Food labels: Read the fine print

More and more people these days are making the effort to eat a healthy balanced diet. But your good intentions may be lead astray when you visit the supermarket and try to make sense of the nutrition labels.

Whether you are trying to watch your weight, maintain a healthy blood pressure, or lower your cholesterol, you really don’t know what type of food you may be bringing home unless you take the time to read the fine print.

While many product claims are accurate, the name of a product or a claim advertised can often give the impression of good health and nutrition. So, unless you turn the package over and read the Nutrition Facts table and ingredient list you may not be getting the whole story.

Vitamin Water: This product sounds very healthy. Two things us nutritionists are always advising you get enough of in your daily diet: vitamins and water. Unfortunately this product in reality is vitamin-infused-sugar water supplying seven and a half teaspoons of refined sugar and 125 calories per bottle! You’d be better off saving those calories by drinking good old fashioned H20 and flavouring it with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

Spinach Tortilla Wraps: This particular type of tortilla can often give the impression of being healthy. The green colour may conjure up a fresh bunch of spinach but don’t think you are getting a vegetable serving, fibre, etc. If you look at the bottom of the ingredient list you will see a tiny bit of spinach powder accounting for the ‘vegetable’ in this product. The same applies for those colourful ‘vegetable’ pastas. These pastas get their different colours from a mere tablespoon of spinach or tomato puree!

Your best bet when it comes to choosing a wholesome tortilla wrap is to choose one that is from a 100 per cent whole-grain source; whole wheat flour should be listed as one of the first ingredients.

Reduced-fat and fat free salad dressings: Calories aside, lower fat varieties are not necessarily the better choice when it comes to keeping your salad dressing healthy. Often the reduced-fat and fat free varieties have more sodium – up to two-thirds more than the regular varieties! This increase in sodium is to compensate for the taste lost when the fat is taken out of the full-fat products. If you are hypertensive and trying to keep your weight down you might assume that a fat free salad dressing is the best choice for you, however your best bet would be to make your own salad dressings at home.

Baked Potato Chips: Compared to regular potato chips, baked varieties are not deep-fried in a vat of oil but you are not saving as many calories as you think!

For example, 26 baked Lay’s potato chips supply 200 calories while 36 of the regular Lay’s supply 280. Each chip, whether baked or fried, would actually supply the same number of calories! Also, the baked varieties list dehydrated potato, cornstarch and water under the ingredients so they’re not as natural as they may appear.

‘Cholesterol free’ claims: While this claim sounds healthy it is often misinterpreted. There are many products available that are free of cholesterol, but at the same time can increase your cholesterol because they contain saturated fat and trans fats. Foods that supply cholesterol are not necessarily the root problem or cause of high cholesterol levels. Besides the genetic factor, saturated fats and trans fats in the diet produce cholesterol in the body and this consequently can affect cholesterol levels in the blood. So, if you pick up a product that says ‘cholesterol free’ take the opportunity to read the label to ensure you are choosing a product that is low in saturated fat (<5 per cent D.V.) and free of trans fats.

To know you are choosing a product that is truly free of trans fat, you will have to read the ingredient list to make sure you do not see ‘shortening’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oil.’ Food manufacturers don’t have to tell you if there is up to a half a gram of trans fat in their product, so unless you take the time to read the ingredient list you will never know.

It pays to know what you are eating, so take the time to read the fine print and be assured you are choosing the best foods for you and your family.

Often the reduced-fat and fat free varieties have more sodium – up to two-thirds more than the regular varieties! This increase in sodium is to compensate for the taste lost when the fat is taken out of the full-fat products.’

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