We are three women who have the same struggles as everyone else, when it comes to trying to live a healthier lifestyle. In this second installment of our 3-part series, we’ll expose the hidden meaning of the words on food labels like Fat-free, Low-fat, Reduced-fat, No Trans Fats. Do these words on a label automatically mean that the product is healthier? What does it all mean? We aren’t medical professionals, but refill your coffee and keep reading as we sort this out together and try to make sense of the labels and marketing gimmicks that fill the shelves at our favorite grocery stores.
If you’re eating a tree-ripened, juicy peach or a slice of a summer-perfect tomato, you know exactly what you’re eating. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could trust food labels to say what they mean and mean what they say? Marketing companies are fantastic at making us think we need to have that particular product right now or we will be missing out! They are also very adept at living in a gray area between true and false in the way they present products, including ingredient labels. For instance, labels on packaged foods use calories, percentages and grams on their labels but they don’t say what percentage of the calories actually come from fat. It’s up to the consumer to figure it out. And, to add another dimension of math we didn’t necessarily learn in school, some products are allowed to use weight instead of calories to calculate fat percentages for labeling purposes. The consumer is left confused. So what do we do?
Here’s some facts to store in your gray matter:
A study by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, which looked at the relationship between heart disease and lifestyle, suggested that 90% of Cardiovascular Disease is caused by modifiable diet and lifestyle factors.
The FDA allows any food with .5 grams of trans fat or less to claim “0 grams trans fat” on the label. If you happen to eat several servings or a few different “trans fat-free” foods during a day, you can wind up consuming a measurable amount.
Fat-free does not mean calorie-free. The label will generally contain fewer calories than the equivalent higher fat food, but it still contains other components that contribute to the calories. If you are calorie restrictive with your diet, these “fat-free” foods are not for you.
Trans fats, are made from vegetable oil with hydrogen added to make them solid at room temperature. They’re also known as hydrogenated oil or partially-hydrogenated oil and they increase the shelf life of cookies, crackers, bread and other packaged foods. According to Harvard Medical School: “Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health and elsewhere indicates that trans fats can harm health in even small amounts: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.” Even if a product says “zero trans fats” on the label, be sure to read the list of ingredients. Some actually contain partially hydrogenated oil but they can say they contain zero, because there’s less than .5 gram of fat per serving, so be sure to read the serving size too. So if you see this on a label, put it down and slowly step away from the package!
Saturated fats are another thing to watch out for. They are solid at room temperature. Think bacon grease. Common sources are red meat, lamb, butter, eggs, pork, lard, poultry fat and cheeses made from whole or 2% milk. They can also be hidden in packaged cookies, crackers and baked goods. They can have harmful health effects because they raise cholesterol and, through a chain of physiological events, contribute to harmful blockages in the heart and blood vessels, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fats. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fats a day.
Cholesterol and Fat connection gets tricky. Some sources express that trans-fats raise LDL cholesterol (the bad guys) and lower HDL cholesterol (the good guys), which is the opposite of what you want to happen. Some sources express that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with overall cholesterol in the blood, that it’s mostly due to your genetic predisposition. Sticking to the healthy fats is always the right answer regardless of the plethora of information you can read on this. Moderation of anything, including good fat, is the key because even olive oil is very high in calories. Olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon so dipping bread in it can become a calorie bomb very quickly.
Meet our friend “Good Fat”. Labels that read monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat (both from canola, olive, peanut oils and avocado ) are good fats and these should be staples in your vocabulary and in your cooking. These are usually liquid at room temperature but may turn solid if chilled and are typically from vegetable sources.
So what’s the bottom line? Choose healthy. Do this by changing up some of your eating routine. Here’s some extra stuff to consider:
- Always be prepared – Plan your meals in advance. No fly-by-the-seat-of-your-stretchy-pants shopping at the grocery store
- Snack when you’re hungry – But opt for the small sensible portions like nuts and berries. Put down that handful of bite-sized Milky Way bars that you’ve had frozen for just such occasion.
- Exchange rate – Little exchanges like mustard for mayo, skim instead of whole milk or even move to an alternative milk like Almond or Coconut, leave the cheese off of your burger, choose the salad instead of the fries.
- Calories in, Calories out – There are apps for your phone that make this a no-brainer nowadays. Keeping your calories in check helps to keep your weight down.
- Do something active every day. It doesn’t matter what it is, just make it fun so you’ll keep it up. The more you do, the more you burn.
- Fall off the Wagon Day. Give yourself one day of the week to be free! But be disciplined to hop back on the healthy wagon. Don’t let it creep into two or that defeats everything you’ve worked for.
- Work in Progress. That’s just what we are; works in progress. Stay the course. Don’t lose sight of healthy living.
- Grocery Shopping. Remember that the healthiest sources of fats are the ones God made for us to enjoy, and are found in nuts, seeds, greens, whole grains and vegetables. Hmm, this is making us hungry. We need a snack. . . .
Join us next week, for the sixth stop in the Hidden Gem Restaurant Challenge. It’s easy to see why so many people told us, “You have to go there.” Now that we’ve been, we wholeheartedly agree and you’ll want to go there too!
Until next time, Love and Peaches!