Knowing how to choose the right foods
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 19, 2012
2/19/12 at 3:55 AM
For more healthy, delicious and budget-friendly recipes, check out Jason Ashley Wright’s blog.
At some point in your life, you may have been told not to judge a book by its cover.
That expression, with literal and figurative meanings, unfortunately doesn't hold true when it comes to food packaging.
Grocery store shelves are stocked with packages touting "100 percent whole wheat," "fat-free" and "no artificial preservatives." But a couple of local nutrition experts warned that those aren't always the healthiest alternatives.
"They're getting sneakier with the labels," said Suzanne Forsberg, a registered and licensed dietitian with St. John's Healthy Lifestyles program.
She gave a certain manufacturer's cereal bars as an example, with its picture of whole grains on the package. But when you flip the box to look at the nutrition facts, the first ingredient listed isn't whole grains - it's enriched flour, "the worst type out there," she said. It may also claim to be made with "real fruit," which isn't a lie. It's just that it's probably one strawberry, and the rest is corn syrup.
"Many boxes look good with the waves of grain blowing on it, brown, wholesome," Forsberg said. "But if you read closely, it says 'made with.' This means the product is made with some whole grains but mostly enriched white flour."
Look for the words enriched white or wheat flour.
"Wheat flour doesn't mean it is 100 percent whole wheat," she said. "The label must say 100 percent or whole wheat."
She compared baked wheat crackers to potato chips. A serving of 24 crackers is 140 calories - but so is a small bag of chips. The difference is the fat: 4 grams for the former, 10 for the latter.
"Neither of these items are good when eaten in the wrong amount," she said. "Portion still matters, even with healthy foods."
In addition to monitoring portion control, you have to read the ingredients.
"I never believe the label," Forsberg said. "I turn around and believe the ingredients. If it's really long, I don't buy it."
Products have to list their ingredients in order of what they most consist, in descending order, she said. That's why it's important to look at the ingredients first. The fewer the ingredients, the better a product probably is for you.
Following the icons
As part of its healthier food initiative launched in January 2011, Walmart recently unveiled plans to place a "Great for You" icon on certain foods to help customers more easily identify items that are better for them.
At first, the icons will appear on the company's Great Value and Marketside brands, plus fresh and packaged fruits and veggies, at Walmarts nationwide this spring.
It's kind of like the Energy Star ratings, said René Norman, a registered and licensed dietitian with Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa. She met us at the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Brookside recently to look at items that would be considered "Great for You" items, as well as to compare products with fat-free, whole-wheat and other similar labels.
Walmart wanted a quick and easy way for shoppers to determine what foods are healthier, explained Norman as we shopped. First stop: deli meats, a few of which had labels boasting "no artificial preservatives" or "all natural."
"The natural stuff sounds great, but guess what," she said, pointing at the nutrition facts. "It can still be high in sodium."
The American Heart Association's recommendation is 2,300 milligrams - or just 1,500 for people older than 50 and those with diabetes or heart problems. A package of hot dogs we found with no artificial preservatives still had 390 milligrams of sodium. The manufacturer may not be using artificial preservatives, but it's definitely using salt, which is all-natural.
Deli turkey that's 98 percent fat-free still had more than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving, Norman said. But you're going to find that in all processed meats, she said.
"Eat as close to the farm as possible," she said. "In other words, no processed foods."
Shopping for meat? It's more fresh from the butcher's counter vs. packaged. Some of the processed meats we saw, by the way, wouldn't meet the "Great for You" requirements because - flip that package over and look at the nutrition facts - they aren't a single-ingredient product (see "What qualifies as 'Great for You'?").
"If I recall correctly, the Walmart deli meat has about 220 milligrams of sodium per 1 ounce serving," Norman said a day after our visit. "That would seem to make it OK for the icon.
"However, we looked at another package of deli meat, and the serving size was 2 ounces and sodium was 400-plus milligrams," she said. "The serving size information knowledge is essential to understanding what you are getting based on the amount you actually consumed."
All fruits and vegetables, of course, are low in fat and sodium or have negligible amounts, so they'll have the "Great for You" sticker, Norman said.
Ironically enough, Norman reminded us, "If it doesn't have a nutrition facts label on it, it's probably good for you."
Our next stop was in dairy, specifically yogurt. Although the fat-free, flavored version of a popular yogurt brand was 110 calories and had zero fat, it had added sugar - for a total of 15 grams - and 5 grams of protein.
The plain, organic Greek yogurt in the same-sized container had 80 calories, zero fat, just 6 grams of sugar and 15 grams protein.
Both of these would get the "Great for You" sticker, Norman said; but the latter option is a better choice. Not a fan of plain yogurt? Cut up fresh fruit or add a few almonds to it.
After that, it was on to applesauce, a popular staple in American families' pantries, Norman said. Again, most applesauce you see in stores could qualify for Walmart's upcoming healthy icon. But you have to look at the ingredients.
The "original" version of a well-known applesauce brand had 18 grams of sugar per serving vs. the "natural" variety, with 8 grams.
An aisle or two over, we checked out cereal, including Cheerios, a box of which touted "more whole grain than any other ingredient."
Even though oatmeal has slightly more calories, it's a better option because you get 2 grams of soluble fiber in a serving, Norman said. To get that much fiber in Cheerios, you'd need two servings, which is two cups, for 200 calories.
"The other bonus is oatmeal has more staying power as far as helping you feel fuller longer due to longer digestion time of soluble fiber, as well as total amount of fiber," she said. "So, the tiny red print on the front of the box of Cheerios sounds good, but it doesn't tell you the whole story."
It seems that Walmart has done its homework regarding the labels, Norman said, "and I think it's going to help. ... Any move to get consumers making more healthy choices is good."
Walmart should do more healthy food demonstrations, Forsberg suggested, or place easy recipes next to the food items.
"This younger generation is busier than ever and need quick and easy ideas for their families," she said.
Most people know what foods are healthy and which ones aren't, she continued. They just don't know how to incorporate the healthy stuff into a meal plan or to cook healthy.
"Children's author Mary Amato says, 'Show them, don't just tell them,' " Forsberg said. "I find this is true with nutrition."
Recipes for a healthy lifestyle
Suzanne Forsberg, a registered and licensed dietitian with St. John's Healthy Lifestyles program, shared the following recipes - all of which are not only tasty, but also healthy and budget-friendly.
1/2 cup fat-free refried beans or black beans
1/3 cup low-fat ground beef or chicken with taco seasoning (can use leftover meatloaf and add taco seasoning)
2 cups Romaine lettuce, chopped
5 blue corn tortilla chips, crunched
1/3 cup salsa
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream or non-fat plain yogurt with a little taco seasoning
1. Spread beans over a microwave-safe plate. Top with ground beef or chicken, and microwave about 1-1 1/2 minutes on high.
2. Top with lettuce, sauce and chips, then garnish with sour cream or yogurt.
Veggie Pita Pizza
3 whole wheat pockets (cut around the outside to open into two circles)
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
3 ounces low-fat cream cheese
1/2 packet (or less) of powdered ranch dressing mix
1 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup red and yellow peppers, chopped in tiny pieces
1 cup finely chopped broccoli
1. Place pita circles into a preheated oven of 400 degrees. Crisp pita pockets in oven for 5-10 minutes, and let cool.
2. Mix together softened cream cheese, yogurt and ranch packet to taste. Spread over pita circles.
3. Sprinkle with broccoli and peppers, and top with shredded carrots. Eat chilled.
Easy Stew on a budget
1 (18.5-ounce) can of a light vegetable soup
1 (16-ounce) can of drained and rinsed beans, such as navy, black, kidney or garbanzo (can use dried beans and cook up before adding to the soup)
1 (16-ounce) can of drained and rinsed green beans or vegetable of choice (can use frozen or fresh)
1. Mix together, and heat well. Serve with whole grain crackers.
4 Morningstar Farm chicken patties (less than $1 a patty)
1 1/2 cups traditional pasta sauce in a can
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded finely
1. Arrange patties in a small pan, and divide pasta sauce among the patties.
2. Sprinkle each pattie with 1⁄8 cup cheese. Bake 15 minutes in 350 degree oven until cheese melts.
3. Serve over 1/2 cup cooked pasta (al dente), alongside vegetables, salad, two skinny breadsticks and a fruit cup.
What qualifies as ‘Great for You’?
Step 1: Food components to encourage
To pass Step 1, a product must pass either the A or B tracks below.
Track A: A single-ingredient food that is one of the following qualifies without any further criteria application:
Track B: A product that contains one of the following and meets additional requirements are:
- A fruit or vegetable (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice)
- A 100 percent whole grain product, such as rolled oats, barley, popcorn
- An unflavored, low-fat or non-fat fluid milk and yogurt
- A protein food, including eggs, seafood, poultry and meat product that meets or exceeds the USDA definition of lean
- Fats/oil and nuts/seeds and spreads equal to or lesser than 15 percent of total calories from saturated fat
Step 2: Food components to limit
- A fruit or vegetable (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice)
- A grain product that is greater than or equal to 50 percent whole grain content or provides 8 grams whole grains and 3 grams of fiber
- A low-fat or non-fat dairy product
- A protein food, including eggs, seafood, poultry and meat product that meet or exceed the appropriate definition for lean
- Fats/oil and nuts/seeds and spreads with lesser than or equal to 15 percent of total calories from saturated fat
- Mixed dishes containing more than or equal to 1, or main dish meals containing more than or equal to 2 selected from the following: 1/2 cup equivalent of a fruit or vegetable; 1/2 ounce equivalent of whole grain; or 1/2 cup of low- or non-fat dairy or 1 ounce equivalent of lean meat
Foods that pass Track B in Step 1 must also meet the following requirements per labeled serving:
Total fat: less than 35 percent total calories
Trans fat: 0 grams labeled and no "partially hydrogenated" fats or oils present
Saturated fat: less than 10 percent of total calories
Sodium: Single food item less than or equal to 380 milligrams (or 50 grams, if reference amount customarily consumed is small); meals/mixed dishes contain no more than 600 milligrams
Added sugars: No more than 25 percent of total calories
Note: USDA definition of lean meat is for a 3 ounce serving. Criteria are less than 10 grams total fat, less than or equal to 4.5 grams saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol. While eggs would not qualify due to high cholesterol (210 milligrams per egg), it is included due to inexpensive source of protein.
Foods to avoid
If you're wanting to shop more healthy, local dietitian Suzanne Forsberg suggested a few things to "avoid like the plague," as well as alternatives to them.
Avoid this: Sugared beverages
Swap it with: Sparkling waters, infused water with fruit, unsweetened iced tea, 1/4 cup juice mixed with 3/4 cup water or 1/4 cup Crystal Light lemonade mixed with 1 cup unsweetened tea
Avoid this: Breads and flours made with enriched flour
Swap it with: Any bread made with 100 percent whole wheat or grains, whole wheat pita pockets, Triscuits, Kavli crackers or rye crisps
Swap it with: Hard cheeses, Swiss, Parmesan or a little soft cheese such as feta. Forsberg often grates her cheese with a lemon zester "because it looks like a lot but really isn't." Also, buy finely shredded cheese, and use less than a recipe calls for.
Avoid: Ranch dressing
Swap it with: A ranch dressing packet
prepared with 2 cups of nonfat, plain
yogurt. The sodium will still be high,
but the yogurt will contain 36 grams of
protein and 180 calories for 2 whole cups
Original Print Headline: Knowing good food
Jason Ashley Wright 918-581-8483
While some cereals boast "more whole grain than any other ingredient," oatmeal is still a better choice because it contains fiber. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Plain nonfat Greek yogurt is better for you than fat-free, flavored types. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Look for "natural" applesauce, rather than the sweetened variety. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Some processed meats don't meet the "Great for You" requirements because they are not a single-ingredient product. They may also be too high in sodium. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World