Your body is your temple, right? You think twice before putting anything in your mouth. Only the healthiest food meets your high standards. But how do you know if that canned soup lives up to its healthy name? Don't be fooled into paying more for a product just because words like "natural" or "fresh" appear in big letters. Arm yourself with a little information and you'll know a tricky term when you see it. back to top
Get the "whole" truth...on grains
Products made with whole grains, like some breakfast cereals
and breads, are a nutritious source of complex carbohydrates
. For a food to qualify as rich in whole grains, it must get more than half its weight from whole grains. Products that meet that standard can claim that eating them can reduce the chances of getting heart disease and cancer. Before you buy, check the ingredients list on the label to make sure that a whole grain (such as whole wheat, whole grain oats, corn, or rye) is the first
ingredient listed. And don't be fooled by breads that are dark in color. That dark brown pumpernickel in the grocery store may get its whole grain appearance from caramel coloring or coffee. back to top
"Fresh" foods don't have any preservatives, right?
Food that is labeled "fresh" must be raw or unprocessed. For example, melons and pineapples that are precut and sold in the produce section ready-to-eat are fresh. To use this term, the food cannot contain preservatives or have been frozen or heated. But, food can still be labeled fresh if it was treated with approved waxes (cucumbers usually have a wax coating), post-harvest pesticides, or washes, or if it was irradiated
at low levels.
"Fresh frozen" applies to foods that are quickly frozen while still fresh. You'll see this term often in the fish department or on bags of frozen vegetables. These foods may be blanched (briefly cooked in boiling water) before freezing. This helps to prevent nutrients from breaking down before you get a chance to eat up. back to top
What's the difference between "lean" and "extra lean" meats?
The terms "lean" or "extra lean" are used with meat, poultry, seafood, or game meat (such as venison and wild boar) that have a low amount of fat and cholesterol. Lean foods contain less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol. To make it into the extra lean category, the food must contain less than 5 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3 ounces. back to top
Are some ingredients listed by different names?
Sometimes the Nutrition Facts label
lists certain nutrients using technical terms that most shoppers don't recognize. For instance, milk may be listed as casein or lactoglobulin. If you are lactose-intolerant, or have another food allergy, knowing all the different names for that food is important. back to top
If the label says "no sugar added," does that mean there's no sugar in it?
Packaging for products such as cereal may state that no sugar has been added, but that doesn't necessarily mean the food is sugar-free. It may contain naturally occurring sugar. Foods that contain natural sugar include fruits, vegetables, milk, grains, and legumes (peas and dried beans). The only way to know for sure if a packaged food contains sugar is to check the ingredients list on the label. Both "naturally occurring" and "added" sugars (as well as artificial sweeteners
) are listed there. back to top
How come some foods list two different calorie counts?
When you buy a product that needs to be prepared with additional ingredients, such as a box of mac ‘n cheese or brownie mix, read the Nutrition Facts label extra carefully. It will show the calories
and fat counts for just the stuff in the box, and also the increased counts once you add things like milk, eggs, butter, or margarine. The second number is the one that really matters. That's the one that reflects the finished product that you eat. back to top
Do meats and chicken have to be labeled?
Unlike most foods, fresh meats and poultry are not required to be labeled yet. Meat packing companies provide nutritional information on a voluntary basis. Even when nutrition information is provided, it won't necessarily appear on the label. That's because some chicken and meats are sold from a meat counter and are not wrapped until you purchase them. Look for nutrition information on posters, cards, brochures, or notebooks displayed near the meat counter. back to top
What makes a food "organic?"
When a food is labeled "organic" or "organically grown," it's not always clear what that means. That's why the federal government has proposed new national standards. These standards are expected to be finalized by the end of this year. Once that happens, products that contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients will be allowed to carry a seal of approval that says, "USDA Certified Organic." Foods that are least 50 percent organic could be labeled "made with" organic ingredients. The list of farming and processing methods that will get you kicked off the organic team are likely to include: