For thirty days I am taking on the challenge of truly embracing my inner food-label-reader. I’m eliminating a few key ingredients in order to cut back on the sugar, fat, and cholesterol in my diet. Now, typically I eat pretty well except for a few cheat days that are slowly turning into cheat weeks. I’ve been more strict in the past with eating clean, and on the heels of spring break I’m ready to pick it back up!
So the four things I will be avoiding on food labels are: High fructose corn syrup, enriched flour, artificial colors & flavors, and any “thing” or ingredient I can’t define. (They make up this cute acronym H.E.A.T., thus, the No H.E.A.T. Challenge!)
So what’s so bad about the ingredients on the No H.E.A.T. list? Well….
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup
You may already be familiar with this one, seeing as it’s in every sweet piece of junk we love to consume. From candy, to dessert, to chips, you’ll find this stuff in almost everything. While some may debate that high fructose corn syrup is somewhat natural because it comes from corn, or that your body cannot differentiate between real sugar and artificial sugar, I like to be safe and STAY AWAY FROM IT. There are tons of a natural, healthy sweetners and snacks that can curb your sweet tooth. Just gotta go digging for them.
2. Enriched Flour
For someone like me that LOVES bread, this one is my soft spot. I eat it all, bread, cake, pizza, donuts, bagels, if it has a bread-like consistency that food is bae. However, enriched flour is pretty crappy for you considering it is often bleached to give it that crisp, snow-white color. If whatever food you are eating contains enriched flour in the first few ingredients, it’s probably best to leave it on the shelf. Instead, look for breads that contain “whole wheat flour” which has more nutrients.
3. Artificial Colors & Flavors
That beautiful coloring on a lot of the food we eat is far from natural. That’s good old man made dye at work, brightening our favorite goodies to a shade that’s sure to catch our eye. Same with flavoring, a lot of the additives in foods are used to appease our taste buds, which are beyond accustomed to sugary/salty things. So if you spot Red #1 or a bunch of other additives that stray away from the natural taste of food… leave it on the shelf.
4. Things You Can’t Define
So this literally makes reading labels so much easier for me. If the word is something that I don’t understand, can’t even begin to define, or probably can’t pronounce, then nine times out of ten its not something I should be putting in my body. There are ton of preservatives in foods to extend their shelf life, and to keep them looking bright and pretty for customers. However, those preservatives are not necessarily something I want swimming around in my belly.
Most clean foods have the smallest amount of ingredients on the label, and usually you can identify what those ingredients are. For example:
Notice that the ingredients are literally: ROASTED PEANUTS, SUGAR, PALM OIL, and SALT. No extra ish, no additives, no preservatives. This is the kind of label reading I like. These are the kinds of foods that go right in the cart!
On the other hand if you find yourself eating out or frequenting the cafeteria you can still apply this No H.E.A.T. list to your life. For example, stay away from sodas and juices because they often have tons of sugar and even dyes. Go for vegetables as much as possible, and instead of choosing white bread for a sandwich try whole wheat or multi grain. Put down the mayo, go for mustard. Swap fried chicken for baked. Instead of fries, try to eat a sweet potato. Walk away from the Fruit Loops and choose Raisin Bran or Cheerios.
Little changes like this will make a HUGE change in your life. When I started eating cleaner I got sick less often, felt more energized, and overall had a better energy about myself and my body. Combined with going to the gym regularly, I was on the fast track towards a healthier life.
So I challenge you to attempt to cut back on the dirty foods. Of course you can start small at first and work your way up to a clean diet. Progress is important but remember there is no deadline! Just make the decision to try something different and start from there. No one said it would be easy, but it’s definitely worth it!