Ideally, you want to eat foods that don’t have wrappers. Whole, natural foods always win.
But when you do buy foods from a box or a package, you should know how to read the labels and make the best choices.
Here are some basic rules:
- The fewer ingredients, the better. If you can’t pronounce any of the ingredients, that’s a red flag.
- If sugar comes first, throw it out. If sugar or any of its counterparts show up first on the label — glucose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup — avoid at all costs! The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if sugar’s on the label it should be last, or close to the end at least.
- Stay away from high fructose corn syrup. I don’t care how “natural” the company claims it to be. According to Dr. Mark Hyman in his book The Blood Sugar Solution, “high-fructose corn syrup is an industrial food product and far from “natural.” It is extracted from corn stalks through a chemical process and is biochemically novel compound that is sweeter and cheaper than cane sugar (sucrose)” (Hyman). But that’s not all High Fructose Corn Syrup does. The Children’s Hospital Oakland Reesearch Institute “found that every molecule of free fructose from HFCS requires more energy to be absorbed by the gut and soaks up two phosphorous molecules from ATP (our body’s energy source). This depletes the ATP required to maintain the integrity of our intestinal lining” (Hyman). Now are you convinced that HFCS is evil?
- It’s not all about calories. The quality of the food matters just as much as the quantity of the calories! Some of those notorious 100-calorie snack packs that Nabisco sells may seem appealing because of their calorie count, but check the label. Do they contain artificial ingredients? A lot of sugar? You’d be better off eating 100 calories of fruit or vegetables!
Let’s look at the label for a Kind bar, which is a trendy and tasty health bar out on the market. I’ll compare it to the label for a Clif Bar, another well-known “health” bar on the market. In the process, hopefully you guys will be able to evaluate different foods on your own!
Kind Bar (Cranberry)
Clif Bar (Oatmeal Raisin Walnut)
The Nutrition Battle
Here we go!
The bars aren’t the same size exactly, but I’ll do my best to whip out my basic math skills in order to put them on a level playing field.
The Kind bar has a few more calories when you adjust for calories per gram, but it’s not really that big of a deal because almonds are first on the list of ingredients. Almonds are calorically dense foods, but they’re really nutritious and speed up your metabolism.
Both of these calorie counts are on the lower end of the health bar spectrum, which is also good.
The Kind Bar wins this round. It has more saturated and unsaturated fat than the Clif Bar, but unsaturated fats (both poly and mono) are good for you! Once again, I suspect these come from the lovely almonds that this bar has so much of. The good fat outweighs the bad in this case.
Trans fat is bad. Like, really really really bad. Avoid at all costs. I don’t have time to get into a rant about it today, but basically it’s an evil kind of fat responsible for junk food addictions.
Luckily, these bars have none, so rejoice!
The Clif Bar loses in the sodium battle. A good daily limit for sodium is 2,000 mg, so the sodium in the Clif Bar isn’t anything outrageous, but it’s still not as good as the Kind Bar.
To be honest, carbs don’t really matter in this case. Why? Because they’re good carbs since they’re full of fiber and are not from white flour. Good carbs are absorbed more slowly by our bodies and don’t cause our insulin levels to spike.
It was a close battle, but the Cranberry Kind bar wins when fiber is adjusted for the size of the bar! I suspect the fiber comes from all of the almonds, which is awesome.
Both these bars are good sources of fiber.
The Clif Bar wins! It has more protein than the Kind Bar, but both are good sources of protein.
Here’s where most health bars get into trouble. The Clif Bar is very high in sugar. 22 grams! That’s a lot for what’s supposed to be a “health bar.” A can of coke has around 39g.
The American Heart Association recommends less than 6 teaspoons (25.2g) per day for women and less than 9 teaspoons (37.8g) per day for men of added sugar.
So if you eat one Clif Bar, you have 3.2g left of added sugar for the day.
The Kind Bar wins the sugar battle, but still is kinda high in sugar (12g) for its size.
The Kind Bar wins!
This outcome is also awesome because in my opinion the Cranberry Kind bar tastes fantastic and far better than Clif bars.
You can order them here:
Hyman, Mark. The Blood Sugar Solution: The Ultrahealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now! New York, NY: Little, Brown and, 2012. Print.