Even when you are trying to keep your intake healthy and focus on fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, most of us include our share of packaged foods in the mix. Foods such as oatmeal, energy/protein bars, and yogurt can certainly be incorporated into a healthy diet, but some companies advertise “healthy” foods that are actually loaded with sugar, additives and modified ingredients. ABC Nutrition goes through packaged foods so you know what to look out for:
A. Oatmeal- Almost everyone has seen or eaten pre-packaged oatmeal. It’s an easy meal; all you need to do is add water or almond milk to the oatmeal, heat it up, and enjoy. However, many oatmeal brands are high in sugar, low in fiber, and have hidden sodium. Oatmeal is one of the quickest and most nutrient-dense breakfasts. With the right brand, you can start your day on the right foot, including healthy carbs, good fiber, and filling a breakfast. The sugar in the oatmeal should not exceed ten grams. A good tip is to buy unsweetened oatmeal, and if you want something sweeter, add 1-2 teaspoons of your own sweetener. Some instant oatmeals have over 300 mg of sodium per serving. Make sure to check that the sodium is no more than 80 milligrams. Lastly, look for high fiber oatmeals that contain between 4-7 grams of fiber. Lastly, the longer the oatmeal takes to cook, the better. In a bind, opt for 2 minutes cooking oatmeal. Otherwise, a slow cook over the stove oatmeal is best for you.
B. Yogurt- Yogurt can be a good breakfast or snack that is loaded with calcium and vitamin D. However, many yogurts have too much sugar or artificial sweeteners. When choosing a yogurt, choose one with less than fifteen grams of sugar per serving; this guarantees most of the sugar you are eating is from the lactose found in milk, not from added flavoring. The best options are plain, unsweetened yogurts. Add a minimal amount of sugar (perhaps in the form of fruit) if you need to sweeten it up. You should also try to opt for yogurts with fewer ingredients. The shorter the list, the better. Lastly, since yogurt is such a high source of calcium, make it count. Aim for a serving that has over 15% of the calcium recommended for one day.
C. Protein Bars- Protein bars can turn into candy bars, with added protein, very fast. By picking the wrong bars, you can actually be taking in a lot of sugar and unhealthy sources of soy, while encouraging sugar cravings rather than keeping your cravings and appetite in check. There should be at least 12 grams of protein in a protein bar. The carbs and sugars should not be higher than the protein content. Next, choose a bar with a high quality protein source. This includes hemp, flax, pea, or brown rice, in terms of plant-based proteins, or whey isolates, or egg white in terms of animal-based proteins. Steer clear of lower quality sources, such as modified soy protein. One last tip is to notice the arrangements of the ingredients. The first 4 ingredients should be familiar and healthy. If sugar is in the first handful of ingredients, choose another bar.
Eating whole, unrefined foods is always optimal, but with busy schedules including families, careers, traveling, hobbies, and exercising, pre-packaged foods make life much easier. If you’re going to eat pre-packaged foods, keep these ABC tips in mind while browsing the grocery store to find the healthiest and most convenient options. Happy food shopping!