The food label can be, well, boring, and it can also be very confusing. I don’t know anyone who has the time to read the fine print and scour the Nutrition Facts panel for everything he or she is dropping into the shopping cart.
A recent study looked at how many Americans use the food label and which parts of the food label. The study found that approximately 62% reported using the Nutrition Facts panel, 52% looked at ingredients, 47% looked at serving size, and 44% read the label’s health claims before purchasing.
When the researchers compared label users to nonusers they found—unsurprisingly—that the diets of label readers were lower in total calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
In order to have a healthy diet, it’s essential to have healthy foods on hand, and the only way to really make sure of that is to read the food label for some key facts before buying. I'd recommend focusing on the serving size and calories if you’re going to look at just two things before buying.
And, even as a dietitian, I have to marvel at the ingenious ways food manufacturers take advantage of the food label to make products appear healthier than they often are.
Here are five ways shoppers are destroying their diet, despite their best efforts to use the food label to make healthier choices.
1. “All natural” and “organic” is more nutritious
The USDA organic certification program requires foods and beverages that are labeled organic to follow organic protocols with production. The program does not have any requirements related to the nutrition of the product. The term “natural” or “all natural” has no definition, so manufacturers can use it as they wish. There is no indication that a food product is nutritious just because these terms are on the package. Check the calories per serving and the first three ingredients. If the product seems within your calorie budget and the first three ingredients seem healthful, then buy it.
2. Percent Daily Value is for foods high in nutrients
Many shoppers scrutinize the % Daily Value figures for things like vitamin C and E, but nutrient deficiencies are not an issue for most Americans. Instead, focus your attention on core areas that can really make a difference in your health: negative nutrients. Read the label for calories, saturated fat, sugars, and sodium and try to choose products that minimize these negative nutrients.
3. That’s a single serving!!
If you purchase a food that appears to be a single serving, be sure to check the Nutrition Facts Label to see how many servings the manufacturer says the package contains. People in the study who reviewed the product’s serving size before purchasing consumed 150 fewer calories per day compared to those who didn’t read the labels. That could add up to a 15-pound weight loss in one year.
4. “Made with whole grain” means it’s primarily whole grain
Not the case. Many companies claim that their products are made with whole grains, but the main grain is often refined flour. To ensure that you’re buying a product that contains a significant amount of whole grain, choose one that has whole wheat, oats, or another whole grain as the first ingredient.
5. “No HFCS” indicates it’s low in sugar
A sweet mess many shoppers find themselves in is when they avoid products that have HFCS, only to choose those loaded with other negative nutrients like saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The jury is still out on whether or not HFCS is worse than other added sugars, but a diet rich in any type of added sugar is not healthy. So look for the added sugar in a product, and if it’s more than 10 to 12 grams per serving, make it a special-occasion food or beverage.
To get more tips, read 11 Ways to Pick Out Healthy Food.
Monthly Archives: August 2010
By Carina Storrs
THURSDAY, August 26 (Health.com) — According to ancient Chinese legend, black rice was so rare, tasty, and nutritious that only the emperors were allowed to eat it.
Times have changed. Although black rice is still relatively rare, researchers are trying to bring its distinctive flavor and mix of antioxidants to the masses—or at least to a grocery store near you.
If you’ve never heard of black rice, much less seen it, the dark-hued grain is now available at supermarkets such as Whole Foods and appears to be gaining a foothold in kitchens and restaurants in the U.S.
Like brown rice, black rice is full of antioxidant-rich bran, which is found in the outer layer that gets removed during the milling process to make white rice. But only black-rice bran contains the antioxidants known as anthocyanins, purple and reddish pigments—also found in blueberries, grapes, and acai—that have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, improvements in memory, and other health benefits.
- Amazing Benefits of Blueberries
- America's Healthiest Superfoods for Women
- Carbs that Help You Lose Weight
One spoonful of black-rice bran—or 10 spoonfuls of cooked black rice—contains the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries, according to a new study presented today at the American Chemical Society, in Boston.
"I think the black-rice bran has an advantage over blueberries, because blueberries still contain a high level of sugar," says the lead researcher, Zhimin Xu, PhD, an associate professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, in Baton Rouge.
Black rice isn’t currently grown on a commercial scale in the U.S., but Xu hopes that his research will spur farmers in the Southeast to start growing it.
The combination of antioxidants found in black rice packs a one-two punch that could make it a particularly good food for your health.
Some antioxidants in black (and brown) rice are fat-soluble, while anthocyanins are water-soluble and can therefore reach different areas of the body, says Joe Vinson, PhD, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania.
Next page: Popularity seems to be growing
Black rice is still a niche product, but its popularity seems to be growing.
"I have to order it [from our supplier] a lot more often than I used to, that’s for sure," says Linda Barry, the manager of Barry Farm Foods, a food distributor in Wapakoneta, Ohio, that began carrying black rice about three years ago.
Lotus Foods—which first introduced black rice to the U.S. market in 1995—has seen steadily increasing sales as well, says Caryl Levine, the co-owner of the El Cerrito, Calif.-based company.
Levine has been a believer ever since she tried her first bowl of steaming black rice in China. "I loved the taste and texture, and the color," she says. "You get this up-front nutty taste, and almost a hint of fruit or floral at the finish. It’s very complex."
The taste won't win everyone over. The notoriously finicky American palate may be the biggest obstacle facing black rice, says Marisa Moore, RD, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Some of her clients still find it "a challenge to incorporate brown rice [in their diets], because it is a different flavor and is chewier," Moore says—and black rice is even chewier and more intense than brown rice. (To address this problem, Xu and his colleagues are developing a patented process to make black rice fluffier and less coarse.)
Because the health benefits of black rice lie in the bran, it's important to choose whole-grain varieties when shopping. As with brown rice, Moore suggests, you should look for "whole black rice" at the top of the ingredients list.
There are other ways of using the rice besides eating it straight. Levine makes homemade black-rice bran powder by putting the dried kernels in a coffee grinder. A dusting of the powder on fish or in pancakes adds a nice flavor boost, she says.
Use enough of it, and the powder will add a distinctive purplish hue. In fact, if black-rice cultivation grows in scale, powder from the rice bran could be used as a healthful food coloring in sodas and other products, Xu says.
Even if black rice becomes a staple on your dinner table, you should still make room in your diet for fruits like blueberries, cranberries, and raisins, Moore says. Blueberries and black rice "have different offerings," she points out. "With the blueberries, you get an additional amount of vitamin C."Health World
By Tina Haupert
Two months later, I'm still celebrating my 30th birthday. Last Saturday, my uncle and aunt treated me to a fancy dinner at Top of the Hub, a fine-dining restaurant with gorgeous views of the city at the top of the Prudential Center in Boston. We enjoyed good conversation and lots of laughs while feasting on foie gras, lobster, red wine, and chocolate ganache cake. It was definitely a night to remember!
Even with all of that delicious food right in front of me, I didn't stress about overdoing it. I planned to indulge—it was my "birthday" dinner after all. Still, I didn't go overboard, as I may have before I found my Feel Great Weight. Here's what I did to keep my calories in check for the night.
Filled my stomach with water. Before I even took a bite of food, I drank an entire glass of water. A recent study suggests that drinking water helps fill your stomach, making you less hungry and less likely to overeat. I felt more in tune with my hunger cues, so when the appetizers and entrées were served, I didn't stuff myself.
Skipped the breadbasket. At indulgent meals with lots of courses, I always skip the breadbasket. Dinner rolls and sliced bread are basically all the same to me. Unless there's a special or unique offering, I save my calories for later.
Tasted the appetizers, then put my fork down. Appetizers are supposed to stimulate one's appetite for the main meal—they don't constitute an entire meal. I keep this in mind and only taste each of the appetizers served at the table. Usually my husband and I split one, or if I'm dining out with friends, I try a bite or two of of their appetizers and put my fork down until my entrée is served.
Visualized half of an entrée. Once my entrée arrives, I visualize a line down the center of my plate. I eat the food on one side of the plate and save the rest to pack up with me for later. Restaurant portions are usually oversized, so this way, I don't end up eating too much. Plus I have tasty leftovers for next day's lunch!
By Julie Upton, RD
New national data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the number of overweight Americans is far too high and is costing us nearly $150 billion a year in health-care costs.
Today, nearly 34% of adults are obese, up from 23% in 1994. Those classified as “extremely” obese increased from 3% in 1994 to nearly 6% in the most recent data. Additionally, 34% are overweight, up from 33% in 1994.
Together, more than two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese.
I know how hard it is to maintain an ideal body weight. I fight the battle on a daily basis as I'm prone to pudginess. However, for the most part, I feel like I’m winning.
I’ve developed a few key strategies that help keep my weight in check. But I've also asked my other dietitian colleagues who specialize in weight loss for their advice. Here are our best tips for losing and maintaining a healthy weight:
1. Step on the scale! This is my surefire solution for losing weight. I find that I have to weigh myself once a week to stay on track. If I stop tracking my weight, somehow I think I don’t have to think about what I eat. —Julie Upton, RD
2. Remember to WAIT! before that first bite and question yourself about what you're eating. Become a more mindful eater by asking yourself, “Am I really hungry?” and “Do I really need this?” If you're physiologically hungry, then proceed with the meal or snack. If you're not or you're not quite sure, probe further and try to choose a different mode of addressing the issue. —Heather Schwartz, MS, RD
3. Write it down! So many of my clients do not realize how much they eat each day. By writing down everything you eat and drink, you quickly become aware of the amount of food you’re eating, and the number of times you're eating—which you could be doing without even realizing it. —Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM
4. Eat regularly. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking and then every three to four hours while awake the rest of the day. —Janice Dada, MPH, RD
5. Lift like you mean it! Weights that is. But not the light weights. Go heavier so that you really tire your muscles. This will stimulate muscle growth, leading to more calories burned and, ultimately, to weight loss. —Katrina Seidman, MS, RD, LDNHealth World
I’ve always maintained that if I want to lose weight, all I need to do is step on the scale once or twice a week. Even if I say I’m going to weigh myself tomorrow, I’ll eat less today. This is true for most women I know; they all hate the thought of stepping on a scale.
However, several studies have shown that those who weigh themselves regularly are least likely to gain weight. A new study reported this week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research now shows that weekly tracking of body weight using an interactive website designed to promote weight-loss maintenance may help you maintain weight that you may have lost.
The trial by Kaiser Permanente researchers involved several phases. In the first phase, the participants enrolled in a six-month weight-loss trial. In the second phase, participants who had lost at least 9 pounds in the initial trial were divided into three groups: one with no intervention, one that involved monthly meetings with a health coach, and one that was provided with unlimited access to an interactive weight-maintenance website.
This study then tracked the nearly 350 participants in the group with access to the website for their first 28 months of use.
The website prompted individuals to record their weight, minutes of exercise, and the number of days they kept food diaries. If they went longer than seven days without recording a weight, the other features of the website were disabled until they logged on their weight again.
The results found that the successful dieters were those who logged in and recorded their weight once a month for at least 26 of the 28 months the study ran. They kept off an average of 9 of the average 19 pounds they’d lost. Those who logged on less consistently—at least once a month for 14 to 25 months—kept off an average of 5 pounds. Those who logged on least regained the most weight and had kept off an average of only 3 pounds of their original weight loss.
If you need inspiration, try some of my favorite—and free—sites that provide online diet tools, incuding:
• iPhone App: Lose It!
You know that being overweight or obese can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. But did you know that body weight can also take a toll on both psychological and social health?
New research from the University of Michigan examined the individual social, financial, and emotional consequences of being overweight in one of the first long-term studies in this area. The researchers followed 5,000 high school seniors until middle age, tracking their body weight and body mass index (BMI) annually for 22 years.
The researchers identified two distinct paths for body weight: people who were of normal weight in high school and gained small amounts of weight each year for the next 15 to 20 years, and those who were overweight at age 19 and continued to gain more rapidly during the study.
The results are a little scary. Individuals who were chronically overweight from high school to middle age were:
- More than three times likely to develop a chronic condition (heart disease or diabetes)
- Almost twice as likely to be receiving welfare or unemployment compensation
- One and a half times more likely to be unemployed or experiencing financial hardships
- Significantly more likely to not have a partner
While the study does not suggest that being overweight or obese cause a person to be single or lonely, it is well-known that body weight status can wreck one’s self-esteem, which makes it harder to excel in school, work, and relationships.
The study shines light on the overlooked factors associated with being chronically overweight, and it highlights the importance of helping young adults manage their weight, rather than allowing weight problems to determine their fate in life.
To develop healthy eating habits and learn how to teach children to choose wholesome foods, check our family nutrition section.