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Pick the Right Prepackaged Food for Diabetes Self-Management

Prepackaged food simply means food that is packaged before sale. If you think about it, that covers most everything in the grocery, whether it comes in cans, bags, boxes, bottles, jars, vacuum packed, or plastic wrap. So, how is it that prepackaged food has a bad reputation in some circles? Is prepackaged food getting a bad rap (pun intended)?

Well, the devil’s in the details, as the saying goes. There are really two considerations when it comes to prepackaged food — the food itself, and anything else that may have been added to the food.

The story of the food itself is told to some extent by the nutrition facts label, where you find the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium for the specified serving size. Total fat is further divided into unsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Total carbohydrates are divided into sugars, fiber, and sugar alcohols.

The ingredients list tells the rest of the story. Ingredients are listed in descending order, from the most to the least. The ingredients list allows you to see that a bag of frozen vegetables contains only vegetables, and that packaged mini blueberry muffins contain more sugar than any other ingredient, including flour.

Because most recipes for homemade blueberry muffins call for two or three times more flour than sugar, the prepackaged muffins illustrate perfectly how some prepackaged foods include ingredients you’re better off not having, like lots of added sugar.

The prepackaged muffins also include guar gum, sodium acid pyropophosphate, monocalcium phosphate, potassium sorbate, and sodium stearoyl lactylate — additives and preservatives. Food additives and preservatives are other ingredients or chemicals added to prepackaged foods to improve quality, shelf life, flavor, appearance, safety, or nutritional value.

These other ingredients can be familiar to you, like salt or iron, or can seem like a chemistry lab experiment — disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate or neohesperidin dihydrochalcone. There are, literally, thousands of additives or preservatives classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally recognized as safe.

And, whereas the mini muffins wouldn’t be recommended for your diabetes eating plan simply because of the added sugar, there are foods that could be considered healthy that still include the chemistry experiment near the bottom of the ingredients list. That leaves the choice up to you.

The bottom line on prepackaged foods is to make your judgments based upon blood glucose control and heart health first; then consider whether you want to make these additives and preservatives part of your diet, too. Remember, some prepackaged foods, like most frozen vegetables, don’t include any added ingredients.

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