One of my pet peeves in the world of nutrition is all the false claims and misleading marketing that we are subject to each day. Everybody (including me, although of course I am right!) is telling you what to eat and what not to eat. Often times the information is conflicting and/or confusing. As a result two things can happen. Either you will begin to ignore the information and give up on your attempt to eat healthier or even worse you will be misled into believing something is healthy when in fact it is not.
On top of the list comes the “low fat” craze. I’ve written before that we need fat. It is an essential nutrient for a healthy body. However, we’ve become scared of fat. We believe that eating fat makes us fat. While that is true to a certain extent when we consume large amounts of bad fats, for most people the true culprit making us fat is eating too much processed flour and sugar. Here’s a classic example. We buy the low-fat version of our favorite cracker. The label claims “33% less fat than the original.” Sounds great. But here’s what it really means. The original version has 3 grams of fat per serving, while the low-fat version has 2 grams. That’s your 33% – one gram! Now here’s the problem. In order to make the cracker taste like anything you’ll want to eat the manufacturer adds more refined flour and sugar. So guess what – in your body this will create more fat!
Another problem with “low fat” foods is that they often contain either more sugar, or for “low calorie” they contain artificial sweeteners. Let’s look at our human biology again. It is fat that is satiating. It is fat that tastes good. It is fat that fills us. When they take out the fat, in order to make the “food” palatable, that’s where the sugar and artificial sweeteners come into play. I’ve written several past columns about sugar and artificial sweeteners so I won’t go into that here. The point being, neither the sugar nor the artificial sweetener will satisfy our hunger and we will want to eat again soon and consume more of these empty and non-satiating calories. Recent studies have shown that these “diet” foods actually cause us to eat more!
Ever notice all the different logos on products claiming various health attributes. Did you know that those are bought? Did you know that the instant oatmeals with the American Heart Association health seal actually have more sugar per serving than the perceived “sugary” cereals such as Froot Loops? All the logo means is that it meets the AHA’s “food criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol.” The irony of course is that sugar is one of the contributors to stress and ultimately the cholesterol our body is making to deal with the stress!
Another favorite of mine is the “good source” claim. If a serving has 10% of the recommended daily value of a specific nutrient is qualifies as a “good source.” On that criteria a good source of calcium is honey teddy grahams. The only problem is that they also contain 23 grams of carbohydrate or almost 6 teaspoons of sugar to your body. And here’s the list of ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Sugar, Graham Flour (Whole Grain Wheat Flour), Soybean Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Honey, Maltodextrin, Calcium Carbonate (Source of Calcium), Baking Soda, Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier) – sounds real healthy! By the way the calcium you’ll note is from calcium carbonate – not the most absorbable form of calcium; or better known as chalk, limestone, or marble. Now that sounds yummy!
So, as you can see there is quite a bit of deception going on with food labeling. It is all legal and within regulatory requirements. Unfortunately it does not protect you – the consumer. If you are going to buy boxed food it is in your best interest to read the label very carefully. Know what you are buying and putting in to your body. And, if you need more help, please give me a call or e-mail me.
Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Thiensville. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.