I recently posted about the #1 thing you can do to improve your health. This post is the #2 thing you can do to improve your health, waste-line, and pocket-book. Cook your food at home from scratch. I don’t want to hear about how you don’t have time. I don’t want to hear that you make good choices when you eat out. There are a lot of pseudo healthy foods out there and flashy marketing to trick you. Here is a small sampling.

Vitamin Water: What a crock. You don’t need to drink special ‘revive’ water. You need to drink ‘water’. You know the free stuff that comes out of the tap and doesn’t come in a plastic bottle that will last forever. You should probably use some sort of filtration system, but regular old water is the way to go. At first glance it looks like Vitamin water has 50 calories and 13 gr. of sugar. Then you look at the label and realize that each bottle has 2.5 servings. That’s right, Vitamin water has the same amount of sugar as a Coke. It is also full of fake flavor (no juice) and chemicals.

Panera: The healthy choice for lunch right? Here are the highlights for 2 of my favorite (seemingly healthy) choices. Sierra Turkey- 920 calories, 49 gr. fat, and 1,900 mg sodium. Yikes! French Onion soup- 210 calories, 10 gr. fat, and a whopping 2,320 mg. sodium. Double Yikes! Not to mention I prefer to get that with a side of bread. All of the soups have a shocking amount of sodium. The daily recommended value for a 2,000 calorie diet is 2,400 mg of sodium.

Raisin Bran: Breakfast cereal is one of the worst culprits of fake healthy food. Raisin Bran has 190 calories, 342 mg. sodium, and 17.6 grams of sugar. Cocoa Puffs has 108 calories, 144 sodium, 13 gr. sugar. That’s right, you are better off eating Cocoa Puffs. Actually, you have to be careful with all dried fruit- not just raisins. Remember, it has the same amount of sugar as regular fruit condensed into a small bite size piece. So you end up eating 4X as much as you would if it weren’t dried. Use sparingly. A lot of food writers/experts partially blame cereal as the beginning of the obesity crisis. When cereal came out we replaced eggs and fruit with sugary simple carbs.

Lean Cuisine: These are the go-to lunch choice for women watching their figures. Not only are they low in calories, but they are low in points for the weight watchers crowd. I don’t know about you but I don’t trust fettucine alfredo that is only 7 gr. of fat. A lot of these low-cal meals have 600 mg. sodium and all of them are loaded with chemicals. I saw one that was a chicken dish and the second ingredient was high-fructose corn syrup. You will also find xantham gum, tricalcium phosphate, enriched flour, thiamine mono something or other. Just make extra chicken and vegetables at home and bring in to work the next day. Remember, when they take out fat, they have to add sugar, sodium, and/or chemicals to replace that flavor.

McDonalds Fruit and Maple Oatmeal: Okay, this one breaks my heart a little. I love this oatmeal! Apparently it has 32 gr. of sugar and that makes me want to cry. I guess I have to stop eating oatmeal because I only like it when it has maple, and brown sugar, and apple cinnamon, etc. You are probably better off just getting the egg mcmuffin.

Subway Turkey Sandwich: I know that the commercials preach how healthy the 6″ turkey sub is. It only has 6 gr. of fat! Well, not the way I eat it. I like it with cheese and mayo and a bunch of veggies. Obviously the veggies are okay (assuming the spinach doesn’t have e-coli), but the cheese and mayo add a lot of fat. You add these and you need to add another 20 grams of fat! Okay, so what if you eat it plain, no cheese, and no mayo? It still has 810 mg. of sodium. The processed meat is just not good for us. We should probably limit lunch meat to 2-3 times per week tops. There are links to various cancers and almost all of them have an unhealthy dose of sodium. This one depresses me a little too. I love a turkey sandwich!

Don’t be depressed. Knowledge is power. We need to demand better of our restaurants and grocery stores. We literally vote every day with our dollars. If we stop buying the crap, they will stop selling it. If we stop falling for the gimmicks and take the time to read our labels, we can be smart consumers who make the right choices.

So, what can we eat?! Homemade soups, salads, yogurt, fruits, veggies, lean meats (real meat, cooked at home), eggs, tuna (limited amounts), and fish. It takes a little bit more time and planning but it is worth it. I promise you, if you cook 95% of the food you eat at home from scratch- you can go crazy and eat whatever you want the other 5% of the time. I would much rather have REAL fettucine alfredo every once in a great while than have the crappy fake version once a week. Jillian Michaels from the biggest loser wrote a book that I love called Mastering Your Metabolism. In the book she talks about eating real food. Her quote is something like, “If it doesn’t come from the ground, or it doesn’t have a mother- don’t eat it.” Pretty simple.

What is your healthy go-to breakfast or lunch?