Good nutrition is one of the cornerstones of good health. Nurturing ourselves and our families with good wholesome foods is an investment in good health both now and in the future. But with no fat, low fat, less fat, organic, all natural, preservative free, and so on, it’s hard to tell what’s healthy and what is not.
Food marketing is big business and keep in mind that they don’t care about your family or your health, they just want their product in your trolley and in your pantry. They don’t even care if you eat it, they just want you to buy it.
So let’s take a look at the realities of some of the claims on packaged food.
No added sugar – sugar has not been added however it may contain any amount of natural sugar.
Reduced fat or salt – has at least 25% fat then the original product.
Low fat – contains less then 3% fat for solid food or 1.5% for liquid food but check the package for sugar content.
Fat free – must contain less then 0.15% fat, again check sugar content, something is making it taste okay.
Lite/Light – may refer to the texture, colour or taste of the product rather then the fat or energy content.
Baked not Fried – still may contain significant amounts of fat.
100% fruit – may have added sugar and the combination of fruit may differ from what is shown on the label, often companies use majority apple juice with other fruit concerntrates as it’s cheaper.
Understanding the nutritional panel is incredibly important. Every product has the following information on it. The number of servings per package and recommended serving size, often to make claims about being in a healthy diet the manufacturer bases their claims on incredibly small portions. The average energy content, expressed in kilojoules. Every kilojoule not used by the body will be stored as fat. Products low in fat may still be high in energy, always check this section of the label.
Protein is an important nutrient for the development and repair of body tissue and some shoal be consumed at each meal. Carbohydrate is broken down glucose and must be balanced with excercise, however it is still important to have some carbohydrate each meal.
Fat – excessive fat can lead to weight gain, too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
Fibre – having fibre in the diet is important for many aspects of good health.
Salt or sodium – choose foods with low salt content, especially if you have high blood pressure or heart health issues.
What about the ingredient list? This is a blog post all of it’s own. Reading the ingredients list is a minefield in itself. I recommend going to http://www.additivealert.com.au for more information about whats really in our food.
What about organic? Unfortunately anyone can label their food organic so be sure it is organic certified.
So what do we do? Check the labels, the first time you shop with this in mind it may take a really long time, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be fine.
Compare the nutritional content of different brands. Avoid products with additives, especially in products you intend to give to children.
Where possible eat organic to reduce your exposure to pesticides and chemicals. Eat whole foods and cook from scratch wherever possible, the more processed your food is the more chemicals and preservatives needed to keep the food in that state. Tins are often coated in BPA to keep the canned good fresh so buy sauces in glass jars if need be, or make your own!
Buy fruit and vege in season, or grow your own. Even if you’re renting you can buy pots, potting mix and seeds from
Big W or Bunnings for relatively cheap and things like tomatoes, strawberries, beans, capsicum, and herbs recquire very little effort after the initial planting.
If organic food is expensive consider buying only for your children as they building their bodies on these foods. And remember that some foods soak up more chemicals and pesticides through their skin then others. Generally those with a thick skin like pumpkin or pineapple should be fine while food with a thin skin like apples and potatoes should be bought organic. The dirty and clean 15 is a list of what is best and worst when it comes to buying non-organic.
And remember that foods don’t always need extra sugar/salt/fat to taste good. Eat food ‘nude’ without dressings or extras, and enjoy the natural tastes and flavors.
How do I know all this? Well in my life before children food was my job and my job while pregnant with my first was planning and constructing menus for hundreds of sailors meeting their nutritional needs based on the rationing standards of the Navy. Part of a cooks job is knowing how foods react with each other, add fatty products to a soup or sauce that will boil for a long time and it will end up with a layer of grease on the top, too much salt and the fkavour will be overpowering etc. And baking is a science, everything that goes into a cake or loaf of bread needs to be accurately measured or it won’t work. Knowing what is in food was my job.
Since having children knowing what the ingredients in food does to our bodies has been something I’ve been researching and it has shocked me! I can’t learn these things about every day foods and not pass the information on. Many of these ingredients have not been tested for their long term health consequences so who knows what a lifetime of eating these foods will do to us and our children.
I highly recommend the book ABC Guide to Fit Kids by Dr Phillip Mason, Katherine Swan and Adrian Stone for all parents wanting to know more about food and I would recommend reading it BEFORE your child starts solids. As well as Baby Led Weaning by Gil Rapley.