Cracking the Codes of Nutritional Buzzwords

Like any place with something to sell, the grocery store has trends that come and go. But when every aisle is plastered with signs, stickers and selling points, it’s hard to know which ones to trust. Here’s a list of some nutritional buzzwords to help guide your choices. 

“0 trans-fat”

Adding hydrogen to vegetable oil when making foods like doughnuts and cookies produces trans-fat, which, when eaten, can raise bad (LDL) cholesterol, lower good (HDL) cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Bottom line: Avoiding trans-fat is always a good idea, but be smart. Even if a label says there is no trans-fat, there can still be small amounts present that can add up depending on how much you eat.

“all natural,” “naturally flavored”

Unlike “organic,” the Food and Drug Administration does not have a formal definition or legal regulation for foods deemed “natural.” So even though it looks great printed on your favorite snacks and drinks, the promise of “natural” is largely an empty one.

Bottom line: Read your nutritional labels carefully. A food company’s definition of “natural” is probably much different than yours. 

“cage-free,” “free-range”

While conditions for “cage-free” or “free-range” chickens don’t live up to the idyllic open fields pictured on the carton, studies suggest that hens allowed to graze produce eggs with less cholesterol and saturated fat and more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Bottom line: A healthier, happier chicken produces a more nutritious egg. Instead of store brand, buy from a local farmer so you know exactly where your eggs are from.

“contains antioxidants”

Antioxidants are substances found in certain foods that may help prevent damage done by cancer-causing molecules produced by our bodies known as free radicals. Scientific evidence is still incomplete, but several studies conclude a number of health benefits.

Bottom line: Pass on the pills and powders. Get your antioxidants the old-fashioned way: through natural, healthy food sources like fresh fruits and veggies.

“multi-grain,” “whole-grain”

Unlike refined grains, products listed as “whole-grain” haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling, making them nutritionally superior. “Multi-grain” just means a food contains more than one type of grain, which could be whole, refined or a mix of both.

Bottom line: Always look for the word “whole” on the package and among the first items in the ingredient list.

To learn more about nutritional labeling and healthy food choices, ask your health care provider about any classes, lectures or other available resources.

Sources: FSIS.USDA.gov, Heart.org, NLM.NIH.gov

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