With the array of different diets and diet foods available to help with weight loss and health, it's sometimes hard to figure out what's healthy and what's not. Of course, part of the problem is that people have different health needs: for example, while fruit juice is often a good source of vitamins and other nutrients, some people with diabetes may find that some fruit juices have more sugar than they can tolerate. So what sounds healthy may not be healthy for you. How to tell? Look past the advertising to get label-savvy and nutrition aware so that you can avoid sneaky foods that seem like a good idea but may clash with your health needs.
Check out these examples:
1) Bottled waters: Water seems like the one thing on earth that has to be natural? But many bottled waters, even ones promoted by athletes, may contain things besides water, including minerals and salts. Some bottled waters contain a big chunk of sodium, so if you're on a low-sodium diet, check that label before you buy.
2) "Low fat" foods: By law, foods labeled "low fat" contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving. But check the label so you know what you're getting. First, check serving sizes: if serving sizes are very small, and you're planning a traditionally-sized serving, your intake of fat may be larger than you expect. Second, make sure you're not trading off the benefits of lower fat foods for extra sugar and salt. Manufacturers may increase salt, sugars or artificial flavorings to compensate for the loss of flavor in low-fat foods. So, if you're trying to lower your blood pressure (for example) check to make sure you aren't getting a big dose of salt; if you're trying to move towards a more organic or natural diet, you may want to compare levels of artificial sweetening.
3) "Low carb" alternatives to regular prepackaged foods may also trade off carbohydrate content for other things that you might be trying to avoid, so get savvy about reading labels on prepackaged food. Keep in mind that the FDA has not yet fully determined what the qualifications are to be a "low carb" food, so double-check the label to see if the carb content fits your needs. In addition, a number of reports suggest that "low carb" labels are being used inappropriately, so look at the label to see the actual number of carbohydrate grams.
4) Guacamole: Avocados look like vegetables, but they are actually the fruit of an avocado tree. Fruits and vegetables are generally considered to be healthy foods ? just look at the number of servings that are recommended in the new FDA pyramid. But avocados are a sneaky fruit ? unlike most others, they are full of fat, which accounts for their less sweet taste and waxy feel. One medium sized avocado has about 31 grams of fat, equivalent to a Baskin Robbins milk shake! So if you're trying to reduce the amount of fat or cholesterol in your diet, watch that guacamole. If on the other hand, you're looking to increase vitamins C and A in your diet, avocados pack a positive punch.
5) Fish: Fish can be a great source of nutrition, with lean protein and many nutrients. Make sure that if you're eating processed fish, it's packed in something that you don't mind eating ? if you're cutting down on fats, tuna packed in oil isn't for you. Lastly, not all seafood has the same nutritional content as fish ? unlike other fish, shrimp has a lot of cholesterol, even before you add butter or mayo.
Clinical Reference Systems, Adult Health Advisor, "Food labels," 2004.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "Fact Sheet: Carbohydrates," 2004
Schafer, E., et al, "Bottled Water: to drink or not to drink?," Iowa State University, PM 1813, 2000
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish," EPA-823-F-04-009, 2004
U.S. Department of Agriculture, "National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference," 2004
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