Just yesterday I was given the chore of doing some grocery shopping. And to tell you the truth…I like this job. First, I get to choose some of the goodies that I prefer over what’s usually brought home (the kids rule in my home). And secondly it keeps me abreast of the changes in the health food concerns of my patients.
You can’t help learning a lot about what you eat from food labels. And here’s an interesting observation. Foods containing “0g of trans fat” are all over the place. Your favorite crackers, cookies, and potato chips now proudly proclaim their trans-fat free status. I mean, they’re practically health foods now, right?
But before you get complacent…there are two problems you should be aware of:
First, you should never let an enticing label like “0g trans fat” give you permission to overeat a snack food. Junk food is junk food whether it is low-fat, low-sodium, fat-free or whatever.
Secondly, food manufacturers can list a food as containing no trans-fat as long as it contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving. This can easily undermine your health.
If you eat more than a single serving of one of these foods, you’re getting more than a half a gram of trans fat. If you’re eating more than one kind of these deceptive foods you can quickly rack up two or three grams of trans fat a day.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s only three measly grams.
Unfortunately, three measly grams of trans fat a day can dramatically increase your risk of heart disease. In one study, researchers looked at trans fat intake. The group that ate the most trans fat consumed just 1.1 grams more of trans fat per day than the group that ate the least. But their risk of heart disease was three times as high—now that’s scary!
So, check the ingredients on your foods. If there is hydrogenated oil in the ingredients, it’s got trans fats… even if the nutritional information says 0 grams of trans fat. In that case, put it back on the shelf and choose something else.
Deceptive Labels Don’t Stop There
Unfortunately, trans fat labeling isn’t the only deceptive label you’re likely to come across at the grocery store. There are tons of low-fat, sugar-free, low-sodium foods that may sound good, but might not be good.
Low-Fat Foods: While containing less fat, these foods don’t usually contain significantly fewer calories. People tend to eat more of a low-fat food than they would the regular kind—as much as 35% more. That means you might get more calories from the low-fat variety while enjoying your snacks less. That’s not healthy or fun.
Sugar-Free Foods: These foods usually contain chemical sweeteners. Some people tolerate them without any problem; other people have nightmarish reactions that range from hives to ringing in the ears to fainting spells.
Check the label for aspartame or sucralose. These two tend to cause the most adverse reactions. Products that use malitol or xylitol are fine in moderation—too much can cause stomach upset.
Low-Sodium Foods: Check the label to see what’s been substituted for the sodium before you decide to buy. And remember, just because it has less salt doesn’t mean you should snack with abandon.
When it comes to snacking, natural is always better. You can bypass all these misleading labels by choosing healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. If you really want a baked good, consider making it yourself. It will be all-natural and I guarantee it will taste better.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Photo Credit: wellsphere.com