What is fake food? We’re not talking about the rubber T-bone steak look-alike that your dog chews on. Instead, think of fake food as anything that is heavily processed and mass-produced, that never grew or lived on a farm. For example, think of the difference between a strawberry gummy candy and a ripe, fresh strawberry.
The more processed a food is, the less nutrient-rich it is, generally. There are certainly minimally processed foods that are still healthy, but a good rule of thumb is to aim to eat foods with the fewest ingredients on their label – or better yet – no label at all (such as fresh fruits and vegetables). Processed foods also tend to add extra sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients that are best to avoid.
Here’s what to look for the next time you and your child are at the grocery store:
- Just say no to ingredients you can’t pronounce. Some food ingredients can have many names. For example, sugar can be called Dextrose, Glucose, Ethyl maltol, or Maltodextrin. This is a clever way for food manufacturers to hide sugar in foods. Be wise – avoid foods with ingredients that are unfamiliar or hard to pronounce.
- Shop on the outside of the supermarket. Most real, whole foods are found on the exterior of the supermarket. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, minimally processed dairy products (look for no added sugars), and lean meats that haven’t been cured, smoked, or otherwise altered.
- Be mindful of health claims. If a food sounds too good to be true, it might just be. Food manufactures often uses phrases like “Made with whole grains,” “All-Natural, “ or “Better-for-You” to make processed foods look healthier than they actually are. Remember to use the tools above to make sure you’re not falling into a fake food trap.
- Avoid trans fat. As of 2006, the Food and Drug Administration requires trans fat to be listed on the nutrition facts panel along with saturated fat and total fat. Make sure that your food products are free of these highly processed and unhealthy fats.
With these few simple tips and tricks, you and your child can learn to spot fake food. Aim to eat a diet that is rich in fresh, whole foods without added ingredients or flavor enhancements for better health!