Category Archives: Processed foods

Grocery shopping, healthy and quick

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.

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Tackling high sodium content in foods

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.

Heart disease existed in ancient times

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.

Raisin bran and other sugary cereals

An article about sugary cereals caught my attention this week. The story’s online thumbnail paired an image of a bowl of raisin bran cereal with the title, “Best and Worst Breakfast Cereals.” I thought raisin bran was one of the healthier choices. It’s only wheat flakes with a little fruit, right?

Alternatives to sugary cereals

The story, posted by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding, a Yahoo! Health Expert, reports that a one-cup serving of raisin bran contains 19 grams of sugar. As an alternative, the writer suggests substituting Kellogg’s All Bran, which contains only 7 grams of sugar, and then adding a tablespoon of your own raisins for a total of 13 grams of sugar — 6 grams less sugar than raisin bran.

Compare the alternative

Let’s compare apples to apples — or should I say, “flakes to flakes”? Manufacturers aren’t required to separate sugars added to improve taste from naturally occurring sugars on the nutrition facts label. So how much sugar listed on Kellogg’s Raisin Bran’s nutrition facts label is from the raisins, and therefore naturally occurring, and how much sugar has been added to improve taste?

Remember, the nutrition facts label for Kellogg’s All Bran states 7 grams of sugar, and according to the ingredient list, the only ingredients other than added sugar are whole wheat and wheat bran. But let’s face it, whole wheat and wheat bran processed into flakes is going to need a little help to taste good.

I’ll assume a serving of Raisin Bran also has one tablespoon of raisins. Subtract 6 grams of sugar found in one tablespoon of raisins from 19 grams of sugar found in one-serving of raisin bran and you’re left with 13 grams of sugar — 6 grams more sugar in one serving of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (without the raisins) than found in one serving of All Bran flakes.

What’s “added sugar” and what’s the daily limit?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of discretionary or “added sugar” for women and 9 teaspoons for men. AHA defines discretionary and added sugars as “sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. It does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk (lactose) and fruits (fructose).”

Discretionary sugars – use them wisely

A single serving of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran contains slightly more than half my daily limit of discretionary sugars. All Bran contains a little less than one-third, but I don’t like All Bran, even with the added raisins. I prefer to enjoy my discretionary sugar, so after careful analysis, I’ll skip All Bran and occasionally have a bowl of raisin bran.

Reducing America’s salt intake

In addition to sugar, another white granular substance used to enhance the flavor of food is in the news – it’s salt. Many people have cut-back or quit adding salt to prepared foods where possible and limited their consumption of processed foods high in sodium. But according to yesterday’s Washington Post, the average American is still consuming almost twice as much sodium as the recommended daily limit, with 77% of sodium coming from processed foods.

FDA’s ten-year plan

The story also reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning an initiative that will require manufacturers to gradually reduce the amount of sodium added to processed foods over a 10-year span.  This would allow Americans to become accustomed to the taste of foods as salt is gradually decreased.

Recommended sodium limits

To reduce your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended limiting sodium to 1,500 mg daily. The average american consumes 3,435 mg daily. To put things in greater perspective, a teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Campbells Healthy Request chicken noodle soup has 120 calories and 410 mg sodium per 1-cup serving, almost a third of the 1,500 mg daily limit.

Sales for many processed foods would likely suffer without a gradual reduction in salt, so I don’t expect this to be an easy task for the FDA, manufacturers or consumers. Even with a gradual reduction in sodium, some foods may never be palatable without salt. There’s the question of whether inherently salty foods like pickles would need to comply. I’m wondering about olives. Change isn’t going to be easy, but change we must.