Beware of foods that fool!?

October 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Learn how to tell what's really low-fat, sugar-free, or all-fruit. Dietitian Elizabeth Somer helps us sort it out.

1. Cereals

What has less sugar - Cocoa Puffs or Select Cranberry Almond Crunch?

Many of those sophisticated cereals aimed at adults have as much or more sugar as the kid's junk. In this case, Cocoa Puffs has slightly less, 12 grams vs 13 grams in the healthy-sounding Crunch. Granted the Crunch has a bit more fiber, but it also has 80% more calories. Both are made with whole grains, but no one would venture to say a chocolate cereal is healthy for you. Well, guess what...many of those cereals aimed at adults are not much better. Instead choose: Cereals that contain only whole grain or bran, have at least 4 grams of fiber, and no more than 8 grams of sugar, such as Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal, Spoon-size Shredded Wheat or Shredded Wheat 'n Bran, GrapeNuts, or Weetabix Organic...to name only a few.

2. Chips

Which is better for you - Potato chips, Flat Earth's Garlic & Herb Field Baked Veggie Crisps with 1 /2 serving of real vegetables in every ounce, or Seneca apple chips?

This is one of the best examples of deceptive packaging in the grocery store! Check the label and you'll note that the first two ingredients in the Crisps are rice flour and potato flakes....that's right, this incredibly deceptive chip, which often is found in the canned fruit aisle, is just potato chips. Check further and you'll note the Crisps have more corn oil, modified corn startch, and oat flour than pumpkin, more sugar than dehydrated onion, and more salt than tomato. While a serving of any of those vegetables supplies 19 to 40 calories and virtually no sodium, to get a full serving vegetables from these Crisps will cost you 260 calories, with 380mg sodium. How a manufacturer can take a healthy, fat-free apple or banana, load it with fat and sugar, then pass it off as healthy is beyond me! Same goes for the apple chips, which have the same calories per ounce as potato chips.

Instead choose. If you want something crunchy, try snacking on raw Chinese pea pods or apple slices. If you want something closer to a chip, cut corn tortillas into wedges, dust them with salt or seasonings and bake until crispy.

3. Crackers

Wheatsworth Stone ground Wheat crackers or Triscuits

Seems like any cracker that say's "wheat" twice and mentions that the wheat is stoneground must pack a hefty nutritional punch. However, the deceptive word here - wheat - just means it is made with refined wheat flour, the first ingredient listed. 5 crackers packs almost a teaspoon of fat (3.5 grams), too. Throughout the grocery store and especially in the cracker aisle, watch out for brand deception. Some brands, such as Kashi, make some wonderful, high-fiber wholesome cereals, but other products in the line, such as some of their crackers have more white flour than whole. Always read the label and assume nothing!

Instead choose. Check the ingredient list and know the code words. Refined white flour is often called wheat flour or enriched flour. If you don't see the word "whole,"'cracked wheat," "oats," or "whole grain", it probably isn't. Also, the nutrition panel may say "trans free", but if you see hydrogenated vegetable oil in the ingredient list, you have a product that has trans fats, just not enough per serving to qualify for a listing. Eat more than the serving size and you could be eating more than your allotment of trans fats. Healthy options include: Reduced-Fat Triscuits, or their Roasted Garlic or Garden Herb varieties - they are whole grain, high-fiber, and hydrogenated fat-free.

4. Pasta

Spinach pasta or regular pasta

What could be better than to meet your vegetable quota by eating carbs?! Too bad there is so little spinach in spinach pasta that the label says a hefty portion contains no vitamin A, also a red flag there's little of the healthy phytochemicals that have made spinach famous, like lutein to protect your eyes. Instead choose: Toss thawed and drained chopped spinach into pasta (preferably pasta that is at least half whole grain) or pasta sauces... a half cup serving will supply 100% of your daily need for vitamin A and 25% of your requirement for folate.

5. Lettuce

Bagged Full Salads vs McD's Quarter Pounder with Cheese

Dole's Garlic Caesar Salad kit says that there are 3 servings in a bag. Each little serving (1.5 cups) is 170 calories and 15 grams of fat! Use the entire salad dressing pouch and croutons on your salad and you are consuming more calories than you'll get in a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Hillshire Farm has a new line of Entree Salads, such as Chicken Caesar, Turkey & Cranberries with Ham Julienne...all you add is the lettuce. You also will add half a day's saturated fat and a full day's sodium, in fact, you'll be gobbling the nutritional equivalent of a McD's Sausage McMuffin with Egg, plus 700mg more sodium.

Instead choose: Bagged baby spinach or romaine lettuces, then drizzle a smidgeon of your own favorite low-fat dressing. Better yet, try Wish Bone's Salad Spritzers, which coats the greens with only one calorie's worth of dressing.

6. The Bakery

Bran Muffins or Apple Croissant

Bran muffins are right up there with soymilk as a symbol of health food, while everyone knows that croissants are just sinful, period. However, ounce for ounce, the only advantage the bran muffin holds over the croissant is that it is higher in fiber. The croissant wins on being lower in calories, fat, and sugar. Most coffee shop or bakery muffins average about 4 to 6 ounces, 350 to 500 calories, and 15 to 20 grams of fat, with a hefty dose of artery-clogging bad fat throw in for good measure. For example, Dunkin Doughnuts Honey Bran Muffin has 490 calories and a teaspoon of bad fat. A tell-tale sign a muffin is particularly high in fat is if it leaves a grease slick on your fingers or an oily feel in your mouth.

Instead choose: This doesn't give you license to eat croissants. Instead, choose a Au Bon Pain Low-fat Triple Berry Muffin (290 calories and 2 grams fat), Panera Low-fat Triple berry Muffin (300 calories, 3 grams fat), or Panera Banana Nut Muffin (260 calories, 2 grams sat. fat). Or, share that bran muffin with two other friends!

More information:

You say that some common labels can mislead.

The manipulative and down-right deceptiveness of many products on the market shelves really is boggling. Even people who want to eat well and are trying to make wise foods choices are fooled by a wholesome-sounding buzzword, such as low-fat, sugar-free, or all-fruit. Many times they are just being conned. Instead of saving you calories, reducing sodium intake, or boosting nutrition, these products often trick you into sabotaging your healthy diet.

Always go to the back to check 3 things: 1) the nutritional panel, 2) the serving size, AND 3) the ingredients list. And, if it sounds to good to be true (getting vegetables by eating potato chips), then it probably is!

About Elizabeth Somer, M.A.:
She is a registered dietitian who has carved a unique professional niche as one of the few, if not only, dietitians who is well-versed in nutrition research. For 25 years, she has kept abreast of the current research, packaging that information into easy-to-read books, magazine articles, lectures, continuing education seminars, and practical news for the media. She is the author of Age-Proof Your Boday.

For more information on Elizabeth Somer, visit www.elizabethsomer.com. For information on her book, " Age-Proof Your Body: Your Complete Guide to Looking and Feeling Young," click here.

Buy the book on Amazon: Age-Proof Your Body


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