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Posts Tagged ‘ food labels ’

11 tips to make your grocery trip a whole lot healthier

Below is my post for Huffington Post, “11 tips to make your grocery trip a whole lot healthier.”

You can also read it here.

One of the best ways to practice healthy eating is to surround yourself with a variety of nutritious foods. Having spent a good part of my career helping clients get healthier, one of the first things we discuss is food shopping. If you buy healthy foods and ingredients, you will cook with them and eat them. If you bring lots of junk food into the house, guess what? That’s what you’ll eat.

Making smart choices in the grocery store really is the key to good nutrition, at least when eating at home. While some people love grocery shopping (I do and love seeing the new products!), others see it as an onerous chore. Picking up a few simple shopping tips, however, can make your trip to the market much healthier.

1. Shop from a list.

Before heading out to the supermarket, plan ahead, and take stock of what ingredients you need to prepare healthy meals and snacks for the week. You can keep a paper shopping list or keep a running list on your phone so you know you won’t forget it. You can also download your favorite smartphone app.

2. Enlist your family.

To be sure your family will want to eat what you serve, get them involved in the preparation, and ask them if there’s anything special they want around the house; keep it healthy, of course. This will help them feel like they are part of a team.

3. Don’t shop when hungry.

When you shop on an empty stomach, you tend to fill up on impulse purchases which are generally unhealthy. Eat a light meal or snack before heading to the market and you are more likely to skip to junk and shop from your list. This really does make all the difference.

4. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store first.

This is where you are likely to find healthy foods such as produce. Start by filling your cart with colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. This will set you up for healthy shopping habits for the remainder of your trip. Avoid the center aisles where the junk foods lurk; skip that section entirely or save it for last.

5. Choose the rainbow.

The different colors of the rainbow reflect the different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Red produce, including tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruits, tend to be rich in the antioxidant lycopene while orange produce, including carrots and cantaloupe, tend to be high in the antioxidant beta carotene. Go for color, including white (think cauliflower, onions)

Considering organic produce? Check out the Environmental Working Group for a list of the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15. The dirty dozen, including strawberries, spinach, and apples, are the produce with highest levels of pesticides so you may want to purchase these in organic varieties.

In addition to healthy produce, fill your cart with healthy foods from the various food groups: whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, legumes, nuts, and lean meats, and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

7. Choose packaged foods with a short ingredient list.

Choose minimally processed foods without lots of added sugar and salt. Choose foods that contain five ingredients or less and skip foods containing artificial ingredients, additives, and ingredients you can hardly pronounce. Frozen fruits and vegetables with nothing added are also great options to add to your shopping cart if you live alone and are worried your produce may go bad.

8. Don’t be fooled.

Read packaged food labels including the product’s ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight so the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. Review the serving size and the calories per serving. And check the sugar and sodium content.

Hopefully by next summer, (if the release new food labels are not delayed), you will be able to clearly see the calories and serving-size information along with a product’s “added sugars” on the package label.

For the time being, check out the sugars section and read the ingredient list for the added sugars (look for terms including sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, corn syrup).

And, as I wrote here, don’t be fooled by certain terms which give off the impression that a food is healthier than it really is: multigrain, fat-free, and gluten-free. Gluten-free cookies are still cookies.

9. Don’t buy in bulk.

Stocking up on paper towels can be a good idea (if you have the storage space) and save you money, but buying food in oversize packages will probably cost you lots of calories. We tend to eat more food from large packages and we usually do not even realize it so I don’t suggest stocking up on jumbo packages of nuts, cereal, chips, and crackers. Try purchasing snack foods in single servings; it will help you eat less. If you must buy in bulk, stock up on small baggies too—and divide and conquer!

10. Try a new food.

Be adventurous; aim to try a new fruit or vegetable each week. There are also so many yummy whole grains besides the usual whole wheat breads and cereals. Try Ezekiel bread, amaranth, spelt, quinoa, and Bulgar. Try soba noodles or chick pea pasta instead of whole wheat pasta for a change. Variety really is the spice of life.

11. Yes, make room for a treat.

I am not a fan of deprivation, so I do think it’s ok to buy and enjoy an occasional treat. If you are buying a treat food for the family, follow the rule of ONE: bring one fun food into the house at a time. Want to splurge on ice cream? Stick to just one flavor. The more flavors you have around the house, the more you will end up eating. Stick to a portion-controlled amount and choose a splurge you love. And, there are certain foods you may not want to even bring into the house if you know you will be tempted to overeat.

Enjoy!

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Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to over-eat

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post: “Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to overeat.” 

You can also read it HERE.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever purchased one food item over another because the nutrient claim on the package gave you the impression that it was the healthier choice? You may have been misled.

Many terms on food labels can confuse even the most educated consumers into thinking that a packaged food product is healthy when in fact, it is anything but healthy.

As I previously wrote, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be giving food labels an overhaul after 30 years (with updated serving sizes, disclosure of added sugar, and more), and even changing the definition of some terms manufacturers can use on labels (including “healthy”), it is still easy to be tricked into thinking a packaged food product is healthier than it really is.

Here are several—often misleading—terms that manufacturers often use on packaged food labels along with my tips on how not to be fooled. Such terms are often “health halos,” giving consumers the impression that the product is healthy thereby encouraging you to eat more than they may ordinarily consume.

1. Multigrain

When shopping for healthy grains, including bread, pasta, and crackers, looks—and words—can be deceiving. A loaf of bread, for example can be flavored with molasses or caramel coloring and have that brown “healthy” look but may not be any healthier than refined white bread. The term multigrain, for example, means that the product must contain two or more grains. But those grains may or may not be healthy whole grains.

Whole grains, including whole wheat breads and pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice contain more nutrients and fiber than refined products which have been stripped away of the bran and germ, the grain’s healthy components. The Dietary Guidelines advises that at least half of our grains be whole grains so read labels carefully.

My tip: When reading food labels, if you want to be assured that your product is healthy, look for the words 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat as opposed to multigrain. And be sure to read the ingredient list which tells a lot. According to FDA, “ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight,” meaning that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. The ingredient list tells you like it is.

2. Zero trans fat

Trans fat is just about the most unhealthy fat you can have. It is bad for your heart, is generally found in heavily processed foods, and the ideal amount to have is none at all. However, products are allowed to say that they contain “zero trans fats” if one serving contains less than 0.5 grams. This is deceiving because if you eat multiple servings—which so many of us do—the grams of trans fats add up quite easily.

My tip: Read the ingredient list and if “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” is listed, then the product contains trans fats, and I suggest you keep it on the shelf instead of adding it to your grocery cart.

3. Fatfree

The term fat-free can be notoriously misleading. Many products that bear this label are not as healthy as you might think and just because a label says fat-free, it doesn’t mean that the food product is calorie-free and that you can eat as much as you want. Fat-free products often tend to be loaded with sugar and are not healthy at all, despite what many consumers often think.

I’ve had many clients over the years that think they don’t have to pay attention to their portion size of fat free products. However, many fat-free cookies have just as many calories as their full-fat version. And many fat-free versions taste awful and just leave us wanting more.

My tip: Check the label for calorie content, and compare it to the full-fat version. And watch out for the added sugar.

4. Sugarfree

According to FDA, the nutrient claim sugar-free means that a product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving. These products, however, may still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources. As many consumers often think, the term sugar-free doesn’t mean the product contains fewer calories than the regular version. Oftentimes, it contains more.

Sugar-free products often contain sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol, or sorbitol which do contain calories (although fewer calories than table sugar) and may also cause stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Therefore, it is very important to practice portion control.

My tip: Compare the labels of the regular and sugar-free version and be sure to check the number of calories as well. And do not eat too much of either version. In fact, the sugar-free version will probably give you a stomach ache if you eat too much.

5. Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye and should not be consumed by people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. These days, gluten-free products are very easy to find with the proliferation of new products regularly hitting store shelves.

Gluten-free products, however, are not necessarily any healthier than those with gluten and can often actually be less healthy and contain more sugar and salt, and less fiber.

While gluten-free products are important for those who cannot digest gluten, there is really no advantage for everyone else to buy them. And they certainly will not help you lose weight, unless of course, they are lower in calories than the regular version which is not necessarily the case.

My tip: Read food labels and compare the calories, fiber, sugar, salt, and ingredient list of the gluten-free and regular varieties. And remember gluten-free cookies are still cookies!

One final thought: Before turning to packaged foods, I’d suggest you aim to eat more whole foods—including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, fresh seafood, and quinoa or brown rice—without fancy packaging and lots of added ingredients.

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Larger serving sizes on food labels may help us eat less!

Below is my blog for Huffington Post  “Larger serving sizes on food labels may encourage us to eat less.”

You can also read it here.

Food label-new 2014

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled plans to overhaul the Nutrition Facts panel required on packaged foods in the U.S. Among the proposed updates, FDA plans to revise the serving sizes to reflect more typical serving sizes. Because portions we currently eat are larger than food label serving sizes, consumers may be confused when reading labels and trying to determine ow many calories are in the foods they eat.

Indeed, typical portion sizes available in the marketplace have increased over the past several decades. Should serving sizes on food labels reflect these larger portions?

As FDA states, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

While there are clearly advantages to FDA requiring that manufacturers use larger, more realistic serving sizes, unintended consequences may arise. For one, consumers may view food label servings as recommendations even though they are not.

Indeed, according to one study, larger serving sizes may encourage people to eat more.

Now, a new study found that larger serving sizes on food labels will encourage us to eat less and may actually help fight the obesity epidemic.

Researchers from Georgetown University conducted several experiments published in the journal Appetite and found that subjects viewing larger serving sizes on packaged foods thought that they were more representative of typical marketplace portions. The subjects also had a lower health perception of the foods with larger serving sizes on the labels. Finally, subjects shown a larger serving size label ate less than those shown the current serving size label.

The authors wrote, “The studies find that the specific nutrition information provided with foods has a significant impact on perceptions of health, guilt, and estimated caloric intake. Providing consumers with easier to comprehend and more accurate information on all foods served in all contexts could reduce overeating. Decreasing caloric intake, through changing perceptions of health or increasing guilt, could improve public health.”

They concluded that “the proposed increase in serving size on Nutrition Facts panels could lower the consumption of high calorie foods.”

Let’s hope that this occurs in reality if FDA does, in fact, increase the serving sizes on food labels (which the agency proposed doing for nearly 17% of packaged foods).

For example, FDA is proposing to increase the serving size of ice cream from ½ cup to 1 cup. Rather than view the 1 cup serving as a recommendation, I hope that instead, consumers pay attention to the calories and view the larger serving size as a signal to eat less.

Whatever FDA ultimately decides to do, I think it is important that the agency follow up with an education campaign to teach people how to use the serving size information on a label and how to better understand the relationship between serving sizes, calories, and weight gain.

And, I hope that the agency pro-actively address concerns about any possible unintended consequences that some consumers view the serving sizes as recommendations for how much to eat.

As I suggested in my comments to FDA, “I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”

While we patiently await the release of the updated food label, I suggest paying attention to how much food is actually on your plate, eating fewer processed foods, and more fruits and vegetables. And, as USDA’s food guide myPlate suggests, fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit.

After all, no one got fat eating to many carrots.

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Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

You can also read it HERE.

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with Michelle Obama announced an overhaul to the nutrition facts label required on all packaged foods. Among the proposed changes includes updating the serving sizes.

As FDA states, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

The food labels have not been revised in over 20 years, and the current serving sizes are based on portions typically consumed in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller–often much smaller–than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and research articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

In a previous piece I wrote for Huffington Post, while I commended the FDA for using more realistic serving sizes, I also offered a note of caution: in particular, that FDA is not telling consumers to actually eat more.

“For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories. This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat…. It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.”

While there are clearly benefits to FDA requiring that manufacturers use more realistic serving sizes, a new study, published in the journal Appetite, addresses some potential problems with larger serving sizes. The study explores how consumers interpret the new serving sizes, and how they affect the amount of food they would serve themselves.

In one of several experiments, the researchers showed subjects two different labels for mini chocolate chip cookies–the current label which states 3 cookies as a serving and the proposed new label which lists 6 cookies as a serving. The subjects exposed to the proposed label served themselves significantly more cookies than those exposed to the current label.

Results of all four experiments found that people misinterpret serving size information. The majority of subjects believe that the serving size on a food label refers to how much they should eat. The researchers also found that the increased serving sizes on the proposed Nutrition Facts label can lead people eat more and purchase more food.

Uh oh! This is troubling, especially in a society where many of us already eat too much.

The researchers write, “We found that people misinterpret serving size information, with the vast majority of consumers incorrectly believing that the serving size refers to how much can/should be consumed.”

Lead author Steven Dallas, a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Stern School of Business wrote me the following in an email message: “Our research shows that the increased serving sizes of the proposed label lead consumers to serve more food for themselves and others. Since excessive consumption is a key contributor to obesity, this is a worrisome effect of the proposed label.”

Results of this study confirm that consumers may incorrectly view serving sizes as recommendations. Hopefully, FDA will take these findings into account when finalizing its serving-size rulings for the new food labels.

The authors conclude in their paper, “FDA should be encouraged to consider ways to correct this misinterpretation, such as by mandating the addition of a serving size definition to the proposed Nutrition Facts label. The definition could inform consumers that the serving size refers to how much of the product a typical person consumes in one sitting, and does not refer to how much of the product can be healthily consumed in one sitting.”

I agree!

In my comments last year to FDA on the proposed serving-size change, I suggest that FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations. I wrote, ” I recognize that the RACCs used to calculate serving sizes are required to be based on the amount of food people customarily consume, and are not recommended amounts of food to eat. However, given the likelihood of confusion among some consumers, I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on the new proposed serving sizes.

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FDA proposes larger–more realistic–serving sizes for food labels

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post on the new food labels:  FDA proposes larger–more realistic–serving sizes for food labels.

You can also read it HERE.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just released its proposal to update the Nutrition Facts label found on packaged foods and beverages. If approved, the new food label will update serving sizes. The label has not changed much in 20 years.

FDA is proposing to change the standard serving sizes to reflect what people actually eat. The FDA defines the current serving sizes as amounts of foods commonly consumed based on dietary intake surveys conducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan andresearch articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

The new serving size will, most likely, increase for most foods. By law, the standard serving size on a food label is supposed to reflect what people actually eat, not what they should eat. Therefore, the new serving size standards are not meant to be interpreted as recommendations for how much to eat.

With larger serving sizes on food labels, that would mean that a pint of ice cream that currently has four servings per pint (each serving is ½ cup), will have two servings for the new proposed label (each serving size will increase to 1 cup). The calories listed will, therefore, also increase. If a 1/2 cup serving of ice cream contains 200 calories, with the new 1 cup serving size, the label will now display 400 calories.

For the new label, the number of servings per package and the calories per serving will be more prominently displayed.

FDA is also proposing a makeover for single-serve foods and drinks. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda, which is typically consumed in one sitting by one person, would be labeled as one serving instead of 2.5 servings. After all, are you going to share your soda with 1.5 other people? Probably not. Other foods marketed for one person that often contain multiple servings per package include muffins, cookies, and small bags of chips.

What can we make of this?

For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories.

This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

I also think it is excellent that FDA is finally addressing packaged foods and drinks marketed for one person but that have multiple servings listed on the package label. This may clear up some confusion regarding the calorie content of what we are actually eating.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat.

It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.

FDA is accepting comments for 90 days.

We would love to hear your thoughts.

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