Label sleuthing

Hi all!

Hope you had a great weekend. I spent it here:

We went up to Breckenridge with some friends and family for a couple of days of snowy fun. I’ll try to share some more photos and fitness-related trip info. later in the week.

Today I’m focusing on nutrition. Last week I mentioned March is National Nutrition Month, and that I’d be back with some posts about healthy eating. This morning as I read the local paper, I noticed an article about improving nutrition without breaking the bank. It was a great article, with interesting tips, but what piqued my interest was the information about label-reading. I started thinking about how tricky labels are, and how it can be tough to make smart choices when faced with gimmicky advertising and misleading buzzwords.

The article in the paper used the example of Kroger brand orange juice and Sunny D orange drink. Here’s an image from that article, originally in The Denver Post, and written by Claire Martin.

I thought about tons of similar examples, so I headed over to the grocery store to do a little label sleuthing. Armed with my iPhone, I took pictures of some common foods and their labels. I also used my trusty Fooducate app as a backup information source. Here’s what I found:

Contrary to some belief systems, I do not believe bread is the devil, however, bread product labels can be devilishly difficult to interpret. We all know we’re supposed to eat whole grains (we do know that, right?), but what exactly does that mean? And how do we know if the english muffins we’re buying really contain whole grains?

Take these, for example. Looks promising. “Full” of healthy stuff.

The first ingredient is unbleached enriched wheat flour, NOT whole wheat.

Now look at this english muffin.

Right there on the front, 100% whole wheat. Trust me, I checked the ingredients too.

Here’s another example that is even more deceitful.

Looks good, right? Darker color, says it’s wheat, 98% fat free.

The first ingredient is water! Not even a grain at all. Then, back to enriched flour. Remember, it must say 100% whole wheat, or have whole wheat or whole grains as the first ingredient.

Another confusing element to this label is that the bread is low in calories. Only 45 per slice, versus 100 calories for a slice of 100% whole wheat Oroweat bread. But remember when I said that calories aren’t always the most important thing? Because it takes longer to digest, a whole grain product will give you more bang for your calorie buck.

Yogurt is another challenging product to deconstruct. We feel like it should be healthy. It’s low in fat, we can add fruit and granola to it, and our kids will eat it. But yogurt can be chock full of sugar, as well as fake color and additives (although apparently Yoplait Trix yogurt is naturally cotton candy flavored. Not sure how that happens?).

Check it out: 100 calories, 14g of sugar, 3g of protein, and the second ingredient is sugar.

A much better option:

100 calories, 7g of sugar, and 18g of protein. A bonus: the only ingredients are milk and live and active cultures.

I’ll admit, I don’t love Greek yogurt, but my kids do. I use it for fruit smoothies where the flavor doesn’t matter, or I add fresh fruit or even cinnamon to make it tastier.

Finally, cereal.

I did a comparison of three kinds of Cheerios; Honey Nut, Regular, and Multi-Grain. Since they all contained whole grains and the calorie counts were fairly similar, I used Fooducate to uncover a little more information. Here’s how they scored:

Honey Nut: B-, mostly because of added sugar

Regular: A-, a top product in its category

Multi-Grain: B

And then, just for fun, I added in Lucky Charms, which like Honey Nut Cheerios, claims to have “more whole grains than any other ingredient.”

Look! It does have whole grains. Next, however, comes marshmallows with a bunch of nasty, and then sugar. Fooducate gives Lucky Charms a C- for having too much sugar, as well as artificial colors and flavors.

So, when it comes to food labels, trust no one. Use this information as a jumping off point for your own sleuthing, and use your grocery shopping dollars to vote for simple, healthy products.

Btw, except for the example attributed to The Denver Post, this article is all based on my own research and opinions. I’m not a registered dietician so I’m not qualified to give specific advice about nutrition or individual nutrient needs, but as a fitness professional, I have a working knowledge of healthy eating. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about your health.

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8 thoughts on “Label sleuthing

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the info! I need to be better about checking the bread. They sure are sneaky with all the healthy words they use!

  2. Chrissy says:

    Thanks for the constant reminder. I had a woman look at me cross when I told Seamus, (after he asked for something with Lightening McQueen on it, followed by me asking him what the food item was, which of course he didn’t know) that the company was only using Lightening to sell the item and take his money for something that was bad for his body. He seemed to take it and not ask for clarification. The woman on the other hand, looked at me like I was crazy! I love food labels! I think it is a little justice to the little people to pass by the junk. A little jab that makes us feel empowered!! Loved the article! And your nails look great too!

    • wishfit says:

      She probably thought you were brainwashing your kid! I fully believe in brainwashing–healthy brainwashing. I will hammer it into my kids for as long as I can, and I like your way of handling that situation. Nice!

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