When it comes to health and wellness, there are approximately 1.7 Million different opinions about what’s “good” for you (unofficial statistic). Out of curiosity, I did a little research into just how large the wellness industry is and it turns out, it’s growing more than twice as quickly as the global economy and wellness expenditures are more than half as large as global health expenditures, according to the Global Wellness Institute (official statistics). I’m no economist, but in simple terms, it sounds to me like demand is up and the industry is growing as a result. And that’s probably great! But with so much growth, there’s a lot more noise for us everyday consumers to weed through. If we’re just trying to live happier and healthier lives, what do we need to know to achieve that? Are we supposed to follow a diet that’s defined as keto, or dairy free, or paleo, or vegan, or eating only foods that start with the letter Q?
I can’t tell you there’s a single silver bullet answer that is right for everyone, but I can tell you that one simple practice has changed my entire approach to how I think about and prepare food and it’s an applicable asset, regardless of the title of diet you pursue. #1 most beneficial skill: learn to read labels.
To be honest, until about 5 years ago, I almost never paid attention to ingredients. I was fairly knowledgeable of the macro categories: fat, protein, carbs – but never paid much mind to how those caloric categories were composed. In 2o15, I started to become more aware of what ingredients or, more accurately, what fillers and preservatives, were loaded into the foods I was buying. And guys, it’s shocking. Shocking how a seemingly benign pantry item like spaghetti sauce can be loaded with sugar and other crazy things you can’t even pronounce. The more I practiced being aware of the ingredients, the easier it became to clean up my pantry and grocery list to include only whole foods and ingredients whose origin I can trace. Below are a few of the rules of thumb I follow for every food item that makes it into my cart.
Avoid sneaky sugars. You’d be astonished at how many products have sugar added to them – think: sauces and dressings, condiments, cereals, protein bars, yogurt. Sugar can also be called by a few different, less obvious names. I relied heavily on resources like this when I was first practicing label reading, just to learn all the ways I was being duped.
If you can’t pronounce it, you don’t need it. I won’t get on a soapbox about all the ways that the food industry is screwing with our foods by adding preservatives, fillers, and additives to increase shelf-life, cut down on production costs, and make things addictively tasty while actively decreasing the nutritional value of basically everything. You’re spared for today. I will say that if you can’t pronounce a name (aside from keen-wah), it’s probably not a whole food and probably artificial.
Is it a whole food? Meaning, can I identify it in its most basic form? It’s becoming so much easier to get really delicious and affordable foods that are real foods (thank you Trader Joe’s), so with a few conscious adjustments, you can pretty much replace all of your staples with a version that’s composed only of real ingredients.
I’ve linked a ton of other helpful resources to help guide you on how to read labels on the f|b: Wellness Pinterest board here. If you’ve found other tips for cleaning up your pantry helpful, please share below!