How to be cart-smart and read between the lines of a food label.
In this second part of our interview with Ruby Schuler, RD, registered
Queen of the Valley Wellness Center, we learn how to resist clever marketing and read between the lines of
a food label. Read
Part One of the interview.
Q. Can you tell us more about grocery store psychology and how you recommend
navigating the aisles?
A. Most grocery stores welcome you with delicious scents from baked goods,
floral arrangements near the entrance, and candies near the cash register.
This is done purposefully to encourage unplanned and spontaneous purchases,
which is why shopping with a list is so important. In addition to sticking
to your carefully planned list, I recommend thinking about how many steps
it took for the food to get from farm to plate. Less-processed foods tend
to be better for you because they are fresher and contain fewer artificial
ingredients; conversely, ready-to-eat foods have to go through more steps
to get on the shelf. For example, steel cut oats (not instant) are made
from chopped oat kernels and nothing more; but a typical children’s
breakfast cereal is highly processed and full of added sugar, artificial
colors and preservatives. An apple is about as unprocessed as you can
get—in contrast, a fruit roll-up goes through a factory where they
strip out the dietary fiber and add fruit concentrate, sugars, artificial
flavors and other ingredients. Unsurprisingly, the apple is better for
you. Try to make a habit of filling your cart with primarily fresh ingredients.
DId you know eating large quantities of processed meat may increase your
long-term risk of cancer?
Swap the hot dogs and salami for less-processed, protein-based foods.
Q. Is it important to read nutrition labels?
A. Absolutely. In fact, if you can only keep one tip in mind when you go
grocery shopping, make sure you
investigate nutrition labels instead of relying on the packaging alone. Products like to promote
words such as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ on the front
panel; however, that doesn’t change what’s in the product.
These buzz words don’t necessarily mean the product contains less
sugar or healthier ingredients.
Q. What should I look for when reading nutrition fact labels?
A. Good question – this is a big one for me. The first thing you
need to look at is the serving size. It’s usually listed at the
top of the label. In some cases, the serving size has been manipulated
to an amount that makes the other numbers look good. For example, cereals
with a recommended serving size of 1 cup are extremely unrealistic; however,
it makes the calorie, sugar and sodium content look manageable. If you
were to eat a normal sized portion of these cereals, the counts can easily
double or triple and become pretty scary numbers. You could be putting
yourself at increased future risk of diabetes or heart disease and not
even know it.
this infographic to learn more about proper serving sizes for the average adult.
Q. What is the recommended daily value of sugar?
A. That is a really good question, and there is a new nutrition facts label
that was scheduled for implementation in July 2018, but it has been delayed
indefinitely by the FDA. If implemented, the new labels will separately
list the amounts of both natural and added sugars, an important distinction
that isn't made now. In general, try to choose foods where the added
sugars don't exceed the natural sugars. Foods with added sugars tend
to be less nutritious overall, while foods with natural sugars--like milk
and fruit--are more likely to contain other vital nutrients like protein
and vitamins. Cookies, candy and
sugary drinks tend not have much in the way of those other nutrients. In the meantime,
the American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of added
sugar per day for men or 25 grams of added sugar per day for women. To
put that into perspective, men should limit their sugar intake to 9 teaspoons
per day or less and women, 6 teaspoons per day or less.
The first ingredient in the list means the product is made of mostly that
ingredient, so it’s important to watch for words like high fructose
corn syrup, sucrose, fructose and dextrose, among others. If you see any
of these words listed as one of the first four ingredients, there is usually
a better, lower-sugar alternative. Many people believe honey is a healthy
alternative, but sugar is sugar, as far as your body is concerned. Since
there are three teaspoons in one tablespoon, consuming one tablespoon
of honey a day is one-third of your recommended limit of added sugar if
you're a man, and one-half of your recommended limit if you're
a woman. So, it's still very easy to eat too much sugar, even it's honey.
Q. What are some foods that you wouldn’t expect to have high levels of sugar?
A. A good rule of thumb for me is: if it looks like a candy bar, it’s
a candy bar. Energy bars and granola bars are the biggest offenders when
it comes to foods being marketed as healthy snacks. In reality, sugar
is one of the first ingredients. When you shop for healthy snacks, choose
whole grain options and look at nutrition labels to find something with
less than 10 grams of sugar per bar.
Q. What is the difference between whole grains and whole wheat?
A. It’s important to know that enriched unbleached wheat flour is
not the same as whole grain flour. The main difference is in how the flour
Refined flour is milled, which means it gets stripped of its B vitamins and iron. Whole
grain flour, on the other hand, is made from the entire grain kernel.
Multigrain breads are usually whole grains, but double-check the label
to be sure – you want the words ‘whole grain’ to be
first on the ingredient list.
St. Joseph Health doctors and registered dietitians can help you build
healthy grocery shopping and eating habits as part of a personalized preventive
Find a St. Joseph Health primary care physician in your area.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.