Never judge a food by its packaging. Many food manufacturers have done research on what catches the consumer's eye and what consumers look for when trying to make healthy choices. A lot of these findings are non-compliant with what should actually be found in the ingredients of the food. Don't skip reading ingredients because manufacturers are legally allowed to base Nutrition Facts on one serving alone, not what is contained in the entire contents of the food container. These three tips may change the entire contents of your kitchen.
If one serving of a food has less than half a gram of trans fat, the manufacturer is legally allowed to round down to zero grams. This means if a food has 0.49 grams of trans fat, the manufacturer can list the food as having 0 grams trans fat per serving. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil is trans fat, so read ingredients as well as the Nutrition Facts label. If the food has any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredients list, that means there is trans fat in the item.
2. Multi-Grain vs. Whole Grains
A multi-grain is actually a whole grain mixed with an enriched grain. Therefore, a whole grain alone is a better choice than a multi-grain. Many manufacturers use terms like "9 grain," "7 grain," or "wheat," to give the consumer the impression they are eating a healthy food when in reality this is not healthier than "whole grain" or "whole wheat." Read the ingredients to make sure the first ingredient contains the word "whole." Find the first ingredient as "whole wheat flour" or "whole oats" for example. If the word "enriched" is in one of the next ingredients, that means the food is a multi-grain and contains white flour. For example, a multi-grain will have the first ingredient as "whole grain wheat flour, bleached enriched flour..." All bread is made from wheat, but healthier bread will be made with only whole grain wheat flour and without enriched flour.
3. Sugar Free vs. Unsweetened or No Sugar Added
"Sugar free" means the food either has less than 0.5 grams sugar per serving or the food was sweetened using something other than sugar such as artificial sweeteners. "Unsweetened" means no sugar or artificial sweetener was added during the processing and packaging of the food but does not mean there is no sugar in the finished product. For example, "sugar free" grape jelly will list sugar as 0 grams on the Nutrition Facts label but it most likely contains aspartame or another artificial sweetener, while "unsweetened" or "no sugar added" grape jelly contains only the sugar which came naturally in the fruit and can have over 10 grams of sugar per serving although none of the sugar was added during processing and there are no artificial sweeteners contained in the jelly.
Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.