Smart Shopping

Given just the information below, which of these do you think is a healthy choice for breakfast?

Envirokidz Organic: $4.00           Nature Valley 100% Natural: $3.00

Chances are you chose Envirokidz Organic. What went into your rationale behind that choice? Was it the fact that the label says organic? The gluten free label? Or maybe the fact that it’s more expensive than the Nature Valley?

Here is the nutritional breakdown for each of these:

The Envirokidz bars contain just 1 gram of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and one gram of protein. That is too much sugar and not enough protein or fiber. Looking at the ingredients list, these contain “natural flavors” AKA chemicals (processed packaged foods don’t have to be 100% organic to have the organic label) and FIVE different types of sugar. This is NOT a healthy breakfast option.

However, the Nature’s Valley bars are no better. Those contain 2 grams of fiber, a whopping 12 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein. Sugar is listed as the second ingredient on the label. Keep in mind, ingredients are listed in order of how much of each the food contains. That means that sugar is the second most abundant ingredient. The ingredients also include canola oil, which is almost always GMO and heavily processed, and “natural flavors” or chemicals.

So this was a little bit of a trick question since there really is no healthy option listed, but it illustrates what we typically consider when choosing foods and the information that we really need to look at.

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that many people associate higher price with healthier foods. In a world where organic options are pricier and processed junk food is cheap, this isn’t such a strange assumption to make. However, it’s not always true and can lead you to unintentionally make very unhealthy food choices. (Read more about this study here)

The ingredients and the nutrition facts are where the important information about a packaged food lies. Ideally, a smart breakfast cereal choice will contain at LEAST 3 grams of fiber, less than 5 grams of sugar, and at LEAST 3 grams of protein. This is so the fiber and protein can slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. The way our food labeling laws work allow for manufacturers to put labels on their foods that may not be entirely true and reading the ingredients list is the only way to know what a food truly contains. For example, a package may say “0 trans fat” but the food still contains trans fats, also know as hydrogenated oils.

In a perfect world, we could all only eat whole foods, but reality is that we are busy and need some convenience in our lives so we are going to buy packaged foods from time to time. With the knowledge of how to shop smart, you can still make healthy choices in any aisle of the grocery store.