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Can “Healthy” Foods Be Bad for You?
You want to improve your health by eating healthier foods, so you buy things that you think are more nutritious. Is your body really better off? Looking at claims on the front of food packaging can lead you to believe some food choices are healthier than they really are.
Look at the Package
When shopping for food, your eyes will feast on a smorgasbord of words and phrases used on the packaging. Many make it sound like their product is the ultimate healthy food. But companies can’t put just anything on their labels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures all claims on food labels are true by testing the products following strict guidelines.
You may think the words natural, low-fat and healthy on a label mean the food inside is good for you. The FDA’s definition of “natural” requires that a food does not contain any artificial ingredients. So, high-fat cheddar cheese may be natural, but if you’re trying to eat less fat, this “natural” food isn’t your best option. Foods labeled “low-fat” cannot have any more than 3 grams of fat per serving. But low-fat foods are not always lower in calories. If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to pay attention to total calories — not just fat calories. The claim “healthy” indicates that a food must have a certain amount of vitamins and minerals. Foods with lots of sugar also may contain many vitamins, but are bad if you have high blood sugar.
Read the Label
When it comes to eating nutritious, healthy foods, be sure you’re making smart choices. Sharp Wellness Educator Kelly Dietzen, RD, said, “The facts are at our fingertips. The nutrition breakdown can be found on the Nutrition Facts chart located right on the label.”
A good place to start when deciphering food labels is with the serving size. Most people don’t realize just how small a “serving” can be. Three servings of a low-fat food may have the same amount of fat as one serving of the full-fat food.
Next, look at the percent daily value (%DV), which shows how much of each nutrient is in a serving of that food. A food that has more than 20 percent daily value of a nutrient is considered high in that nutrient. Five percent or less DV is low in a given nutrient. Use the DV numbers to pick foods with less total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium, and choose foods that have more dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Eating better to avoid health risks is a great goal. If you have the facts, you can feel confident that you are making healthy choices that are good for you.
For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's nutrition services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about nutrition, read the Nutrition News archive.