Nowadays, even Sherlock Holmes would have trouble navigating the supermarket in search of truly healthy food. Marketing claims, labels, and ingredient lists are confusing—and that's just the point. Food corporations want to keep you baffled and tricked into thinking sugar-packed, salt-loaded, pesticide-tainted foods are good for you. But they're not! And for the past two decades, best-selling author Michael Pollan has been trying to help people make healthier food choices.
Pollan was a featured guest in the Philadelphia Speakers Series Monday night at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. He came onstage armed with two bags of groceries and explained why it's so hard to make sound decisions in the wilderness of food choice—the supermarket. "Even when you're trying to eat well, you'll find that there's one dilemma, one pitfall, after another," Pollan said, noting that supermarkets introduce about 40 new products a day. That's a whopping 14,000 new labels a year to scan! Most are convenience foods that aim to make our lives easier. The downside? Most are jammed with preservatives and other artificial ingredients that our bodies don't even know how to process.
#1: Lucky Charms
Pollan calls the cereal aisle perhaps the most treacherous part of a supermarket, and with good reason. Cereal labels are quick to market whole grain content, but less likely to highlight dangerously high levels of sugar or genetically engineered ingredients. Pollan pointed out that Lucky Charms lists whole grains as the top ingredient, but several different forms of sugar follow.
Pollan's Food Rule: Don't buy any cereal that makes your milk turn a different color.
Read More: An Exclusive Interview with Michael Pollan
#2: Special K Cereal Bars
Cereal bars are a form of brand extension for Special K. In essence, it's saying, "Forget the bowl, the milk, and sitting down," says Pollan, who notes that 20 percent of meals are rushed and eaten in the car.
Pollan's Food Rule: Try to eat at a table, not in a car, as often as possible. This helps you avoid overeating.
#3: Smucker's Uncrustables
Homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches used to be considered quick and easy lunchbox items, but Smucker's has managed to turn this old favorite into a packaged supermarket product. Uncrustables are premade PB&J sandwiches with the crusts already removed, and they're full of dangerous high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. They are devoid of healthy fiber, which makes you want to eat more in the long run.
Pollan's Food Rule: Avoid any product listing high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient.