Ingredients to Avoid in Packaged Snacks

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When we are busy, tired, lazy, and just want the quickest form of fuel, packaged snacks seem like the best option. When you are all about healthy choices, you will most likely examine the nutritional facts and look for options with lower sugar and fat and higher protein. Although these are good facts to consider, it is useful to check out the actual ingredients list on the package. Unfortunately the low fat or low sugar versions of snacks are often not healthier than their regular versions due to the ingredients added to make up for the lack of flavor. It may get tedious to constantly have to look at nutritional facts every time you pick out a snack but it may be worth it if you are looking to lose weight, get rid of cravings, or deal with allergies.

The Good Stuff

There are obvious facts to look for when choosing snacks and meal replacements, as well as not-so-obvious ones. It is important to consider the ratio of the macronutrients, which are the carbohydrate, fat, and protein content. The perfect ratio would include about 30-40% protein, 30-40% carbohydrate, and 20-30% fat. The problem with limiting your decision-making here is that the source of these macronutrients is also important. You do not want your carbohydrates coming from purely sugar or your fats coming from unhealthy trans fats!

The Bad Stuff

Trans Fats

If you are into nutrition, then you probably have heard the hype about how unhealthy trans fats are for the heart. Most of these types of fats are processed, meaning hydrogen is added to the liquid vegetable oils to create a solid product. Many packaged foods brands and fast food restaurants use trans fats due to the fact that they are inexpensive and last much longer than other versions. It is also an ingredient that makes food tasty. Despite these attractive qualities, trans fats do significant harm to our bodies such as raising our bad cholesterol levels and lowering the good cholesterol. Nutrition labels will list if the product has any trans fats, but only if it is above 0.5 grams. Make sure to check the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated oils” and limit your intake of these snacks.

Refined Grains

As mentioned above the makeup of carbohydrates in our snack choices is important. Choosing white bread and processed grains is known to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Refined carbohydrates are popular due to their longer shelf life, but the refining process removes many essential nutrients such as fiber, iron, and B vitamins. Along with stripping the healthy contents from bread and other grains, this process adds in many other additives and chemicals to preserve and enhance flavor. The most obvious terms to look for and stay away from in the ingredients is “refined” or “bleached”. If you are deciding on a healthier alternative, the first ingredients listed should be “whole wheat/grain” and there should be at least three grams of fiber.

Salt

We have all heard about the importance of limiting added salt in our diets due to the association with high blood pressure. Unfortunately cutting back on the usage of the saltshaker may not be enough. Packaged snacks are usually loaded with sodium since it is the most common ingredient used for preserving foods. Endurance athletes require more sodium than the regular folks but this does not mean they should be consuming high-sodium snacks all day. The extra sodium intake for these athletes should be scheduled around long endurance events and immediately afterwards to prevent electrolyte imbalances. The rule of thumb for everyone is to limit sodium intake to 1500mg per day and watch out for the hidden salt in packaged and prepared foods, as well as in restaurants.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This is one ingredient that is found in several products from frozen foods, to beer, condiments, and baked goods. Just as some of the other not-so-good ingredients mentioned, high fructose corn syrup is inexpensive and gives foods a sweeter flavor. Research has shown that these syrups increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes by elevating the triglyceride levels in the blood. Some studies suggest that the chemicals that make up high fructose corn syrup trigger overeating and cravings for sweets.

These particular ingredients will not necessarily cause weight gain, but they certainly are higher in calories than healthier alternatives. Weight gain or loss is all about calories in versus calories out, but the type of calories do matter. If a large portion of calories are coming from processed foods and contents that cause overeating then weight loss will be more difficult, but not impossible. It is always smarter to choose foods and beverages with the most natural ingredients and with wholesome nutrients. This way, smaller portions are more satisfying and one is less likely to overeat.

Although these ingredients are known to be unhealthy, having them in your diet occasionally will most definitely not harm you. It is the consistent inclusion of these and other unhealthy ingredients in the everyday diet that lead to a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Many people have success with weight loss and improvements in fitness when they focus their diets on what is heart-healthy versus what has less carbohydrates or fats. Without health, we cannot run, work, travel, or do the things we enjoy, so it should always be a priority to take care of our bodies.

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