Making the switch to real, minimally processed food can feel overwhelming and challenging at first, especially when it comes to finding healthy snack options.
Sure, finding real-food snacks is easy to do when picking out fresh produce and even buying meat and cheese, but what about prepackaged snack products? While it’s wonderful to shop the outer aisles of the grocery store for snack foods, it’s also important to recognize how to shop the inner aisles for foods that feel more questionable, like crackers, granola bars and trail mix.
How to find real food snacks and avoid ultra-processed snack foods in the grocery store
Companies spend billions every year on marketing food products. They use sneaky words like natural, made with ancient grains, heart healthy and made with real fruit to lure us (the consumer) into thinking that their products are made with nourishing ingredients. But they’re often dishonest in the way they use these labels with claims that are misleading and, in some cases, downright false.
Our biggest piece of advice when looking for snack products is to completely ignore the marketing labels on the front of the packaging. Remember, these words don’t tell you anything about what’s actually used to make that food. Instead, find the ingredient list, then read it.
As you look at the ingredients list, ask yourself a few questions. These questions will help you determine which snack foods are made with real ingredients so you’re able to make informed choices as a consumer.
Question 1: Are the ingredients familiar and from Mother Nature?
If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or it’s unfamiliar, you should probably put the item back on the shelf and move on. Most unpronounceable, unfamiliar ingredients contain rancid and hydrogenated oils, additives, chemicals and synthetic preservatives.
Question 2: How many ingredients does it contain?
Try to stick to no more than seven ingredients. The best indicator of how processed something may be is the number of ingredients listed. Typically, the more ingredients used, the more processed the item is. Our general rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients the better. We try to choose snack foods with seven or less ingredients. If you are baffled between two products, typically the one with fewer ingredients is the better choice.
Question 3: Are the ingredients necessary?
When looking at the ingredients listed, take into consideration if they’re actually necessary to make the snack food product. This is one reason why learning to cook is important. If you made a fruit-based granola bar from scratch, would you add ingredients like Red 40 or “natural flavor”? We think it’s safe to say no! In fact, we’ve never even come across those ingredients at the grocery store.
When looking at a label, ask yourself, “Are the ingredients necessary and are they something you would use to make the food from scratch?”
Question 4: Are the ingredients as nutrient-dense as possible (for that particular food item)?
When you’re looking for snack foods, it’s important to find nourishing options. Ingredients are listed in order of abundance. The first ingredient listed is used the most, the second ingredient is used less, and so on down the line of listed ingredients.
It’s important to check not only what ingredients are used, but where they’re located on the list of ingredients. If you’re between two real-food options and one has palm sugar listed as the first ingredient and the other lists whole grains well before that, you’ll quickly know which one is the winner.
By reading the ingredients list you can make a wise decision about your purchase based on the ingredients and what order they are listed to make that food.