We would all be healthier if we read and understood nutrition facts labels. On the other hand, we would also be healthier if we just avoided most processed foods. Regardless of how healthy processed foods appear on the nutrition facts label, they all contain sodium or sugar to make them taste better.
If you don’t want to spend time deciding which processed foods are the least harmful each time you shop for groceries, try these tips:
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and fresh fish and meats are located.
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables, like carrots, grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, celery, cucumbers, yams and squash.
- Avoid most processed meats, which are usually high in sodium.
- Select lean cuts of meat and plan to eat sensible portions a few times each week rather than every day.
- Skip margarine, pudding and sugar filled yogurt found on the perimeter.
- Purchase cheeses naturally low in fat, like Swiss and Parmesan, and plan to use sparingly.
- Venture down aisles with single ingredient items: rice, dried beans, 100 percent whole grain oats, healthy oils.
- Learn to cook with spices and herbs.
- Purchase whole grain pastas and breads.
- Low-salt canned tomatoes and beans are also good. But be wary of the trade off when a canned item states low fat on the label. Sodium is usually increased to compensate for the loss of flavor when fat is reduced or eliminated. To lower the sodium in canned beans, drain the liquid and rinse in water.
Consider eating healthy an investment: You can spend more time and money now to purchase healthy foods, or pay more later in increased health care costs.
Reaction to the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would work to reduce salt in Americans’ diets sparked a lot of discussion about how far the government should go. For now, the FDA is working on developing plans that would allow manufacturers to comply voluntarily, and many were already taking steps to reduce salt.
Have sodium and food reversed roles?
The average person only needs about 1,500 mg. of sodium daily. The average American consumes almost twice that much. American’s have known to cut back on salt consumption for decades, but the majority of salt consumed is not added at the table by consumers. According to a story posted by The New York Times, about 75 percent of salt comes from processed foods. Salt is added to foods by manufacturers and by restaurants as a flavor enhancer. A government-commissioned report reveals that perhaps 100,000 premature deaths a year are from sodium overload and states that salt amounts in some grocery and restaurant foods should be declared unsafe.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, posted alarming amounts of sodium in some restaurant foods:
- Chili’s Jalapeno Smokehouse Burger, with Jalapeno Ranch dressing and a side of fries has 6,460 mg of sodium — more than four day’s worth in one meal or almost three teaspoons.
- Chili’s black bean soup has 1,480 mg. of sodium — almost an entire day’s worth for many people.
Such high sodium content in foods makes me wonder if salt’s purpose is no longer merely to enhance the flavor of food. It’s as if salt has become the primary flavor to mask a lack of flavor in many foods.
According to WomenHeart.org, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, some women reported that health care providers failed to accurately diagnose their heart attack by attributing their symptoms to other causes.
Know the facts
In addition to having a greater chance for being incorrectly diagnosed, many women put-off seeking medical attention for heart attack symptoms or being screened for heart disease due to misconceptions. Some alarming facts from WomenHeart.org help dispel some misconceptions:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease than men.
- The rate of sudden cardiac death of women in their 30s and 40s in increasing much faster than men of the same age.
- A 2005 study by the American Heart Association showed that only eight percent of primary care physicians and seventeen percent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.
- Studies confirm a disparity between medical treatment administered to women with heart disease as opposed to men with heart disease.
- Not having a family history of heart disease does not mean you will not develop heart disease.
- You can reduce your risk of heart disease with the right information and lifestyle modifications.
Heart attack symptoms in women
Women experiencing a heart attack may have traditional symptoms, such as crushing chest pain, or no symptoms at all. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention and insist on an EKG test or blood enzyme test to determine if your symptoms are being caused by a heart attack:
- Discomfort, tightness,uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
- Crushing chest pain
- Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms.
- Dizziness or nausea
- Clammy sweats, heart flutters, or paleness
- Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness – especially with exertion
- Stomach or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
Fruits are ideal as main ingredients for heart-healthy desserts because they are naturally sweet and make it easier to eliminate or cut back on additional sweeteners. Here are a couple of ideas from EatingWell to get you going:
This quick and easy baked apple dessert serves two and calls for one teaspoon of honey, which could just as easily be left out. Also, consider preparing several servings in advance without the yogurt and freezing. Thaw and add yogurt when you’re ready to serve:
- 2 apples,cored
- 4 teaspoons dried fruit, chopped, such as cranberries, raisins or dates
- 4 teaspoons toasted nuts, chopped, such as pecans, walnuts or almonds
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine fruit, nuts, honey and cinnamon; spoon into the apples. Place the apples in a small baking dish and pour apple cider around them. Cover with foil. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Serve topped with yogurt.
Nutrition per serving: 165 calories; 4 g fat (0 g sat, 2 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 4 g fiber; 2 mg sodium; 215 mg potassium
Now, for the chocolate fix, this recipe calls for three simple ingredients and requires no baking. As shown here, it serves four but could be increased easily to serve many more.
- 4 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 4 teaspoons toasted unsweetened coconut
- 2 small bananas, sliced on the bias
- Place cocoa and coconut on separate plates. Roll each banana slice in the cocoa, shake off the excess, then dip in the coconut.
Nutrition per serving: 80 calories; 1 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrates; 1 g added sugars; 1 g protein; 2 g fiber; 5 mg sodium; 274 mg potassium.
Visit EatWell’s website has additional heart-heathy dessert recipes.
Having the right foods on hand when it’s time to prepare meals at home is an important first-step in sticking to a heart-healthy diet. To do this, read and understand the nutrition facts label when shopping for foods. To avoid succumbing to temptations from all that’s available while you browse the aisles and read labels, it might be easier to create a grocery shopping list in advance. Unless you’re purchasing foods you’ve previously researched, how will you know a product’s nutrition data while preparing your list?
Online tools make it easier
If browsing multiple websites for every product you intend to purchase sounds too time-consuming, the American Heart Association’s one-stop online location is a handy tool for creating a grocery shopping list of heart-healthy certified foods. Products are broken into categories similar to the aisles where they are stocked at the grocery store — milk is in the “Dairy” category, fresh fruits and vegetables are in “Fresh,” and so on.
When a product’s information is accessed, the packaging logo is displayed so you can be sure you’ve selected the right item along with the product’s ingredient list and nutrition facts panel. Selected items are added to a list, which can be saved and modified, printed, e-mailed or downloaded to a web-enabled mobile phone or PDA.
The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) is having its first ever Supermarket Health and Wellness Conference May 11 – 13. Due to consumers’ increased desire to purchase foods that promote good health, the industry is taking proactive steps to “develop health and wellness programs and market to the evolving shopper,” according to FMI’s news release March 10. The conference is an encouraging sign that consumers are becoming more educated about the importance of making healthy food choices and make their wishes known.
According to the FMI’s website and backgrounder, the institute operates on behalf of its 1,500 member companies, which are food retailers and wholesalers around the world — not food shoppers and consumers. Its combined annual sales volume of $680 billions represents three-quarters of all food retailers in the U.S.
Consumers’ need unbiased information
FMI’s plans to “develop strategies and tactics to capitalize on emerging health and wellness opportunities across the entire store,” is an indication that they are aware of consumer concerns about having healthy food choices. While I believe information provided by supermarkets will be accurate, I’m not convinced it will be presented without bias. Consumers are already obtaining comprehensive and unbiased information and educational resources from other sources, such as The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Dietetic Assocation (ADA). In fact, these organizations and others are at least partly responsible causing consumers to begin to seek out healthier options.
I believe that FMI’s move to create education at the store level is a good one; however, I do not believe consumers should rely solely on this information in making final decisions about which foods to purchase. Consumers would be wise to continue educating themselves and staying up to date on the latest research and comparing information provided through supermarket programs to other reliable sources.
According to a story by Lauren Cox for ABCNews/Health, a recent discovery revealed that mummies housed at the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo showed signs of having had heart disease. Doctors performed a CT scan used in diagnosing people today on the mummies and found calcium deposits in arteries — evidence of plaque build-up that leads to hardening of the arteries. The story also reports the doctors were surprised by their findings: “We thought that we would find it, but maybe very rarely, and we thought that if we did find it, it wouldn’t be so severe,” said Adel H. Allam, the lead author of a letter to the editor.
Is everyone predisposed for heart disease?
People living 3,500 years ago certainly could not have faced the same lifestyle challenges we face today — lack of exercise and a ready supply of processed meats and other foods high in fat and salt. If they still had heart disease in the absence of these factors, perhaps people are predisposed for heart disease. If so, how we expect to avoid the disease today with all the added risk factors?
Does lifestyle impact one’s risk of heart disease?
While certain people are predisposed for a greater risk of heart disease, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same lifestyle habits that contribute to heart disease today were also present during the lifetimes of the mummies tested. Only the wealthy were mummified in ancient Egypt, which means that mummies tested probably did not do physical labor related to work and likely led sedentary lifestyles. Being wealthy would also mean they had access to meats high in cholesterol, which were preserved in large amounts of salt during that time.
While I’m not relieved that the mummies had heart disease during their lifetime, I am relieved that lifestyle factors may have played a part in the development of their disease. Modifying lifestyle habits and reducing risk factors that contribute to heart disease — a diet high in fat and salt and a lack of exercise — may have prevented heart disease from developing during the lives of these ancient Egyptians just as it does for people living today.