Some of the healthier, ready-to-eat foods and snacks we proudly grab off our grocer’s shelves may include fresh salads, soups, frozen entrées, bran muffins, or whole grain crackers, to name a few.
What could possibly be wrong with that salad, with its fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and/or other vegetables, as well as other potential goodies such as croutons, cranberries, candied walnuts, and/or maybe even fresh strawberries or blueberries? The main things you have to watch out for are usually fats, including saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, typically in the dressing. If you are vegan, you also have to watch out for mayonnaise, milk, egg, or cheese. Everything you need to know is in the nutritional label and the ingredient list.
For example, Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad, sounds (and is) awesome! It comes with spinach, quinoa, carrots, dried cranberries (cranberries, cane sugar, sunflower oil), grape tomatoes, chickpeas (chickpeas, water, and salt), shelled Edamame, pumpkin seeds (pumpkin seeds and salt), and a carrot ginger miso dressing (carrots, canola oil, olive oil, sesame oil, water, ginger root, shallots, seasoned rice vinegar (water, rice, sugar, sea salt), shiro miso (organic rice, organic soybeans, water, sea salt, koji), salt).
This salad is loaded with amazing superfoods and lots of fiber and protein! So far, so good. But watch out! This salad has a whopping 19 grams (g) of fat and 18 g of sugar (4 ½ teaspoons), and a fairly high 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving (serving size is the whole container)! The culprit is the dressing, which is usually the case for salads. And it’s no surprise when you notice that oil appears three times in the top four ingredients. And the high sugar (plus some of the fat) comes from the cranberries. Your best bet is to either use the dressing very sparingly or leave it out altogether, and maybe pick out some (or all) of the cranberries. Then you’re left with a container full of superfoods! I’ve eaten the salad this way and it’s delicious even without the dressing!
How about good, wholesome soups loaded with fresh vegetables? Maybe not so great. The main things you have to watch out for with packaged soups are sodium, fat, and sugar. Another example from Trader Joe’s is the Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper soup that comes packaged in a box and sounds very healthy with organic tomatoes and red peppers. However, when you read the label you find out that each little one cup serving (how likely is it that you will eat only one cup?) is loaded with 750 mg of sodium, roughly 1/3 of your sodium RDI (if you’re healthy) and 10 g of sugars (that’s 2 ½ teaspoons). Organic cane sweetener (sugar) is listed as the fourth ingredient. And while the name suggests that the soup is vegan (organic tomatoes and red peppers), the first ingredient listed is organic reduced fat milk. The good news is that there are only 2 g of fat per one cup serving.
It’s not my intention to pick on Trader Joe’s. I shop there regularly and LOVE that store! However, while many of their foods ARE healthy, many appear healthy until you read the label. And that applies to packaged foods at all grocery stores and also to foods prepared at restaurants, but that’s another topic.
So if something “healthy” that comes in a package seems to taste too good to be true, read the label, because it probably is.