Store Bought Ingredients

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I know I have presented myself up until now like the person who makes EVERYTHING herself, but truthfully I don't. I DO buy certain things at the grocery store. Unfortunately, many of the food additives and processing that goes into packaged food scare me. In fact, many of the additives in our food here in the United States are ILLEGAL in other countries in the world. I remember when I lived in France, a bag of potato chips had three ingredients on the ingredients list - oil, potatoes, and salt. Here a bag of potato chips has a list of ingredients a mile long, most of which we cannot even pronounce! In addition, foods made by the SAME COMPANY have different ingredients here than in other countries. Yoplait, for example, puts HFCS in their yogurt in the USA, but in France, Yoplait yogurt uses sugar instead.
Not all products that you buy at the grocery store are bad, or I should say, some are better than others. In this post, I would like to share with you some of my favorite store bought items that I use on a regular basis, as well as sharing with you some tips on finding items that will not harm (or do as much harm) to your family's health.
The other day I ran into my friend at the grocery store. At first I didn't see her because I was engrossed in reading the label on a soup can. One of the most important things I can tell you is BECOME AN EXPERT AT READING LABELS!!! This is especially important if you have allergies in your family. Things like corn, milk, and eggs may not be labeled by those names. So first, I look for what I call my "7 BIG NO NO Ingredients," which are:

  1. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (HFCS)- HFCS is the number one banned ingredient in my home. It is really hard to avoid this 100% of the time though, because unfortunately, it lives in SO much of our food here in this country. I could go on and on about all the ways HFCS is BAD, BAD, BAD but I will spare you the lecture and just tell you that basically it is very hard for our bodies to digest and convert into fuel. It is a HUGE contributing factor in obesity and Type II Diabetes.
  2. Other Artificial Sweeteners (such as aspartame, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, Splenda, Nutrasweet, etc.) - Yes, SPLENDA is also in this category. Although people have been made to believe that Splenda is save, more and more studies are revealing that it is not. Not only do these artificial sweeteners have many of the same side effects as HFCS, they have also been known to cause cancer.
  3. Bleached Flour - When reading a label, make sure to avoid items (such as bread) that say "enriched" or "bleached" flour. Try to stick to whole grains. The reason this is no good is because in bleaching or enriching the flour, most of the nutrients have been removed from the grains, making them little more than empty calories.
  4. Trans-Fats (also known as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated _____ oil)- In many countries these oils are ILLEGAL. They cause heart disease, inflammation, and high cholesterol. Surprise, surprise, these little nasties are found in a TON of our foods and namely margarine.
  5. Artificial Coloring - Like "RED 40" for example. These have been known to cause cancer, allergies, and tumors.
  6. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)- This stuff destroys brain cells, causes headaches, and fatigue. Some people are very sensitive to it and in these people it can cause migraines and nausea. It can also cause a number of gastrointestinal issues.
  7. PROCESSED CORN- Learn to recognize it by all of its names because MANY items that are sold in the grocery store are almost entirely corn! Processed corn is very, VERY bad for us. I am not talking about the corn on the cob that you buy and eat fresh, I am talking about corn that has been turned into other things in a lab, using chemicals. It is hard for the body to metabolize and it is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and Type II Diabetes. You can recognize processed corn by these names: dextrin, malodextrin, High Fructose Corn Syrup, fructose, sucrose, glucose, Monosodium Glutamate, cellulose, food starch, xantham gum, and sorbitol.
  8. I know I said there were 7, but really, there is an 8th item to add. I NEVER buy a product with more than 10 ingredients, as a rule of thumb, (unless for example I am buying a frozen veggie mix and there are ten different veggies). If there are more than ten ingredients on the food label, there is surely something in there that isn't good.
Next, I look for anything on the front of the box that might indicate a problem. Here are some things that are misleading, making you think it would be good to buy, but is really a devil in disguise:
  1. Pure- what does that mean really? This word is not regulated, there is no agreed upon meaning for the word "pure." It does not tell you anything about what is in the package and honestly, it probably isn't pure.
  2. Natural- the same as "pure." I will only buy something that says "natural" if I read the ingredient label and I deem it to have wholesome ingredients. But let's be honest, nothing that is in a package is really natural...
  3. Made with Real Fruit - Made with Whole Grains- Made with Real Vegetables- Do not trust this because it is definitely misleading. Yes, there may be real fruit, but how much? I only trust things that say "100% real fruit" and then I still check the label to see. Package labels are not legally required to say how much "real" is in the product. You could buy something that says "made with whole grains" and it could be like 1% whole grains, 99% refined flour. Make sure the ingredient label has the "real" product as the first ingredient.
  4. Fat Free/Low Fat/Only ___ Calories per serving- Usually low fat, fat free, and low calorie either means added sweeteners or other additives, or it means less nutrients. Many times to make things low fat or fat free, nutrients are taken out of the food and replaced with chemically altered products that are not good for us at all.
  5. Juice- Really, children should not be drinking a whole lot of juice. I give it to Daniel every once in awhile, but I only buy juice that is 100% fruit juice and I make sure to read the label to see if anything extra has been added. If the ingredient label has more than two or three ingredients (usually water, juice concentrate, and vitamin C, for example) then I don't buy it.
Once you know the basics of reading food labels, it is really quite easy to find products you can be proud to feed your family without breaking the bank.
Ok, so now that I have shared with you some of the ways that I avoid what I call the "yuckies" or the "no no ingredients" let me share with you some of my favorite store bought products that I use on a regular basis.

  1. Ronzoni Healthy Harvest and Smart Pastas- This is really great tasting pasta, the Healthy Harvest is whole grain and I understand all the ingredients on the label. The other thing I like about Ronzoni is because you can go to their website once a month and print off two coupons for each type of pasta. This month, you can print off two for save $1.00 on two boxes of Healthy Harvest and save $.50 off of one box of Smart Pasta.
  2. Annie's Bunnies- Annie's Bunnies sells a whole variety of products, such as boxed mac and cheese, crackers, and cereal. Here, I am just referring to the crackers as I have never tried the other products. The crackers are great because they have absolutely nothing yucky in them. The one caveat though is that Annie's Bunnies can be expensive so I do only buy them when they are on sale.
  3. Goldfish- Goldfish crackers are a great alternative to Annie's Bunnies. They are less expensive and they also have less yucky stuff in them, however, you have to be careful with Goldfish. There are many different flavors, and some that are different colors. I only buy the Cheddar Goldfish or the Plain Goldfish because the others tend to have one or more of my 7 No No ingredients.
  4. Trader Joe's Fish Nuggets- I love Trader Joe's but I don't have one here in Cedar Rapids. Most of the time when I buy Trader Joe's stuff I am back home in Seattle. I love these fish nuggets, they are made from fish, and that is pretty much it.
  5. Trader Joe's dried mini Ravioli- These are my ABSOLUTE favorite! Whenever I am back home in Seattle I always ship myself home a whole bunch of packages of Ravioli. They are little so Daniel can easily eat them with his fingers. They pair well with Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Sauce. Barilla also has dried tortellini that is ok in a pinch.
  6. Peter Rabbit Organics 100% Pure Fruit Snack- These are sold at Whole Foods and Starbucks. I get them for Daniel because he LOVES them! Whenever we go to Starbucks (which is a lot because I am a total Starbucks addict) he walks straight over to the bin where these are kept and grabs one. They look like a juice pouch but what they actually are, are pouches filled with pureed fruit that kids can suck on. I have heard that adults like them too! They are very portable and you can also squirt them on oatmeal.
  7. Danonino- Ok so I am really upset because my store stopped carrying Danonino - why? Because parents were complaining that it wasn't sweet enough for their kids! My snarky response was, "what do they want their kids eating, neon green yogurt that glows in the dark?" The guy who runs the dairy department didn't appreciate my sarcasm. Anyway, Danonino is great because it comes in a smaller serving size, that my son is actually able to eat and it doesn't contain any of my no, no ingredients. The best part is, Daniel LOVES it! But alas, I cannot get it anymore unless I beg and plead with the dairy guy at my grocery store. You can also get coupons for this occasionally on
  8. Mom's Best Cereal- This cereal is 100% whole grain, has none of the no no ingredients and the best part is that it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. In fact, it is only about $2.50 for a 20 oz box of cereal - not bad when you consider that Cheerios are double that price for the same size box.
Well everyone, that's all for now! Thanks for reading and until next time, Happy, HEALTHY Cooking (and shopping, and eating!)


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