Are foods labeled "low-fat" really that good for you? When they come in the form of fruits and veggies, I say Mangia! But, it might be wise to take a closer look at the prepackaged items in your shopping cart. A recent report from Consumer Reports found that lower-fat foods can have pretty steep levels of sodium, including unlikely items such as Kellogg's Raisin Bran (350 mg a cup), Friendship 1% low-fat cottage cheese (360 mg), Twizzlers Black Licorice Twists (four have 200 mg), Aunt Jemima Original Pancake and Waffle Mix (200 mg a pancake), Heart Healthy V8 vegetable juice (480 mg) and even the Caesar salad from McDonald's has 890 mg of sodium.
The high salt content is there mostly to compensate for taste, but simultaneously, it increases our risk for complications from high blood pressure like heart attack, kidney disease and stroke, as well as risk of asthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.
Similar to salt, sugar is often loaded into low-fat items to enhance taste. Not to mention, corn is subsidized by the government so high fructose corn syrup, the synthetic sweetener in most boxed foods, is super cheap to come by, making it an alluring ingredient for big companies.
A recent article in Men's Health magazine sited items that top the charts when it comes to sugar content. On the list was Quaker Natural Granola: Oats, Honey & Raisins. Sounds healthy right? One cup has 30 grams of sugar. Yikes! Not good, considering processed sugar, or refined carbohydrates, can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, telling your body to store fat and increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
So, check your food labels. But beware, sugar can fall under many names, including corn sweetener, corn syrup or corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, and most other ingredients ending in "ose," among others.
What can you do?
When it comes to salt, The Consumer Reports article offers some good advice: Shop for condiments with no salt added; eat at home more and cook with less salt; eat one serving (instead of the whole can of soup); avoid sodium heavyweights, like soy sauce, chicken bouillion and cured meats (like bacon, ham and hot dogs) and check your medicine (some drugs can contain sodium). See our article on shaking the salt habit for more easy ideas.
As for sugar? Try to buy cereals with less that 10 grams of sugar; use spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to add flavor to plain foods like oatmeal; give bland cereals a pick-me-up by throwing in some fresh berries; replace highly processed and refined sugars like corn syrup with more natural alternatives like honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or agave nectar. These items have more nutrients and therefore take longer to digest than their processed counterparts, keeping you fuller longer and helping to avoid dangerous spikes in blood sugar. Learn more about choosing the right carbs.
So, next time your in the grocery store, double check the label before tossing it into the cart; looks can be deceiving.