The things in life we enjoy the most are better when they are of high quality. It’s better to have deep relationships with close friends and family than 1,000 friends on Facebook you’ve never met. It’s better to churn out a couple of well-focused quality projects at work then pumping out dozens of low-quality ones. It’s nicer to have four quarters in your pocket than 100 pennies. This also applies to our food. Every time we go to the store, we get to choose if our food is quality. The funny thing is, it’s much harder to describe quality. When it comes to quantity, we can point at a number and say, “See, there is the proof;” however, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
When choosing foods at the grocery store, there is a spectrum of better and worse options for nearly every food you consider. Considering a food solely by its calorie count, generic name (e.g. yogurt, cheese, bread, etc.) or macronutrient content (e.g. low-fat, low-carb, sugar-free, etc.) isn’t enough to determine if you should be consuming it. When you go to the grocery store, you’ll be presented with 101 different options for each item. Knowing what to look for will take some effort upfront, but it will pay dividends for you for years to come.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…”Sean, ‘quality food’ is going to wipe out my bank account.” I PROMISE that isn’t the case as we’ll discuss. Let’s look at a few examples you may run into at the store.
Of the dairy products available, I like yogurt for it’s protein, fat, and probiotic content. It is filling, it can add a creamy aspect to many foods, and it is a great food to incorporate into desserts without giving yourself diabetes…as long as you choose the right one! In my last post I gave an example of how yogurt is recommended in the U.S. dietary guidelines. While I don’t disagree with their recommendation to include this food per se, it highlights the importance of knowing how to choose quality.
Let’s compare two Greek yogurt products and focus solely on the ingredient list and sugar content. The first product has a very simple ingredient list: milk, cream, and live bacteria cultures (i.e. probiotics). This is what you want! Keep. It. Simple. Also note there is ZERO grams of added sugar. It does have 6 grams of sugar naturally from the lactose in the milk.
Now let’s compare that with the “Yoplait Vanilla Cupcake” below:
The ingredient list is a major red flag. Why does it have gelatin, lactic acid esters, and “natural flavors” PLUS a “flavor blend?!” I won’t pretend to know all the health consequences of these additives. I can tell you 100% for certain that your body can do without them. As you start becoming more label-literate, you’ll see that the less lengthy the list is, the better. Also you should notice that the Yoplait has TWICE the amount of sugar, and it’s mostly added. Do yourself a favor and skip the sugary yogurt and go for the higher fat yogurt. If you haven’t already, it’s time to ditch “low-fat” products. It’s largely thought that the low-fat craze drove us all to eat more sugar-laden products resulting in the current obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Just like “low-fat” can give you a false sense of health, “fruit” can do the same thing if you’re not careful. Whole untouched fruit is the way to go. Just wash, peel, and eat. Fruits produce sugars naturally in the form of fructose and sucrose. Not to fear. The fiber in the fruit is key to preventing the sugars from wreaking havoc on your body. First, the fiber resists digestion which causes the sugar to be slowly released into your bloodstream. Second, the fiber forms a gel-like matrix in your intestines that actually sequesters some of the sugar and delivers it to your microbiome for your bacteria to eat so your body doesn’t. CRAZY, right? It has been estimated that fiber can prevent the absorption of up to 30% of the sugar in a fruit.
It’s way past due to stop buying fruit juices or fruit packed in a can/jar/bottle because they usually are soaking in fruit juice or liquid syrup. Even if juice says it is “100% juice,” you want to avoid it. Since there is no fiber to resist digestion, the fructose and sucrose are absorbed quickly into your bloodstream and subsequently by your liver which will strongly encourage your body to store it as fat and promote insulin resistance.
Nuts are healthy, right? They have good fats, don’t they? They are and do…just as long as we are talking about the same thing. There are lots of different nut mixes and trail mixes out there so it can be hard to find the right one. Trail mixes with dried fruit, candy, and chocolate aren’t good choices due to their blatant added sugar. It’s all about choosing quality and many times that means straying from flashy-looking brands that have long been ingrained in our heads due to good marketing. Planters is a common brand and many might choose a can like this one:
Mixed nuts sound like a good choice especially since they have “good” fats in them. Again, you need, need, need to look at the label to see what surprises are hidden inside. Looking at the label for this product we can see added sugar in the carbs section and in the ingredient list there are three sweeteners added: sugar, corn syrup and honey. These are mixed nuts, not candy. Why so much sweet!? To put things into context, it takes about 28 pieces of various nuts to intake 6 grams of added sugar. You’re not getting a ton of added sugar here, but it’s just one more area where you can COMPLETELY eliminate unnecessary added sugar. Remember the recommended limit is 50 grams in a day, and this type of food item will definitely nudge you there more quickly.
I don’t intend to vilify any particular brands, so I’ll point out the right kind of Planters nuts to buy. You don’t even have to buy the special or premium nuts! See below:
I know what you’re thinking: “Sean, come on. You don’t have any fun. Not even any salt!?” Guys, fine have some salt. I am MUCH less concerned with excessive salt consumption than sugar. I honestly buy roasted, unsalted nuts and love the taste. I’m not saying you have to go raw. In fact, roasted nuts don’t lose any of their nutrition (versus raw) so there’s no problem getting them. As a final point, notice that the ingredient list in the mixed nuts product only has actual nuts listed and some oil. The simple list is a vote of confidence that you’re getting what you bargained for. No random fillers, gums, or sweeteners you can’t pronounce!
Please know I am not advocating eating chocolate to reverse metabolic syndrome or diabetes; however, I am acknowledging that we humans like dessert and there are smart ways to approach it without giving yourself diabetes. To satisfy your sweet tooth, chocolate may actually be an excellent choice for dessert…as long as you’re choosing QUALITY stuff. Chocolate is a food that contains many nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants. For instance, the flavanols in chocolate which you may have heard are in blueberries and wine are associated with lower blood pressure. It’s the TYPE of chocolate that you choose that will determine if you have any chance of getting those benefits. “Chocolate” is a blanket term that many products fall under but few are high-quality. Many popular candy brands like Hersheys, Reeses, etc. welcome any evidence that chocolate or cocoa is beneficial for health because they can sneak their sugar-laden products underneath the chocolate umbrella.
The label below gives a great example of how we can easily fool ourselves. It’s a “Special Dark” chocolate bar so you may even think it’s healthy since it’s not just milk chocolate. One bar has 20 GRAMS OF ADDED SUGAR and it has been processed with alkali so the antioxidants are likely non-existent. Once again there are strange added fillers and flavors that are completely unnecessary for your body to process.
Unfortunately, these products are a far cry from quality chocolate. That said, you want to purchase chocolate that is a MINIMUM of 70% cacao AND is not processed with alkali (noted in ingredient list) because it removes the antioxidant benefit. A majority of chocolate products don’t meet these standards which makes me very angry to see many people consume “chocolate” thinking it’s good for their health.
The chocolate bar from Lindt below is a much better choice. Again, I don’t have any agenda to promote certain brands. The added sugar content is five times lower and the ingredients are short and sweet 🙂
We honestly shouldn’t even call most products on the market “chocolate;” they are more like sugary brown candies, I usually buy anywhere from 70-95% cacao chocolate bars and find them to be very rich and flavorful. Many people will complain that they are too bitter and don’t taste good. That is likely because they are used to the high sugar content of candy bars, and we know that the fructose in sugar can desensitize your taste buds making you miss out on all of that real chocolatey goodness in 70% or more cacao chocolate.
Implement Action the Next Time You Shop
These are just a few examples of foods you may purchase at the store, but you can start doing this with ALL of the food you buy. Ramping up the quality of all the food you buy will EASILY lower your overall sugar consumption for the day.
You might argue that the higher quality food costs more. What is the cost? You’re likely referring to the cost in dollars at the cash register. I would say lower quality food is costing you more. What is the cost? I am referring to the cost of your health and well-being. It’s hard to put a dollar amount on that in the short-term but in the long-term exposing your body to damaging, low-quality food ends up costing you a ton of money in health care bills that you could have avoided long before. It’s like you kept charging the credit card instead of paying for cash up front; the bill will come sooner or later.
All the food we purchase at the store lie on a spectrum of lower and higher quality products. Familiar brands and catch phrases like “low-fat,” “all-natural,” or “organic” don’t mean much with respect to your health. Start looking at the labels and look for simple ingredient lists without added sugars.
Until next time my friends!
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