Studies show that super foods like blueberries and broccoli are high in antioxidants and therefore healthy. But are some food manufacturers using the research underhandedly?
When Lindsay Bondurant wanted to lose weight, she started reading labels.
“I think that’s where people really start to make mistakes is they just don’t realize what’s in the food that they’re eating,” she says.
Nutrition expert Tom Cooley agrees and he puts part of the blame on food manufacturers.
Cooley says, "They want every person out there to think that there’s some benefit to the foods that they’re selling. And they want to present it to you in such a way that you’re going to want to consume that food.”
Remember when researchers linked a low-fat diet to a reduced risk of heart disease? Even snacks had “low-fat’ on the label.
Cooley says, "People felt that they were safe consuming all those calories because they were fat-free. But sugar and carbohydrates were causing people to gain weight, which contributed to additional heart disease.”
His advice is that you should not take the front of the box at face value.
“Don’t think because it says low-fat that it’s low in fat," he says. "It’s just lower in fat."
He says food manufacturers often pay for research, then use the findings to boost sales.
Cooley says, "It’s not that chocolate is good for you. Cocoa’s good for you. It’s not that cranberry juice is good for you. Cranberries themselves are good for you, but they’re too sour to eat by themselves.”
Fat and sugar are added to make the foods palatable.
Lindsay Bondurant says, "I try not to get sucked in by advertising or labels in terms of what’s light and low-fat and things like that.”
She says you have to read between the lines to ensure that super foods really are super.
Cooley says your best bet is to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store where you'll find most foods in their natural state. Get out your reading glasses when you shop the rest of the store.
Fast Facts:Scientists have discovered that many foods have natural, health-promoting properties.
Some of these foods, like oats, soy, tomatoes and garlic, have garnered a significant amount of attention from manufacturers.
Some products containing these ingredients are now hyped as “super foods” but some of these foods also contain significant quantities of ingredients that aren’t necessarily good to eat, like fats and sugars.
Consumers need to go beyond the advertising and look closely at food labels to determine how healthy a food product really is.
Oats. Oats are a good source of fiber. Clinical trials have shown a link between consumption of oats and a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Soy. There are several different types of soy products produced from the soybean. Soy is a good source of protein. It has been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. Some researchers say soy may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer and osteoporosis.
Psyllium. Psyllium is a type of soluble fiber found in plants. Clinical trials have found psyllium can reduce total and LDL cholesterol.
Tomatoes. Tomatoes and tomato products contain lycopene, which has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men.
Garlic. Garlic is an herb used for centuries in food preparation and for medicinal benefits. Some research suggests it may lower total and LDL cholesterol. Some people say garlic may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and may help fight infection. However, there is little adequate research to back these claims.
Green tea. Green tea contains chemicals, called catechins. Some research suggests green tea may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
Cranberry juice. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins. Cranberry juice causes urine to become more acidic. Research suggests the juice may help fight urinary tract infections.
Wine and grapes. Grapes contain a chemical called resveratrol. Recent studies suggest wine, especially red wine, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Fatty fish. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids. Research strongly suggests that regularly including fatty fish in the diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack death.
Dairy Products. Dairy products are an important source of calcium, a nutrient that’s important for bone health. Adequate consumption of calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Some research also suggests fermented dairy products (like yogurt) may improve the balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
Health experts have advised a healthy diet for all Americans with plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and limited amounts of fats, sugars and salt. Some foods seem to be better than others. Functional foods are foods that provide nutrition and added health benefits. Researchers have uncovered many examples of functional foods. Here is a list of some of them and their potential benefits:
Looking Past the Hype
The FDA currently allows manufacturers to make certain health claims on food packages. However, sometimes those claims become somewhat “stretched” to lure a customer into a purchase. For example, a manufacturer may claim a product is rich in vitamin “C” – without any direct health claim – but having an implied claim the product may somehow improve health or well being.
Tom Cooley, R.D., Nutrition Expert with Temple University, says consumers who are trying to be health conscious may find themselves choosing products for the wrong reasons. A juice, for example, may be labeled as having vitamin C. Yet, when looking at the actual nutrition label, the amount of vitamin C is minimal. In order to get the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, a person may have to drink several glasses of the juice. That may also mean taking in a lot of extra sugar and calories. Even a so-called “nutritional” snack bar can be filled with sugar, calories and fats.
Cooley is worried that consumers may be so “health concerned” that they blindly follow advertising without taking a hard look at what they are eating. He recommends consumers become regular “label readers” to look at what’s really inside a package. Some of the worst offenders are the packed food products, some of which have added ingredients to make them appear to be healthy foods. But a product that contains one “healthy” ingredient may also contain a lot of other ingredients that aren’t very healthy. Look at how much of that ingredient is actually in the package. Manufacturers are required to list food ingredients in descending order of weight, with the largest ingredient at the beginning of the list and the smallest at the end.
Cooley says the best way to get nutrients is through their natural state (i.e., the nutrients are naturally in the food rather than added during manufacturing). He recommends whole grains, fruits and vegetables and in limited amounts, dairy and meats. In most grocery stores, those foods are usually located around the perimeter of the building. People who are concerned they may not be getting enough nutrients can take a multivitamin to supplement a healthy diet. In addition, regular exercise and an ideal body weight are important components of a healthy lifestyle.
Web Recourses:American Dietetic Association Web site
For information on reading a food label, visit the FDA's Web site
For general information on healthy eating and super foods and government regulation:
International Food Information Council Web site