tend to have the highest levels because they’ve been alive longer to collect these toxins. It is this reason that pregnant women are advised not to eat swordfish and to generally limit their seafood intake.
What Should I Look For?
Wild caught fish is the only kind that actually offers health benefits in terms of omega-3. To avoid the heavy metal contamination, look for wild caught Alaskan Salmon or Albacore Tuna from Canada and/or the US West Coast. These fish tend to be smaller in size and therefore have a lower risk of mercury and lead.
Life is a Balance
When you’re shopping in the market, keep in mind that where your food comes from and how you prepare it makes all the difference. Read labels, educate yourself, and make the best decisions you can for your family and yourself. Eating healthy is sometimes the more difficult option in our society, but you can do it!
Any good recipe ideas? Post them in the comments!