Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nutrition Labels

I will not buy any food—even if I’m shopping at Whole Foods—without looking at the “Nutritional Facts” on the packaging. For instance, one of my favorite snacks is dried papaya. But at some health food stores, the only one dried papaya on the shelves has sulfites, which is a preservative to prevent discoloration. Sulfites can provoke adverse reactions, especially for those with asthma. So why would I want to introduce an unneeded preservative into my body? That’s why I choose dried fruit without sulfites, even if its costs a little more.

Reading a list of the ingredients as well as the nutritional labels is second nature to me, as well as a professional hobby. I just love the fast ones that food manufacturers and beverage makers try to pull. The U.S. government began requiring the listing of trans fats in foods in 2006, which meant that any products with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (the source of bad trans fats) had to be listed on the packaging.

Well, makers of snack foods rejiggered their commercial recipes so they could splash their packages with phrases like “Trans Fat Free” or “Zero Trans Fats.” That’s great, except for one thing: manufacturers can still put dangerous trans fats in your food, as long as they ensure there’s less than 500 milligrams of trans fat per serving. The problem is that when you multiply 500 milligrams by the amount of servings you consume, then eat many different foods that play the same tricks with their labels, you’re consuming trans fats when you thought you were being “good” and staying away from these menacing compounds.

Then there’s the amount of the serving, which is another “gotcha.” You might look at a 20-ounce bottle of sweetened ice tea and see that it has 100 calories and 15 grams of sugar. But the “serving size” is 8 ounces, which means there are 2.5 servings in that 20-ounce bottle, so when you gulp all 20 ounces on a hot day, you’ve just consumed 250 calories and 37.5 grams of sugar! The size of the serving on the beverage or food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the label. Oreo cookies say that a “serving size” is two cookies. Yeah, right!

As for the “Nutrition Facts” listed on the packaging, pay attention to calories (especially as it relates to serving size), the amount of cholesterol, total fat, and sodium. I also pay attention to the “Total Carbohydrates,” which includes the listing of healthy carbs (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) and refined carbs (sugar). Obviously, minimize the sugar—actually, you shouldn’t be eating anything with refined sugar anyway—and load up on the fiber.
Better yet, buy and eat as many foods as you can that don’t have ingredient and nutritional labels, and that would be meat, fruits, and vegetables.

Copyright ©2008 Jordan Rubin


Isabelle said...

I couldn't agree with you more and that is why I try to cook from fresh foods as much as I can! BTW thanks for your 5 steps of grief posts, it really made me think.

Alexander M Zoltai said...

Very practical, valuable info.

To you hire-out to go shopping with people?

~ Alex