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Posts Tagged ‘ Gluten free ’

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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Buyer Beware: Five Ways to Steer Clear of Health Haloes

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Buyer Beware: Five Ways to Steer Clear of Health Halos.”

You can also read it HERE.

New research soon to be published in the International Journal of Obesity by researchers at University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that subjects eat more when food is labeled with a term perceived as healthy such as “reduced fat.”

Nearly 200 adult subjects were presented with pairs of foods, one food labeled with a “healthy”-sounding term such as “reduced fat” and the other food a regular brand item. The pairs of items had the same number of calories per 100-gram portions. Foods studied were reduced-fat and luxury coleslaw, semi-skimmed milk and Sprite, and Frosties and Special K cereals.

The subjects served themselves a larger portion of the healthy-sounding foods. This translates into the fact that they actually ate more calories from the products perceived as healthy. The subjects also underestimated how many calories were in these portions.

I have seen this phenomenon quite a bit in my private practice. Clients often think that if a food is labeled with a healthy-sounding term, they can eat more. For example, just because cookies are labeled reduced-fat, organic or gluten-free, people often think that somehow the calories do not count. But after all, cookies are cookies, regardless of whether they are reduced-fat, organic, gluten-free, or labeled some other way. And usually, when products are labeled as “reduced-fat,” manufacturers compensate by adding sugar. When products often marketed for diabetics are labeled as sugar-free, they may contain added fats or sodium.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that very often marketing is at play here. As reported in Reuters:

“Foods are marketed as being healthier for a reason, because food producers believe, and they correctly believe, that those labels will influence us to eat their products and perhaps eat more of their products,” said Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan the director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood, a government agency in Ireland.

The takeaway message: Don’t be fooled by food label traps. Here are several ways to avoid such pitfalls.

1. Read food labels. Look at the calories per serving along with the other nutrients, such as fat, sodium, and sugar. The order of ingredients matters, too. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If the first few ingredient contain unhealthy ingredients, regardless of the promise made on label, I’d suggest limiting this product or skipping it entirely.

2. Pay attention to your serving size. Be mindful as to how much you actually eat. For example, if you must indulge in a cookie, go for one cookie instead of two cookies, regardless of how they are labeled. Reduced-fat, sugar-free, or gluten-free cookies still have calories. Reduced-fat or reduced-sugar coleslaw, for example, may still have the same number of calories as the regular version. And the more you eat, the more calories you will be taking in. It is that simple.

3. Eat more whole food. This includes unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables — which do not have food labels touting these products as healthy, low-fat, reduced-fat, gluten-free, or some other “healthy”-sounding term.

4. Cook more. By preparing your own food, you are able to know exactly what ingredients, and how much of each, is going into the final product.

5. Avoid “diet” food. Oftentimes, diet foods such as baked goods labeled low-fat, reduced-calorie, or fat-free do not taste great. And you may end up eating more to compensate for the mediocre taste. My advice: Stick to the real thing, and eat a smaller portion of a food you really enjoy.

Finally, always remember that there is no free lunch.

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Health halos

Fitness magazine, where I am an advisory board member, has a terrific article in its October issue entitled “The halo effect” written by my colleague Sally Kuzemchak, RD.

Consumers often eat MORE when a food is labeled low fat, organic, or even gluten free. In many cases, it is great to look for these labels when you are making your food purchases, but beware that you don’t end up eating a bigger portion, which is what happens so often.

Here are a few label traps to look out for:

ORGANIC. It is great to buy organic fruits and vegetables in many cases, especially when buying from “the dirty dozen” which includes fruits such as apples and strawberries. While organic apples are healthy, (and I’m not to worried about you overdosing on apples), it is important to be advised that organic junk food is still junk food! Buying organic cookies, cakes, and crackers should not give you license to overeat. And, I many cases, you will being a paying a premium for such foods.

GLUTEN FREE. Gluten free products are on the rise but not everyone needs to eat gluten free, and gluten free does not mean that a food is healthier. Gluten free diets are important for people with celiac disease or people who cannot tolerate gluten.  Gluten free cookies, however, are still cookies and these foods DO have calories. In fact, many gluten free products often have more calories than their non-gluten free counterparts. As my expert colleague Shelley Case, RD, author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide says “Gluten-free doesn’t automatically equal healthy.”  And, as the journalist Michael Pollan succinctly wrote for a recent New York Times magazine article when asked about gluten free diets: “It’s hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment…”

LOW FAT AND FAT FREE. According to research in the Journal of Marketing Research, subjects ate 30% MORE candy that was labeled low fat. This does not surprise me as I have so many clients who have fallen into that same trap. Somehow, when a food is labeled low-fat, we often forget that it still contains calories. Same with the fat-free label. I had a client who would eat an entire jumbo bag of licorice because he was enticed by its fat-free label. As I told Fitness magazine, some fat in the diet is good as it aids in satiety. This often means that you end up eating less overall. So, my motto for cookies and cakes is: often times, you are better off sticking with the real thing, enjoying it, and you end up eating less.

So, next time you grab for those organic or fat-free cookies, be mindful of your portion, and try not to overindulge.

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