Ever stare at a shelf at the supermarket and feel overwhelmed by all the options for one food item? I sure have, and I have spent nearly half an hour reading the packaging of each option, Googling like a maniac, and still felt like I wasn’t presenting the best option of that food.
We live in a time now where there is a variety to everything. Every brand claims they are the best and the majority of us fall for that excellent marketing trick. Which is why my rule of thumb for packaged food is to never buy the one with the TV commercial! But having so much variety isn’t all bad, it means that there is room for a better option. And I, being the healthy nerd that I am, have done the work for you to help you find the best option available. Now, I won’t be naming the best option out there, that’s easy but it also leaves room for error. Instead, I will be teaching you the tools to find that option yourself. That way, with this quick, ever changing market, you can keep up and still find the healthiest option available at the time.
I have asked around friends, clients, and strangers which foods they have the hardest time with when it comes to finding a healthy option and here is what they chose:
1. Coffee (creamer, sweetener, coffee shop, brand etc.)
2. Packaged breakfast
3. Protein/snack bar
4. Sports drink
8. Fast Food
9. Movie Theatre snacks
If there is any other you feel has been left out and you would like to know of a better option, drop it in the comments below and I will be happy to add it in!
Now, remember: you have the power to choose. It’s not about knowing the options; it’s about making that choice. It’s about knowing you are worthy of and deserve the best there is! So, let’s get right to it.
While the effects of caffeine on the body differs for each one of us depending on how well we digest it or not, coffee is still something we are all hooked on, and all know we should limit. One to two cups a day, is ideal. The trick though, is to avoid all the added crap you can put in your coffee. Leave the caramel frappuccino with whipped cream and chocolate chunks as a once-in-a-blue-moon dessert—because that’s what it is, dessert, NOT coffee. Instead, opt for the simple black coffee, espresso, or even latte. Choose a plant based milk over regular dairy and avoid creamers, especially the powder form. If you must use a creamer, use a plant-based creamer that has very minimal ingredients and less than 4g (=1tsp) of sugar.
And speaking of sugar, how sweet do you like it? Hopefully, not too sweet. Train your taste buds to enjoy your coffee without the loads of sugar. Two packets or teaspoons of sugar should be enough, use raw sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, molasses, honey, pure monk fruit (without the Erythritol), Stevia, or date syrup to sweeten your cup o’ Joe. Avoid all the other stuff like artificial sweeteners, white table sugar, etc.
Now, for the beans; hopefully you are a lover of the lighter roast since this is the one with the most antioxidants! I myself was a fan of the darkest of dark roasts and made the switch recently, since I read a new study in the Journal of Medicinal Food. In this study, a group of Korean researchers discovered that the lighter the roast, the higher the antioxidant (chlorogenic acid) content!
There are many brands of coffee out there so which do you pick? Well, I’ll narrow it down to this: always go organic. Next, choose a brand that you can trust, you may have to do a little research here. Grab a bag of coffee beans; does it look like they are dedicated to the quality of their product or does it look like they spend more money marketing to you?
There are third party regulators who will have a seal telling you how dedicated this brand is. Look for their certification labels such as:
· Rainforest Alliance Certified – Which meets high standards for wildlife preservation, worker welfare, and benefits local communities.
· Fair Trade Certified – Where farmers have safe working conditions, living wages, and fair prices for crops. A bonus on this one is that pesticides and GMO are strictly prohibited.
· Bird Friendly – This is another one used only on coffee, which isn’t often spotted, but if you care a lot for birds you might want to know about it. Developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, this seal ensures that the coffee beans are 100% organic and shade grown under a rainforest canopy, which is very important for migratory birds.
The rest is up to you, whether you feel the need to have these seals or not, and if you trust the brand behind the product.
So, how’s that organic, light roast latte with coconut milk and two raw sugars taste? –BTW that’s how I take my coffee.
2. PACKAGED BREAKFAST
So, this one is hard especially for parents. We are rushing our whole family out the door in the morning and we need a quick breakfast to avoid being late or missing the bus. I know this well! So, packaged breakfasts have become a thing we just had to compromise. Yes, fresh is best, of course. But it’s not always available.
The stuff I am talking about here is cereals, pop-tarts, frozen waffles and pancakes, frozen breakfast sandwiches, frozen sausages, etc. All of which are highly processed and terrible for our little ones to set out and have a productive day. They cause inflammation and eventually make us fat and sick. Ideally, we would start our day with fruits and some protein to give us all the nutrients for a great start. So, the dedication is in the prep work. A nice superfood smoothie is my go-to now when I feel like I’m on limited time and end up giving my kids a frozen waffle or bagel.
But for the times we do have to hand them that frozen meal or cereal and milk, opt for organic always. You will see this pattern with packaged food: ALWAYS BUY ORGANIC!! That is because you don’t know where they source their ingredients from; therefore, at least with it being organic you know there are no GMO ingredients in there.
Look for cereals with the least ingredients. Explain to the kiddos why you aren’t buying the fun one with all the characters. Their bodies need to grow and you aren’t fond of putting toxic chemicals like food coloring in their little brains.
Avoid the following:
· Food coloring and dyes (ie. RED 40)
· High fructose corn syrup
· Canola oil
· Palm oil
· Corn syrup
· Sucralose, fructose, and all the other secret sugar names
The same goes for frozen foods like waffles and pancakes. Keep it organic, look for minimal ingredients (less than 7), make sure it’s low in sugar content (4g = 1 tsp) per serving, and avoid the ingredients above. Top it with some pure maple syrup or raw honey and some fruit.
Personally, I avoid pop-tarts completely, there are no nutrients in them and it’s really a dessert. I would also avoid the frozen breakfast meats and meat sandwiches. They are way too processed and when it comes to meat, there isn’t a product out there yet that has organic, grass fed, or pasture raised option. When that becomes available, opt for that, if at all.
If you are having the packaged breakfast, try adding in some fruit by giving them an apple on the go, throwing some berries on top, or making that quick superfood smoothie. Try not to make this an everyday thing. Give yourself some time before bed to prep, or even just plan, a healthy breakfast for your family. This will set you up for success and give everyone the foundation for a great day.
This is another breakfast option when in a rush! I give this to my kids to keep them satisfied until a real meal comes along, but never actually replacing a meal. These bars are great but also loaded with sugar, so be extra alert for sugar content.
You want a bar that is preferably, again, organic and also minimally processed. So, look for ingredient lists that are short. Some may be packed with nutrients, so make sure those nutrients are naturally derived instead of synthetically. To know this, just see the ingredient label, if it says Vitamin C from a type of fruit, awesome, if it says from citric or ascorbic acid, don’t buy it. If the ingredient list is full of wholesome foods you recognize as food, that’s great, if it has a bunch of names you don’t recognize and feel like you need a degree in chemistry to read, avoid it.
To make it easy, our favorites are GoMacro, Trader Joe’s ABC bar or Peanuts and Dates bar, Perfect Bars, and BoBo’s. Ideally, you want bars that have all wholesome ingredients that you can pretty much make at home, ya know, if you had all that time.
4. SPORTS DRINKS
This one is easy, whether liquid or powder form, avoid them all, even the organic ones (which I believe at this time there is only one - Nooma). Why? Because we have a variety of coconut water filled with electrolytes ready to replenish our bodies! Eat a banana or an avocado. The sports drinks are filled with other ingredients that are toxic for our bodies and in the end cause more harm than good. Such as “flavoring”, which is an unregulated, vague term usually referring to a chemical created in a lab to resemble the real thing.
So, which coconut water should you get? We all know by now it will be organic, right? Great! The organic one with the only ingredient being “organic coconut water” is good enough. Some brands are better than others though, since some are from concentrate and/or heat processed. Do a little research to find a brand that uses high pressure processing for their coconuts, which is best.
The ingredient to watch out for here is aspartame. This is a highly addictive, toxic ingredient that was not approved by the FDA for many years because of studies showing brain tumors and seizures in the lab animals it was given. Now, in 1981 it was approved by the FDA, but in a very untrustworthy and controversial way. Needless to say it affects the nerves, any study can show that, and anything that affects your nerves at this level, will make you sick, because it affects the delicate balance of your body.
Either way, aspartame does not come from nature and is an excitotoxin, which “excites” your brain and tricks it to believe you are consuming something you are not, such as sugar. This ingredient also causes stress on the liver. Therefore, avoid it entirely.
Now, I am not saying to go chew on some mint leaves (though that would be ideal), because there are brands out there that are aspartame-free. Such as Simply Gum, Pur, Spry and Glee Gum. Try them out and see which once suits you best.
The most popular one, nearly everyone mentioned dessert or some kind of dessert when I asked what I should feature here and though it’s such a broad term I have little to say here. You see dessert is rarely healthy. Even the home cooked, real ingredients dessert may cause inflammation. Therefore, dessert is food for the simple pleasure of our taste buds. Now, there are some desserts made with raw ingredients that are the best option, because those are almost always nutrient dense.
But here, we are talking about the packaged or restaurant bought versions and with those, I would only advise to eat in moderation. Go for the minimally processed with the least amount of ingredients and like I’ve said over and over again, opt for organic. In a restaurant make it special and share your dessert, that way you aren’t loading up on sugar after an already heavy meal.
So, focusing on minimally processed foods with minimal ingredients, going for the organic option, keeping the serving size small, and doing it only every so often and not every day is the best option. It’s absolutely okay to eat dessert, it okay to indulge in something sweet and full of carbs, as long as it is done sparingly.
If you are someone who is used to having a dessert every day, try to change your perspective of what dessert really is. It’s a form of pleasure. Start by switching to a more wholesome version of that dessert with raw, unprocessed ingredients or very minimally processed. A few examples would be a bowl of berries and some dark chocolate or a glass of warm coconut milk with honey and cinnamon. With time look for another way to bring you that pleasure feeling like enjoying a good laugh, a warm embrace, or a relaxing bubble bath. Like I always say, we are all craving connection and mistakenly believing we crave food.
Chips, like all other packaged foods, should also be eaten in moderation and always bought organic. Look for ones that have sea salt or Pink Himalayan salt. Again, try to avoid the oils like canola, palm, and soy and try to keep the ingredients to a minimum and with names you recognize as food.
The chips with a TV commercial should always be avoided. Those have all kinds of chemicals and are highly processed. The ingredients are likely genetically modified and cause inflammation (which is the root of all disease).
The least amount of ingredients here, the better they will be for your body. So, for potato chips it should only be potato, sea salt, and some kind of oil, preferably coconut, olive, or avocado oil. For tortillas it should be corn with another 2-3 ingredients. It’s super important that potato and corn based chips are organic because those two crops when grown conventionally are almost always heavily sprayed with pesticides and genetically modified. So, for any of the processed foods on here that have those two ingredients, make sure you find an organic option.
Also, be careful not to eat a highly processed dip. Choose things like hummus, guacamole, salsa, or pesto as a dip. Preferably you are making it yourself, if not try to get ones that are low in sodium and sugar as well as dairy free, minimally processed with minimal ingredients.
8. FAST FOOD
Now fast food is a tricky one. There is no fast food that is healthy, no matter how much they try to market that to you. The only “fast food” you should be eating is raw fruits and veggies, it’s ready in an instant, just grab and bite! However, for many of us the convenience of fast food is hard to get away from, so I will list a few things that are important to note.
Avoiding the bigger chains is important, they are not concerned with the nutrients in their food they are concerned with their $$. A better option would be places like Chipotle, Chik-fil-A, Burger-Fi, and Panera Bread. Though these places are still not a healthy choice, they are better than the others. It is better to stop at a small mom and pop restaurant when out than to eat at the chain food restaurants.
If you must eat at these places try to grab something without dairy and opt for the grilled version vs. anything fried. Grab a bowl or salad and avoid the bread, bun, or wrap. Try to find an option on the menu that has the most veggies and keep in mind that this is just a once-in-a-while meal. Hopefully you are having most of your meals as a wholesome, plant filled, home cooked meal. That way, having that burger and fries once a month isn’t a big deal.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most restaurant foods have excitotoxins. As mentioned before, they are terrible for the brain and liver and create more fat storage in the body. So, with or after your meal you may want to drink lots of water to help the body digest and get rid of those toxins. Always have water or tea (unsweetened) with your meals when out, and avoid the sugary juices, sodas and shakes.
9. MOVIE THEATRE SNACKS
Oh, this is a good one…also, a tricky one because most theatres don’t allow you to bring in any food. For those that don’t, buy the popcorn without the butter on top. That butter is pure inflammation in the body and you don’t need all that just for a good flick. Avoid the sugary candy they sell, too and if you must have the nachos see if they have an option to order it with salsa instead of cheese. Otherwise, keep it to just popcorn and some water. Again, avoiding the sodas, which have the excitotoxins and/or sugar that cause inflammation, disease, and mental health issues.
If you can bring your own food, which I sneak in, yes I do and I am not ashamed. Then bring in some homemade, organic popcorn with sea salt and organic butter (not the microwavable ones, please). Another super healthy option is to get organic pumpkin seeds with a little sea salt and snack on those. They are full of nutrients and protein! Bring your own water bottle or a soda water if you like the bubbles and your own version of a treat like raisins, dried cranberry, organic gummies, nuts, freeze dried fruit, dark chocolate or some dark chocolate covered goodies. Which brings us to our final category…
Last and certainly not least, where are my chocoholics? This is my favorite category because it has taken me awhile to find my favorite chocolate but now that I have I indulge knowing I am not causing my body any harm!
When it comes to chocolate, choose dark chocolate with a 73% or more cacao content. Choose something that is dairy-free and with a very small list of ingredients. Again, and I will never stop saying it, always buy organic. Try to find one with little sugar content that also doesn’t have any artificial sweeteners, however, monk fruit is okay.
Just like coffee, chocolate also has some third party certification seals that can help you identify a more conscious brand that cares about the quality of the product as well as how it’s produced. Some of the same labels like the Rainforest Alliance Certified and the Fair Trade Certified can be found on chocolates.
Chocolate by itself is great, but baking with a good chocolate is also extremely important. Choosing raw cacao over cocoa is a better option as well. Unsweetened morsels are always the better option or keeping the sugar content to a minimum is preferred.
If you are a white-chocolate lover, know there are options. There will be a bit of a difference in taste though since white chocolate is just milk and sugar. Since they are two of the most inflammatory foods, I would suggest keeping it to a minimum. There are vegan options by using cacao butter with maple syrup, you can make your own or find a brand that offers a minimally processed version. Otherwise, buy organic and keep it for a special occasion treat.
Overall, choosing a healthier option is all about how much you are willing to commit to a better life for yourself and your family. There is no reason to give up the little pleasures and conveniences in our foods today. But you also don’t want to pay the big price later on with disease. Therefore, having something that is both convenient and healthy makes all the difference.
We don’t live in a perfect world, there will be mistakes and there will be moments where we give in to the unhealthy versions. That’s okay, as long as you remind yourself that your body now has to work twice as hard to return you to a healthy state, which means you will need to give it what it needs to get there by eating more fruits and veggies and drink more water, get enough sleep and movement.
You are worthy of feeling good; you deserve the best there is out there. You no longer need to be deceived by marketing schemes and the agenda of big corporations. You can have your cake and eat it too, just as long as it’s an organic, plant-based cake that you are going to share and eat occasionally!