As caregivers, we want the very best for our families, and when it comes to their health, we want them to eat the healthiest food available—at least most of the time. But what about those times when we’re looking to satisfy a sweet tooth or spoil our kids with an edible treat?
I remember one particular family gathering when my son was just three years old. As I watched him slyly gravitate towards a huge table full of candy, my initial maternal reaction was to say “no way” and point him toward some coloring books.
Unfortunately, as all mothers understand, three year olds can be rather persistent. Of course it didn‘t help that his junk-food-loving grandpa (my dad) begged me to “let him live a little because he‘s a kid.”
So I succumbed to the pressure and let him indulge in bright green and yellow gummy bears, red heart-shaped candy, and one very long colorful candy kebab.
It was right then and there that I realized: it wasn’t so much the junk itself that set off my maternal panic alarms, but rather the type of junk my son was chowing down. The candy he was eating was filled with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and ingredients I couldn‘t even pronounce!
When it comes to eating junk food, it isn’t just kids who indulge—adults do too, including me. I love chocolate, licorice and ice cream as much as the next person – in fact, in fact, according to our own research (based on responses from 2,500 people), 95% of them eat junk food and 65% of them eat it at least once a week.
With obesity affecting almost 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children, the junk food conundrum is twofold: not only do we need to limit the amount of junk food we’re eating, but we also have to look at the type of junk food we’re ingesting blindly.
As the authors of Unjunk Your Junk Food (Gallery, 2011), we believe the key to occasional indulging starts with reading the ingredients. The first place most of us look to when evaluating whether a product is healthy or not, is the ‘Nutrition Facts’ panel.
We ask ourselves: How much fat does this have? How many calories per serving? Is there a lot of sodium? The truth is if a product contains dangerous ingredients, then we shouldn’t be eating it regardless of how much fat, calories and sodium it has.
So, what are these dangerous ingredients and how can we identify them on a food label? Based on our research, we have identified seven dangerous ingredients lurking in our (junk) food that are proven to wreak havoc on our immune systems.
In the book, we refer to these ingredients as ‘Red Flags’ or ‘Savvy Alerts’. They are:
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils (these always mean trans fats)
- Artificial Colors
- Artificial Sweeteners (including acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K; sucralose [Splenda], and aspartame)
- Artificial Flavors
- Preservatives (including: sodium benzoate, sulphites (sulphur dioxide), polysorbate 60, 65 or 80, TBHQ, and BHT/BHA).
Avoiding these seven ingredients when shopping for food is a huge step in the right direction.
As consumers, we need to be mindful of what we put into our bodies. We each need to take responsibility for our health by reading food labels and understanding what they mean.
Sounds easier said than done, right? Not if you’re armed with a copy of Unjunk Your Junk Food.
From now on when you’re grocery shopping, we want you to: pick up the product you wish to buy; turn it over to read the ingredients; evaluate whether or not it is good enough to put into your body (using our ‘Worst Ingredients’ chart on page 25 as a cheat-sheet); and then either place it into your cart or back on the shelf.
You have the power to decide whether or not you’re going to put something ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ into your body.
We wrote Unjunk Your Junk Food because we wanted to provide a compromise between healthy eating and sinful cheating. We are not telling you to avoid eating junk food, but rather we’re asking you to be mindful of the type junk food you are choosing to eat. It’s that simple.
The more we begin to make the connection between the food we’re eating and the side effects we’re experiencing (positive and/or negative), the more we’ll realize we have the power to make a difference in our lives and those around us.