I do a fair amount of house-sitting, and something that is always interesting to look at is the kinds of food that people keep in their homes. Everyone is always really generous with leaving plenty of food for me while I’m looking after their house and pets, and usually the kinds of food they keep are very similar.
There’s always milk and eggs and canned soups, pasta, cheese, juice, and generally some kind of bread and/or cereal. It’s surprising how many people have trail mix as well in their cupboards, so it’s great to see lots of people eating nuts and seeds (although usually people ignore important nutrition information and ingredient lists on the package which indicate the high fat and calorie content of their otherwise healthier choice—it’s worth checking to see the extra preservatives, salts, and sugars added too).
What you don’t often find is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Often people will have a small package of baby carrots or some slightly wilted apples, and that’s the extent of that. People prefer to eat “snack foods” rather than fruits and veggies—there are always boxes of crackers, cookies, chips, and popcorn in the cupboards.
Unfortunately, I see that they’ve got a lot of those packages with health claims on them, and that always makes me a little sad. Why does it have that affect? Because so often, those health claims mean zilch. “0 trans fat” doesn’t equal healthy. “100 calories per serving” doesn’t equal healthy. And a brand with the word “Whole” or “Natural” definitely does not equal healthy.
The thing is, a lot of these packaged foods have all sorts of unpronounceable ingredients hidden away in them, which screams caution! Most of them are loaded with sugar, palm oil, and enriched (i.e. white) flour. The nutrients have been stripped out and all you’re getting is empty calories.
Now, I think it’s great that companies have come out with 100 calorie packs to assist in controlling portion sizes. The problem lies in that people start eating 100 calories packs on a day-to-day basis, whereas those 100 calorie packs still contain the same non-nutritional ingredients that the regular bags of cookies and chips contain; it’s just a smaller size.
Just like pies and cakes are usually reserved for special occasions, so too should these 100 calorie packs only be eaten as a treat. They aren’t part of a healthy lifestyle. They don’t contribute to a nutritious lunch. But they make us feel virtuous for having eaten the lesser of evils.
For a long time I loved Special K vanilla crisp cereal bars. I’d eat one or two every day. Then it occurred to me to take a look at the ingredients, and really think about the nutrient content. The truth is that while those bars might be low in calories and fat, sugar is one of the primary ingredients used in it and the rest of the ingredients aren’t much better. I still like those bars, but I don’t bother eating them now. If I need a sweet fix, I’m better off having an apple—and that way I’m getting in some key nutrients, lots of fiber, and it will also keep me feeling full (something which Special K bars do not do).
If you’re a fan of the 100 calorie packs, take a look at the ingredients list. You’ll probably see a whole host of items on there that you have no idea what they even are.
If you’ve got the time, look into what that ingredient is exactly and how it contributes to your snack (or ask me about it—I’m always up for investigation and research!). You’re better off eating those 100 calorie packs when you’ve got a real craving that can only be filled by that particular food, or as a special treat.
Instead of a 100 calorie pack, why not try one of the REAL 0 trans fat, natural, whole foods with only one ingredient: a piece of fruit or vegetables. They’re just as convenient as a 100 calorie pack; all you have to do is wash it off for pesticides and then start munching. Doesn’t it taste better to eat something that was made naturally, rather than a food full of processed, man-made ingredients? And when you eat fruits and veggies, you know what it is that you’re putting into your mouth, as compared to the 5 different types of sugars added to your 100 calorie packs.
Psst: the best part is that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, you can eat a lot more of it and there’s much less reason to carefully measure out your portions. Delicious!
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