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The Smart Processed Foods Choice

Making Sense of Processed Foods

You’ve probably heard in the news that processed foods are bad for you. They’re frequently blamed for high rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes in America.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. Not all processed foods are bad for you, and it’s important to know which ones you need, which ones can help you save, and which ones to avoid.

What Is Processed Food?

There is a whole range of processed food, and the more processed it is, the less likely it is to be good for you.

Barely processed foods are things that you can find at the store that have been prepped for you for your convenience. These include:

  • Washed and bagged lettuce and spinach
  • Precut or chopped fruit or veggies
  • Roasted nuts

Foods processed at their peak lock in and preserve nutrition, quality, and freshness. These include:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables
  • Canned tuna

Foods with added ingredients may have better flavor and texture, but they can also be worse for you. While these ingredients help preserve quality, they can also have higher sugar, fat, and unnatural additives. These frequently include sweeteners, spices, oils, colors, and preservatives. Foods with added ingredients include:

  • Jarred pasta sauce
  • Salad dressing
  • Yogurt
  • Cake mixes

Ready-to-eat foods are usually heavily processed with lots of added ingredients. These include:

  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Granola bars
  • Prepackaged deli meat

Frozen and premade meals are usually the most heavily processed with lots of added ingredients, including salt and preservatives to make them last. These include:

  • Frozen pizza
  • Frozen meals
  • Microwaveable dinners

Positives of Processed Foods

As you can see, some processed foods are good for you. Fresh fruits and veggies that have just been chopped and washed before being packaged really just save you time. (Although you usually have to pay more for that time savings.)

Foods processed at their peak are a great way to save, with the same nutrition at a lower price than fresh.

And some foods with added ingredients are actually better for you. Many kinds of milk and juice have more calcium and vitamin D added in. Some breakfast cereals have added fiber.

Problems with Processed Foods

The 3 biggest problems with processed foods are added sugars, salt, and fat.

Sugars

Sugars aren’t just in candy and prepackaged desserts. They’re added in all kinds of foods, and you may not even know it.

  • Breads can have added sugars to give them a nice brown color.
  • Canned pasta sauce generally has a surprising amount of added sugar.
  • Many cereals are heavily sweetened.
  • Fruit canned in syrup is filled with sugar.

Salt

Salting your food isn’t to blame for high levels of sodium in your diet. 3/4 of the salt you take in comes from processed food.

  • Most canned vegetables, soups, sauces, and beans have added sodium to improve the taste and texture and to help preserve them on the shelf.
  • Premade meals and snacks are full of extra salt to make them taste better and preserve them.

Fats

Added fats make food shelf-stable and tastier. But trans fats in processed foods can raise your bad cholesterol.

Many products with added fats have really small serving sizes, and if you eat more than that, you’re eating a lot of trans fat in one sitting.

For instance, a serving size of Oreos is just 3 cookies, and those 3 cookies have 7 grams of fat, which is 11% of your recommended daily total of fat. Do you actually eat just 3 Oreos in a sitting? Just doubling to 6 cookies puts you over 20% of your daily fat total!

Smart Processed Foods Choices

Now that you know the basics, how can you pick out processed foods that are good for you?

Read Food Labels

  • Look for fortified milk and juice, which have added calcium and vitamins.
  • Avoid things like white bread, which are so refined that most of the healthy fiber has been removed in the processing. Look for whole grain breads, tortillas, and pastas instead.
  • Buy canned fruit packed in water or 100% fruit juice. Avoid fruit packed in syrup and fruit juice concentrate, which have added sugar.
  • Even if a product says it’s organic or all-natural, it can still have added sugar. Too much cane sugar and honey can be just as bad for you as too much corn syrup.
  • Carbohydrates on the nutrition label include naturally occurring sugars, like in yogurt and fruit. Instead, look at the ingredients list to see if sugar has been added. Look for:
    • Sugar
    • Maltose
    • Brown sugar
    • Corn syrup
    • Cane sugar
    • Honey
    • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Check things you might not think you need to for sugar, like cereals, even plain kinds, and pasta sauce.
  • Look for reduced or low sodium on things like canned vegetables, soups, and beans. You can always add a little bit of salt when you’re cooking if you need it.
  • Always rinse canned beans and vegetables, which can lower the salt content by 40%.
  • Even if a product says it has zero trans fat, check the ingredients. If it has any hydrogenated vegetable oils, then it’s going to have some trans fat.

And most importantly, just try to eat heavily processed foods in moderation and make the most of healthier processed foods in a balance with fresh foods.

Up Next:

Making sense of food labels is easy with our handy guide.

Make the most of your next grocery shopping trip to boost your diet and make healthy choices.

Avoiding Food Allergies for Food Allergy Awareness Week

Food Allergy Awareness Week 2016

This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week, so we’re bringing you facts about food allergies each day. Learn more.

Food Allergy Breakdown

 

Bodily Reaction

 

Milk and Egg Allergies

 

Allergy Signs and Symptoms

 

Treating a Reaction

 

Cleaning Surfaces

 

Cooking for Those with Food Allergies

 

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Farm-to-Table Dining

Long View: Fresh from the Farm and Close to Home

The concept of farm-to-table eating intrigues me. I’ve noticed the term showing up in the local, independent restaurants in Iowa and Nebraska.

Farm-to-table means the food comes directly from the farm to your local restaurant, without first going through a store, market, or distributor.

A well-loved farm-to-table restaurant in Omaha has 19 different local, independent farms as partners. Its mushrooms come from Grand Island, its walnuts from Valparaiso, its poultry from Burchard, and even its vinegar is locally produced in Cody, NE, which has a population of just 156 people. Another restaurant in Des Moines claims that 90% of its ingredients come from local farms. Even the house liquors are Iowans’.

None of this is new, really. When I visit our home office in Urbana, I like to eat lunch nearby at Common Ground Food Co-operative, which has been in business since 1974. Its website can show you a map of where your groceries came from in Illinois. The furthest any of the apples have traveled is right around 200 miles, from freshly picked trees in Murphysboro.

But does eating locally really make a difference? Science tells us that fruits and veggies begin to lose nutrients once they are picked. If they’ve been sitting in a crate on the back of a truck or in a grocery store very long, you’ll miss out on the fruit’s or veggie’s full flavor and nutrition.

And when you choose a farm-to-table restaurant, you’ll know that a lot of your hard-earned money is staying in your community. The American Independent Business Alliance found that on average, 48% of each purchase at local small businesses went back into their communities. That’s more than 3 times the amount at chain stores.

The next time you sit down at your favorite local restaurant, go ahead and introduce yourself. Find out where those delicious ingredients came from. You might be surprised how close to home their journey started.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Fresh Fish

Healthy Fresh Fish Recipes

This week in food, we gave you recipes to make light and healthy meals with fresh fish.

First up is a light take on Fried Catfish and Hush Puppies.

Fried Catfish and Hush Puppies

 

This Miso Yuzu-Glazed Cod with Black Rice and Water Spinach uses adventurous ingredients for big flavor.

Miso Yuzu-Glazed Cod with Black Rice and Water Spinach
Image and Recipe via Blue Apron

 

Halibut with Bacony Corn Sauté uses fresh summer ingredients and delivers big flavor in just 309 calories.

Halibut with Bacony Corn Sauté

 

This Baked Coconut Crusted Tilapia recipe is a great substitute when you’re craving coconut shrimp.

Baked Coconut Crusted Tilapia

 

Honey Lime Glazed Salmon with Sesame Rice Noodle Salad is all about bright colors and flavors.

Honey Lime Glazed Salmon with Sesame Rice Noodle Salad

 

Spicy Tuna Seaweed Wraps are a great sushi substitute, and can be made with fresh or canned tuna.

Spicy Tuna Seaweed Wraps– All the Rage!

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Healthy Weight for Kids

Help Your Kids Reach a Healthy Weight

Childhood obesity is a regular topic in the news, and with more than a third of American children above a healthy weight, there’s a real reason for concern.

While many stories talk about school lunch programs and possible laws in the food industry, it can be hard to know what to do when when it’s your child. Then, it’s not about statistics or national efforts — it’s personal.

Get the Facts

The first step is to take an honest look at your kids, even though that’s incredibly hard to do. But denying a weight problem won’t help.

If you’re worried about your kid’s weight, the first step is to talk to their doctor. Some kids develop differently, and it’s possible that yours are still shedding their baby fat. Their doctor can give you a better idea of whether or not it’s a problem.

Getting Started

If their doctor diagnoses your kids as overweight or obese, the next step is to take it in without blaming them or yourself. These days, it can be harder and harder to be healthy when everything has sugar, salt, or chemicals hidden in the ingredients. But it’s not too late to learn to change bad habits and make better ones.

The key is for you to set a goal for your family to get healthy and active, and to stick to it. By helping them make healthy habits now, you can set an example that will last them a lifetime.

Talk About Weight

Next, it is important to really talk through the reasons for the coming changes with your family. Kids usually don’t understand the link between what and how much they eat and their bodies. And if you don’t explain what’s happening, they may think that you taking away their favorite foods is a punishment.

Make sure they understand that they haven’t done anything wrong, and that this is to help you all feel and live better. Don’t put it in terms of weight or looks, instead, talk about feeling good and being healthy and strong.

Kids can be sensitive about their weight, especially if they’ve been teased or bullied about it before. Make sure you always work to build up their self-esteem, and never make them feel guilty for being overweight.

Create a Weight Plan

Now it’s time to create an action plan to make big changes doable.

Get Active

Limits on screen time, like TV, video games, and computers, can help get them moving. You can also have them earn screen time, like playing outside for an hour could earn them 15 minutes of their favorite video game.

Try turning physical activities into family time. Take a bike ride together through your neighborhood. Teach your children games you played as a kid, like freeze tag, or kickball.

Play to what they’re interested in. If they like watching sports on TV, teach them rules or plays during a pickup game. If they love science, find experiments online that will get them moving, like learning about motion, or outside, like looking at plants and animals. Ask their friends or school about groups or teams your kids might want to join, or convince them to play with their dog after school each afternoon.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating better also needs to be a family effort. Kids’ eating habits are often learned from their parents, so first, take a look at what you eat and what you feed them. Again, don’t blame or stress about the past, just set goals for moving forward.

The biggest change you can make is to bring fruits and veggies into every meal. They should make up half of your plate at every meal, and they make great snacks.

Also, cut back on fast food and pre-made snacks like store-bought chips and cookies.  You can’t control how these things were made, which usually means extra calories. Swap these for healthy snacks like string cheese, nuts, grapes, rice cakes, and apples with peanut butter.

Cut out soda in your home. Don’t allow it at the dinner table, and drink low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, or water instead. And if your family misses the bubbles, switch to sugar-free flavored soda water.

And the most important thing you can do is to start cooking at home. When you cook a meal, you control what goes into it, how it was made, and how big a serving is. When you eat out, you don’t always know what your family’s getting.

Make It Stick

These changes can seem huge at first, but you don’t have to make them all at once. Start small, like setting a goal of serving veggies with dinner five nights a week.

You can’t change your family’s diet and exercise routine overnight, and you wouldn’t want to. Change can be hard for kids (and adults!), so get the whole family into it:

  • Never single out one child who’s struggling with a weight issue. Even thin siblings will feel the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.
  • Make your kids a part of meal planning, shopping, and cooking. When they help pick out and prepare veggies for the stir-fry or cook ground turkey for tacos, they’re more likely to try new foods.
  • A good rule is 90% healthy food, and 10% fun food. Limit the not-so-healthy stuff, but definitely don’t ban it. Diets with strict rules are more likely to backfire, and could cause your kids to develop long-term issues with food.
  • Find great advice. With the internet, other parents’ tricks are always on hand. Many have found ways to sneak healthy ingredients into their kids’ favorite foods, like Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, zucchini, pumpkin, or banana breads, and desserts like these protein-rich Black Bean Brownies. They’ll be healthier without even knowing it!
  • If you’re having a tough time getting your kids on board, find outside help. As parents, we all know that some kids are more likely to follow advice when the info is coming from someone else. Find a registered dietitian for kids in your area at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Eat Right. website.

For more articles and tips on keeping your kids healthy and happy, and many more healthy recipes, visit our Pinterest.

Clean Eating Done Right

5 Steps to Clean Eating

What Is Clean Eating?

There’s a new buzz word being thrown around in the world of nutrition, clean eating. It’s a pretty simple concept: eat foods that aren’t processed and are as direct from nature as possible. They’re whole and free of additives, colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, and hormones.

Evidence shows that the closer to nature you eat, the fewer calories it will take for you to feel full. Processed foods are low in fiber and water, have few nutrients for the amount of calories and added flavors from salt, sugar, and chemicals.

Clean foods are the exact opposite, with lots of fiber, water, many nutrients to the amount of calories and no added flavors. This combination tells your brain that you are satisfied.

For example, if you were eating raw almonds as a snack, you are likely to eat fewer than if you were diving into a bag of honey roasted almonds. The sugary coating on the almonds makes the snack harder to resist.

Give clean eating a try for yourself. It’s easier than you think. Instead of an apple pastry, applesauce, or apple juice, go to the source and eat an apple.

Clean Up

  • Toss heavily processed food, full of things like corn syrup, oil, and salt, and soda.
  • Shop the outskirts of the grocery store, which is where the freshest foods are.
  • Read labels for the fewest and simplest ingredients. The longer the list, the more room for the additions of chemicals, sugar, salt, and bad oils.
  • Cook more meals at home. Restaurants rely heavily on processed foods to make things quickly and uniformly.
  • Train your tongue. If you are used to salt, sugar, and fat, you’ll need some time to appreciate the more subtle flavors of natural foods.