Tag Archives: food labels

Eat These Instead, Part 2

Lunch and snack time are one the biggest opportunities for making healthy choices.  Most people want something quick and convenient to eat at these times without having to think about the health impact on their decision.   You can still enjoy your soup and crackers, your cracker topper, your carbonated beverage and your chips and eat healthy!  Comparing similar foods will help you apply this knowledge to other similar foods.

Eat These Instead:  Health Valley Soups Over Campbell’s or Progresso

Campbel'ls soup Vs Health ValleyFirst of all when you compare any label you want to make sure you are looking at similar serving sizes. All these soups are based on 8 oz, even the Campbell’s because it is condensed.

One of the most important things to consider with canned soups is sodium. Canned soups tend to be really high in sodium and the USDA recommends people over 51, with diabetes or high blood pressure not exceed 1500 mg of sodium in a day.  Even though the Campbell’s soup says 25% less sodium than their other brands, their serving still contains 660 mg of sodium.  Most people would have that whole can for lunch, which means nearly 1700 mg of sodium – and that is supposed to be low!  Don’t think that Progresso is looking much better.  If someone were to eat a whole can of the Lentil soup, even with its respectable 320 calories, they still would be getting 1620 mg of sodium.  But if you look at the Health Valley, even eating the entire can or 2 servings, would still give you only 60 mg of sodium, 240 calories, 52 grams of carbs, a whopping 16 gms of fiber, and a respectable 18 gms of protein.

Eat These Instead:  Triscuits Thin Crisps Over Cheez-its or Ritz

healthy crackersEating crackers are a great opportunity to eat some heart healthy whole grains filled with fiber that will keep you fuller longer.  And there is evidence  that the fiber from whole grains improves insulin sensitivity for those who are insulin resistant (think metabolic syndrome or prediabetes).

Not all crackers are the same.  When choosing a cracker you want to look at the amount and type of fat per serving as well as the ingredients. The labels above consist of different serving sizes.  Since the size of the cracker is different the best way to examine the servings size is to look at the grams or weight of each serving.  The Triscuits and Cheez-Its servings are both 30 gms, while the Ritz label is based on 16 grams, essentially half of the weight of the other two per serving.  In fairness to the Triscuits and Cheez-Its the food nutrients on the Ritz need to be doubled in order to compare similar serving sizes.

With this is mind, 10 Ritz crackers will have 8 gms of total fat, with 2 coming from saturated fat making it equal to 27 Cheez-Its crackers.   While 15 of the Triscuits Thin Crisps only have 4.5 gms of total fat with only .5 gms coming from saturated fat.

Since crackers can be an opportunity to get a serving of whole grains, you need to look at the list of ingredients.  If the first words under the ingredients is the word “whole” or “100% whole”, then you know the cracker is made from the whole wheat berry – the bran, the germ and endosperm, in their proper proportion if it is processed in any way – cracked, rolled, etc.   Triscuits have the first word “whole” under ingredients while the others don’t at all (take my word for it).  Often times the packaging might say, “contains 12 whole grains” but not have the first word “whole” in the ingredients.  So 12 different grains may have been used but only part of those grains are contained in the food item, and usually mixed with white flour.  Because the Triscuits are made with whole grains, they also have more fiber – 3 gms per serving compared to none and 1 gm in the other crackers.

Eat These Instead:  Low-Fat Cheese over Full-Fat Cheese

Comparing Food Labels in Cheese

The biggest thing to be concerned about with any dairy, which includes cheese, is the heart clogging saturated fat content.  Even keeping cheese to low-fat, doesn’t mean you can eat all you want.  The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 5-6% of your daily calories come from saturated fat.  Based on a 2000 calorie diet that amounts to about 130 calories and if you divide that by 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) that amounts to about 13 gms total per day.  That can easily add up if you are not careful and would be less if you were eating fewer calories.

When comparing full fat cheese to low-fat cheese you want to make sure you are looking at similar servings sizes.  Cabot’s label is based on a 28 gms serving, while Sargento’s label is based on 21 gms or one cheese stick.  So to be fair to Cabot, we would need to reduce the nutrient values by 25%.  Even after adjusting, you can still see that for the same gram weight, the Sargento cheese delivers 4.5 gms of total fat with 3 gms coming from saturated fat while the Cabot cheese delivers 7 gms of total fat with 5.5 gms coming from saturated fat.  With 13 gms being the recommended daily limit on saturated fats, (and that’s not including the saturated fat found in meat, crackers, chips, chocolate and other dairy), even one cheese stick gets you a quarter of the way there.  At least cheese sticks reduce temptation with the individually wrapped portions.  Personally, I eat hummus for the most part.  I love it and it has no saturated fat.  But I’ll save that topic for the next blog.

Drink These Instead:  Seltzer Over Soda

Seltzer bs CokeI know it is really hard to give up strong bubbly flavors.  For a long time I drank Diet Pepsi thinking it was much better for me than regular soda. Then I realized that all the chemicals in the diet soda were not really helping my body and there is evidence that diet soda can alter the gut microbes – probably those same microbes that enhance insulin sensitivity.  So what is a carbonated lover to do?  Switch to seltzer water.  Seltzer now comes with noncaloric natural flavors that satisfy that need for flavor with your bubbly.  It has zero sugar, no carbs, and no calories unlike a 12 oz serving of coke that has 55 gms of sugar making up the 55 gms of sugar-spiking carbs and 200 calories.  We all need a little pick me up at times, but why not get it from some ice coffee or better yet, a stretch and walk around the office instead.

Getting Healthy One Step At A Time

Becoming healthier doesn’t have to happen overnight.  It starts with gradually switching to healthier foods by looking at the labels of some of your favorite foods and slowly making better choices.  Choosing the recommended food item over the alternative will help reduce your daily consumption of sodium, saturated fat, unhealthy carbs and increase your dietary fiber.  No one is expecting perfect, but moving along the continuum of making healthier choices will pay you back in the future.


Transcending Trans Fats

The FDA has moved forward with stating that trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food.  Many food manufacturers and restaurants have been using them less and less but now the curtain is coming down on them.  Based on expert panels including the Institute for Medicine (IOM) the FDA finds that there is no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat. The FDA has not set an official date for banning them but is in the process of meeting with food manufacturers to negotiate a time line.

Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils to make them more solid.  Trans fats are used to enhance flavor, texture and extend the shelf life of food.  They are the worst kind of fat because unlike saturated fat that just raises the bad fat in our blood, trans fat also lowers the good heart protective fat in our blood.  Food labels have been allowed to claim a food item had zero trans fat on the label and actually contain up to 0.5 mg of the partially hydrogenated oil.  By eliminating trans fats from foods, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg from the FDA states many thousands of lives can be saved.  It is estimated that trans fats have been linked to over 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths.

In 2007, New York City and Philadelphia had passed laws forbidding the use of trans fats in restaurants.  Health care providers have been struggling to get trans fats out of the American diet for decades because of its link to heart disease.  A high LDL and low HDL increases the risk for heart disease.  By reducing the use of this artificially created fat, the prevalence and severity of heart disease can be reduced – as long as consumers become wise to substitutions for this fat that enhances flavor and texture.

Doughnuts get their light texture due to trans fats.  Coffee creamers have that smooth appearance due to trans fats.  Many peanut butters get their smooth “spread-ability” due to trans fats.  So it makes you wonder what food manufacturers will come up with to replace these food enhancing qualities.  How will this impact us as consumers?

What Will Replace Trans Fats?

Be a savvy consumer.  Although saturated fats do not lower the good cholesterol (HDL) in our blood they are still linked to coronary heart disease.  Saturated fats come from animals and certain plants.  They are found in:

  • High fat cheeses
  • Certain cuts of meat – the more marbling in the meat, the higher the saturated fat.  The cheaper cuts tend to have less embedded saturated fat.
  • Whole fat milk and cream
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Palm and coconut oils.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend consuming less than 10% of your total daily calories from saturated fat.  That means in a 2000 calorie daily diet, no more than 200 calories or 22 grams should come from saturated fat.  To give you an idea of what that looks like, 1 ounce of cheddar cheese has 6 grams of saturated fat.  A Dunkin Donuts Apple Crumb donut has 9 grams and a Big Mac has 10 grams of saturated fat.  So you can see how it quickly adds up in a day.

Although it’s a big step to have the FDA push to reduce trans fats in the American diet, being aware of all the fats that cause heart disease is what puts control in the individual consumers hands.