Grocery shopping for healthy foods can be a real treasure hunt. This is particularly true when it comes to packaged items and their misleading labels. We often times assume that many of the items we pick up at the grocery store labeled “whole grains” or “reduced fat” are healthy. For example, a carton of 1% milk makes us think we’re doing the right thing for ourselves, and our families, but truth be known that 1% milk in reality is 18% fat by calories. Ouch! The dairy industry marks it’s product by volume, not actual calories. This is also true of the meat industry. A package of 93% lean ground beef, for example, is actually 45% fat by calories, (Nutrition for Professional, Jane Penz PhD 2008). Shocking, I know….
It seems the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) labeling guidelines allow meat and poultry products, as well as dairy, to label fat content by volume, or weight, rather than actual calories per portion. We assume it is by portion. Also, by definition The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for “low fat” is “a product containing less than 3 grams of fat.” This allows 2% fat milk, which actually contains 36% fat, to be labeled “low fat”. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided in 1998 to disallow this claim. Now the new claim is “reduced- fat.” This still leaves our 1% milk to be “low fat”, with a whopping 18% fat content.
Other labels to be on the-look out-for are “fat free” and “calorie free.” Items claiming to be “calorie free” can actually contain up to 5 calories per serving, according to labeling laws; and, “fat free” is even more misleading. An item containing less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving can be called “non-fat.” This becomes a BIG problem when we believe such claims and end up eating the way more than the actual serving size listed. Other shockers are: Promise fat-free is 100% fat and Pam cooking spray contains 1638 calories, based upon actual spraying time and sprays per can – not even close to calorie free.
Other grocery store label culprits are “whole grains.” There are no rules regarding the amount of actual “whole grain” in any product. There could actually be very little in the product. You are best off actually examining the list of ingredients on the item. FYI: Ingredients must be listed from the most prevalent item to the least. So, a package of wholegrain crackers may actually be nothing more than processed flours stripped of all nutritional value, glued together by some Trans fats. Trans fats are one of the most dangerous culprits out there. These items hide behind labels claiming they are free of Trans fats. How does this happen? The same labeling laws that govern the “fat free/calorie free” products govern these. Because the item contains less than 1/2 a gram of fat per serving it can be called “fat free”- regardless of it’s content. Partially hydrogenated products are Trans fats. These products turn oily foods into solid foods. They are used primarily in bakery items (cakes, cookies, and pastries), margarine, edible oil products, coffee creamers, fast foods and many others. These dangerous products are linked to many diseases and have zero nutritional benefit.
With this said, what can you do? Read the label! Make sure to read all labels carefully. Then, do the math. Make sure things add up on the side panels. Make sure you really know what is in your food. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient or don’t know one or more of an ingredient listed, just don’t buy it! Also, avoid store bought bakery items; eat home made items if you must indulge. Eat fresh produce, or flash frozen. Limit dangerous Trans fats; get them out of your diet if you can. It takes time and self-denial, but it is truly worth it!
If you would like more details on any of the above mentioned in this article, please email at Wcole@functionfirst.com I would love to hear from you.
Wendy Cole ACE-CPT/ACE-CES/NS, is a life long fitness enthusiast with a deep desire to help others to live physically, mentally and spiritually clearer. She deeply believes that many of today’s illnesses can be overcome, or at least controlled by proper exercise, and diet. Wendy has been a part of the Function First team for the past year and has been helping clients attain both their corrective exercise and personal training goals.