No one wants to hear this, and no one wants to do it. So, I’m going to give you two options, but you have to pick one of them to eat healthfully.
Option 1: Read labels.
Option 2: Cook everything from scratch.
I, personally, mostly do Option 2, with a little of Option 1. I don’t make my own mustard, but I do read the label. It’s up to you which you chose, or how you combine them, but there’s no easy way out of this one. The good news is that reading labels gets much less onerous as time goes on, because you begin to know which brands have the ingredients you prefer (or don’t have the ones you’re trying to cut out), so you don’t have to read those as often. But, you do still have to read them occasionally, because formulations change.
Why read labels? Largely because if you’ve never done it you’re going to be appalled at what you’ve been eating. Once, of course, you know what “that” its. If you’re eating most store-purchased ice cream, for example, you’re eating guar gum. Do you even know what that is? I didn’t. It’s a thickener, used to keep ice cream thick but soft at deep-freeze temperatures. As weird things in your food goes, it’s not particularly offensive, but it’s also not necessary if you’re eating…well, real ice cream. If you’re buying most canned or jarred tomatoes sauces, you’re eating high fructose corn syrup, same thing with BBQ sauces and even hot dogs. In many of these, it’s the first or second ingredient (including in several hot dog brands–why do you need sugar in hot dogs!?).
Once you see what’s in the food, then you’ve got to come home and look it up, because honestly I still don’t know what 90% of that stuff is and I do this for a living. Which is why I take option #2 most of the time. It’s easier.
Some of these things, like HFCS and MSG, have pretty well-known side effects and long-reaching nastiness like links to cancer and obesity, some add extra calories, some haven’t actually been studied. Essentially, it comes down to this: you can’t eat healthy without the information to make appropriate decisions, and the only way you can get that information from a box, bag, or a can you didn’t prepare yourself is to read the label and see what’s in it, how many calories it has, and how those fit into your eating goals.
- EatingWell: Beware: Misleading Ingredient Names Explained (huffingtonpost.com)