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By Elena Lynch

Aside from eating whole, unprocessed foods, the key to eating healthy is reading and comparing ingredients on every product you buy. There is simply no other way to know what you are actually eating without reading the ingredients. I remember recently buying a jar of pickles, and not reading the label since I assumed it would be just salt, vinegar and water. Low and behold, there is artificial coloring in there to get that neon green color!

Another time I bought frozen fruit which I add to my daily spinach smoothies. Upon getting home, I saw added sugar and citric acid in the ingredients. So unnecessary! The next time I purchased frozen fruit, I simply looked at a few options and bought the product that had only fruit.

I am not an extremist with food. I eat everything, but I only do so in moderation, and I noticed that the simpler the food ingredients, the better I feel. I prefer to not buy artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, among a few other ingredients which you can see here in my Ingredients 101 Guide.

Ritz “Whole Grain/Whole Wheat” crackers vs. Triscuit Original crackers 

Let’s compare two popular cracker brands to give you an idea of how you should compare labels at the store. Keep in mind that you should compare as many products as possible and not just two options. Over time it will get easier and takes less time.

  • Ritz “Whole Wheat/Whole Grain” crackers ingredients: unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), whole grain wheat flour, soybean oil, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, leavening (calcium phosphate, and/or baking soda), salt, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin.
  • Triscuit Original crackers ingredients: Whole Grain Soft White Wheat, Soybean Oil, Sea Salt.

It is easy to see with just three simple ingredients, Triscuits are the better choice between the two crackers. I am not saying Triscuits are perfect, as they contain soybean oil which is genetically modified (a GMO), but having a whole grain as a first ingredient, maintaining the nutrients and fiber within the grain (there are 3 grams of fiber per serving vs. only 1 gram with Ritz crackers), an oil, and then salt, are three “real food” ingredients we all recognize, and that is the key.

The first ingredient in the Ritz cracker is refined flour (stripped of its nutrients.) The whole grain wheat is second, then partially hydrogenated oil, which is a trans fat. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is cheaper to use than regular sugar, but the body doesn’t metabolize it the same as sugar. There is heated debate over HFCS vs. sugar, and I steer clear of this ingredient as much as possible. It also has regular sugar, which I feel is unnecessary in a cracker, but sugar is a “real food” so that is fine, and then soy lecithin which is another controversial ingredient.

For fun, the next time you shop compare Triscuit Original crackers to all of the other flavors Triscuit offers including the reduced fat. There are many added ingredients in the flavored varieties, so I only choose the original.

If ingredient reading and comparing is new to you and sounds overwhelming, the truth is it will be at first. I encourage you to just try it. I am 10 years into this habit, and I am still learning. Just start with a few products and do the best you can with the time you have each time you shop (leave the kids at home). Compare ingredients between as many products as possible and always choose the product with the fewest ingredients, as it is likely the better choice. This is a life-changing habit that you and your family deserve and will benefit from.

To read my full story, visit WholesomeStyle.com (go to the About Me page). Note, I am not a health and nutrition professional. For daily tips, healthy recipes, and information, please find and like my Wholesome Style page on Facebook.

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Elena Lynch runs WholesomeStyle.com, a health and wellness website, and also offers personal food and grocery consultation services. She can be reached at wholesomestyle@gmail.com.