Hi Everyone !
I absolutely love grocery shopping. Is that weird ? I consider it a recreational activity … a hobby of sorts … each trip to the grocery store brings on a new challenge to discover a hidden health food gem , learn about the current trends in food, and snag free samples along the way (no shame in my free sample game!) I consider myself at this point somewhat of an expert at navigating food packaging and the plethora of products lining the shelves -- always with the goal of finding the BEST options available. I know not everyone shares this sentiment for food shopping .. some of you may even consider it a daunting task! Gluten free ? Organic ? NONGMO? Vegan? Grassfed? Low Fat? Sugar Free? Low carb ? Nutritious? Natural ? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN ! I know it can be really overwhelming when every product is promising you all kinds of things , so I wanted to help you by sharing my tips for picking products that are good for you and what to look for !
First I want to start by saying that I used to be one of those people who would pick up a product and immediately look at the nutrition label at the calories. If it was a snack under 100 calories , in my book, that was great. Next .. I would scroll down to the carb count .. if it was relatively low , then I would consider that healthy. Does this sound like you ? That WAS me... until I learned that I HAD IT ALLLLLL WRONG. You see, we are so conditioned to count calories .. to keep this running quota of calories/carbs in the back of our minds throughout the day and pick foods only according to this. This fixation on numbers and carbs/calories is not only creating an unhealthy relationship with food .. it is preventing you from eating so many nutritious things .. it is not making you any healthier.. and it is also making you eat foods that really do nothing for your body/health (for example--> you eat the keto cookie, you trick your brain into thinking it ate carbs, you didn't actually eat carbs , instead you ate chemicals/fake factory produced ingredients .. you continue the cycle, you throw your systems off, you end up less healthy/gaining weight in the long run <-- true story).
Now that I know the truth and I've seen the light .. let me shine it on your lives as well. There is ONE thing that matters (in terms of health) when you look at a package and one thing only ….INGREDIENTS. No .. not how many ingredients .. that is irrelevant.. it matters what the ingredients are. It matters WHAT they are .. It matters WHERE they came from .. and then you can go on to ask yourself WHY it is healthy… this will ultimately help you understand your food and eat intuitively. To make this more visual i'm going to use one of my favorite treats, Eating Evolved Dark chocolate Coconut butter cup, as an example and go through the process of how I decide to buy it or not.
1. THE FRONT OF THE PACKAGE - Here is where companies will strategically display words like ''natural'' ''vegan'' in order to grab your attention. This is the first thing you will see so of course, acknowledge what it says .. but don't hold too much value to it just yet. What I like about this one is first of all … dark chocolate/coconut/caramel sea salt UMM YASSSSS … but secondly , I see that it is organic and paleo … two things that are bonuses to me ! I don't rely on the labels much at all however if something is ''Paleo'' - to me this holds more value than most labels as it truly means something is as close to eating whole foods as possible.. unlike say ''vegan'' .. which doesn't really mean much unless you personally follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons. Acknowledge these words but DO NOT be swayed by the marketing.... low fat, sugar free, low carb, cholesterol free, fat free, natural, nutritious, healthy, vegan, gluten free,organic … these are not markers of if something is good for you. Example --> A package of muffins says ''gluten free and vegan !" … but the ingredients are sorghum flour, rice starch, xanthan gum, cane sugar, ethyritol, soy , modified corn starch etc... this is NOT healthy .. it is just gluten free and vegan. Get it ?
2. INGREDIENTS- After committing to what I see on the front , I turn the package around .. here is where I USED to check the nutrition label first but now I know better. By ALWAYS checking the ingredients before the numbers .. you are creating a habit out of placing importance on that. Prioritizing the ingredient label is what will help you pick truly healthy foods. Looking at this ingredient list here is what I notice … all of the ingredients are organic (again, this is not a requirement for ''healthy'' but it is absolutely a bonus). All of the ingredients are things that I recognize .. coconut, cacao, coconut sugar,cacao butter, Himalayan salt.. that covers the ''what''. Now onto the ''where'' … think about where these ingredients came from... coconut is a whole food, cacao is made by simple cold processing of a whole food, coconut sugar is just made by dehydrating coconut sap and considered a whole food, Himalayan salt is a whole food, and cacao butter is a whole food as well. As you can see.. each of these ingredients are REAL … they are not highly refined processed unrecognizable ingredients. HOORAY … THIS MEANS THE PRODUCT IS TRULY HEALTHY. Now I would encourage you to take it a step further and think about the benefits of these ingredients too … being mindful of this helps you make great choices in the long run! Example--> the cacao in this product has amazing antioxidant benefits which is good for you.
3. THE NUTRITION FACTS- Now that I have determined the product is healthy … I gaze over a the nutrition facts as a guideline. This is how you should be looking at nutrition labels.. a secondary guideline. This product has 120 calories per serving (which is 1 cup) .. it has 10g of healthy fats.. 40 mg of sodium from Himalayan salt, 8g of carbs from whole food sources, 4g of natural coconut sugar, and 1g of protein.
The first thing I usually look at is the SUGAR part .. these are very low in sugar and I am mindful of the fact that the sugar it contains is a good source... win win ! Always consider the source … here are some examples of healthy sources of sweetness (coconut sugar, pure honey, dates, fruit puree, maple syrup, stevia).. here are some unhealthy sources of sweetness ( cane sugar, brown sugar, ANY sugar alcohol, ANY sugar substitute, ANY chemical sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup)
Next I look at the protein .. since the protein content is quite low .. I know I would enjoy this as a snack or treat .. not as a meal.
Next is the fat …it's not so much the number of grams of fat I look at .. it's the type and the quality. I always make sure the product has no trans fat. This doesn't have trans fat and the fat source is cacao and coconut so we are good to go !
The carb content … carbs are essential to function optimally, and NO they won't make you fat. Unless of course the carbs you eat are refined ! 1 serving of this has 8g of carb … what actually matters to me though is that the source of it is real food.. not a simple refined and nutritionally empty carb .. it is a complex carb. For example, a 17g of carb slice of wonderbread is not healthy ….. a 25g carb banana IS HEALTHY despite having more carbs!So as you see.. the number is not a factor in how healthy it is. Pay attention to the source and pick complex carbs.
FINALLY the calories .. I don't place much importance on this because since being mindful of foods I sort of intuitively eat the right amount for my body .. however I know this takes practice and time … so definitely don't completely disregard the calories! Part of eating well is also knowing how much you need or if you have a specific goal. These have 120 calories per serving .. that's not going to set you back much so regardless, if you felt like a sweet... this is a great choice. Let's say though that they were 400 calories each serving and you're someone who has a goal of weight loss... if you indulged in a dinner out and had a sweet tooth when you got home , you might want to be mindful of these 400 calories and opt for a piece of fruit instead (both would be healthy options but one would be more balanced for that circumstance and also promote mindfulness in the future rather than creating a habit of indulgence!)
I hope this helps you navigate some food labels in the future, helps you to start being mindful of ingredients, or inspires you to look for REAL FOOD! Creating a healthy habit of being mindful is the true key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
If you have any questions feels free to email me .. follow along on Instagram @mindfulgourmet .. special thanks to Eating Evolved for making healthy real delicious chocolate !
<3 Mindful Gourmet