If you call food diet food, it becomes almost consequence free in the eyes of some people. They think that low fat equates low calories and they feel free to wolf it all down. The same goes with lower sugar or any of the other confusing labels that are on our favorite diet food, healthy or not. Learning to read a label is probably one of the first steps you have to take toward making sure that you have the right food to add to your diet as well as a better understanding of what we as a nation are consuming.
Diet Food: Healthy or Not? The Stats Don’t Lie
Shakira, the swivel hipped Latin American singer, sings a song called “My Hips don’t Lie.” Sadly, most people’s hips don’t lie, nor do the statistics. The average person in the United States consumes more processed foods than fresh foods: 56% more to be exact. An international study that was completed in conjunction with the USDA showed that the average American consumes just 369 pound of fresh foods per person, per year. That number is broken down into 124 pounds of fruits, 117 pounds of meat, poultry and seafood, 92 pounds of vegetables, 30 pounds of eggs, nuts and peanuts and 6 pounds of legumes. That same study showed that the average American was consuming 576 pounds of processed foods (including healthy options like dairy) per person, per year. That number’s breakdown: 198 pounds of dairy foods, 97 pounds of sweeteners including sugar, corn sweeteners, honey and syrups, 78 pounds of bakery products including bagels, breads, muffins and more, 54 pounds of soup, pasta and other canned goods, 47 pounds of frozen and dried processed foods, 43 pounds of snacks and candy, 43 pounds of chilled food and ready-to-eat meals and 16 pounds of sauces, condiments and dressings (Source: Fitness Magazine, September 2010).
Diet Food Healthy Strategy: Know the Label Meanings
The Food and Drug Administration, more commonly known as the FDA, sets guidelines for what can and cannot be put on a food label for a reason. Without regulation, food makers could put any wild claim they wanted on their labels without having to back any of them up at all. They could also omit the ingredients they would rather you did not focus on. The FDA Regulations on food labeling includes guidelines for words like low fat, low salt, and no sugar added.
– Zero fat or fat free: must contain less than ½ gram of fat per serving
– Lower or reduced fat: must have at least 25% less fat per serving than the regular version of the same food at the same serving size
– Low fat: must have less than three grams of fat per serving
– Lite: must contain 1/3 the calories or ½ the fat per serving of the original version at the same serving size
– Zero calorie or calorie free: must have less than five calories per serving
– Low calories: must have 1/3 the calories of the original version at the same serving size
– Sugar free: must have less than ½ gram of sugar per serving
– Zero preservatives: must have neither chemical or naturally occurring preservatives
– No preservatives added: may have naturally occurring preservative ingredients but none added
– Low sodium: must have less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving
– High fiber: must have 5 grams or more of fiber per serving. These foods must also be low fat or have the total fat grams placed next to the fiber count on the label.
– Good source of fiber: must have between 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving
– More or Added Fiber: must have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving
(Source: The FDA)
The reason that reading labels can be so important is simple: The food makers are not always as honest and open as they should be. Women’s Health magazine author Karen Ansel, a registered dietician, looked at several foods that were labeled as healthy and then looked at their reality. The findings:
A certain green tea with ginseng and honey is sold in a can which according to researchers leads most people to assume it is a single serving item. This particular tea actually contains nearly 3 full servings with 70 calories per serving. While it does have the antioxidant EGCG, this tea also had 12 teaspoons of sugar per 3-serving can.
Crispy apple chips were deceptive for a number of reasons. First, since they are made of dried apples, most people would assume they are diet healthy food, but that is not quite true. The bag itself has more than two servings or the equivalent of 12 of these chips. Each serving has 150 calories, so if you eat the whole bag, you are eating more than 300 calories for a snack. That is just as many calories as a bag of potato chips. And with the chips, you are not getting the sugar that is added. You are also not getting the fiber you would have gotten from eating the apple in the first place.
A packaged container of Mandarin oranges had two servings per small plastic container for 70 calories each. However, the problem is not with the oranges but with what they are soaking in. Most are packaged in pear juice, which is high in sugar.
An ice cream brand labels one of their options as a “personal” container but it is not a single serving container. According to the label, it is actually two servings with 170 calories per serving. Not only does the calorie count get you but the 16 grams of fat from those two servings are killer, too.
The list goes on and on but the point is clear: Make sure that you are reading the labels not only on the front but on the back as well. If something is small, don’t assume it is a single serving food. And don’t blindly pour food into a bowl or onto a plate. Measure it, weigh it, or learn to portion it out by eyeballing so that you don’t consume way more than you need to.
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