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A Basic Guide For Picking Healthy Foods

Updated on May 20, 2013

1) Eat Natural Foods

The healthiest foods are often those that do not come with labels-fresh fruits and vegetables of course! Natural foods do not contain chemical additives, or are processed heavily. In addition to fruits and vegetables, meat like beef, pork, chicken and turkey, whole grains like oats, rice, and wheat as well as fish, shellfish, and crustaceans constitue natural foods. Nuts and seeds are also appropriate natural foods.Focus on fruits and vegetables for a variety of micronutrients as well as dietary fiber, meat and fish for protein as well as other nutrients like iron, and whole grains for dietary fiber, some micronutrients like B vitamins, and energy from carbohydrates.

2) Limit processed foods

This is simply the opposite of the eat natural foods advice. Processed foods can be viewed as "unnatural foods." Processed foods are those foods which have been changed in some way so that they are no longer in their natural states. Dehydrated and powdered mashed potatoes, canned soups, fried foods, chips, cookies, candies and the 1,000s of packaged and frozen foods in the grocery stores are best to avoid for a basic healthy diet. There are certainly ways to pick healthier processed foods and even find some that are generally OK, but as these are the minority of processed foods it is best to limit them in your diet.


This is one of the most important skills to master in order to find healthy foods. Read the nutrition facts panel, know how many calories in each serving of the food in question, and also know how many servings the package has. Know if you are getting vitamins and minerals from it (good!) or lots of salt and sugar (bad).

In addition to the nutrition facts panel, read the ingredient list of foods. If I were given one piece of information about a food, I would want to know the ingredient list because if the ingredients that make up the food are all healthy, than together, the whole food is probably going to be healthy. When reading ingredient labels look for

  • A small amount of ingredients: More ingredients indicate further processing. 3 ingredients or less is pretty darn good as a reference.
  • Familiar Names: If the ingredient list of a product says "peanuts, almonds, cranberries," you are probably dealing with foods you are familiar with. If you see "TBHQ" or "ethoxylated mono- and di-glycerides" or "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" chances are you cannot go into your kitchen cabinet and grab the bag of ethoxylated di-glycerides to sprinkle onto your breakfast. If you see confusing chemical names, put the "food" back on the shelf. This is another mark of processing, which generally sacrifices nutrition for taste, texture, shelf life, or profit. Remember this: if you can't read it, don't eat it!
  • Sugar in Disguise: Added sugar can come in many forms rather than just "sugar." Some food companies will use multiple sugar containing substances and sweeteners in their foods. Examples are: sugar, sucrose, glucose, dextrose (pretty much anything ending in -ose), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup (any syrup), evaporated cane juice, evaporated cane juice crystals, invert sugar, fruit juice (fruit juice contains mostly sugar compared to the whole, fresh fruit). Avoid foods with these additives in high amounts.
  • Trans Fats: If you see "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" turn around and run. Your heart will thank you both for the exercise and for not poisoning it with trans-fat containing hydrogenated oils.

One important point about ingredient labels is that they are listed in descending order by weight. This means that the ingredient which is present to the greatest extent in the food is first, and each ingredient listed after is used in lesser amounts. So if your package says "sugar, apples" you know you are eating more sugar than apples, and it would be wise to put that package down skip the sugar, and grab a fresh apple.

Sample Nutrition Facts and Ingredient List Label

Do you think this nutrition information is paired with a healthy or unhealthy food? Analyze the nutrient content from the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients in the list of ingredients to make a decision, and answer in the poll!
Do you think this nutrition information is paired with a healthy or unhealthy food? Analyze the nutrient content from the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients in the list of ingredients to make a decision, and answer in the poll! | Source

Do you think the sample nutrition facts panel is paired with a healthy or unhealthy food?

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