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Altoona Hirror Food • The Shopper D5 • The Butcher D5' • Features D6 • Microwave Magic D7 D Wednesday, July 10,199J Read fine print on labels Shoppers must be alert to phrases and words used to sell food products By Linda Giuca The Hartford Courant In a perfect world, the splashy "buy me, buy me" type on the front .of food packages might say something like this: • "All natural, but the rosy-red color really 'comes from beet juice." • "Contains no cholesterol, but the large amount of saturated fat in this product could boost your cholesterol level." • " 'Light' refers to the creamy, whipped texture of this product, not to the fat content or the calorie count." That day may not be far away. In the past few weeks,, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cracked down on food manufacturers who use misleading words on their products' label* The agency has gone after Citrus Hill, whose "Fresh Choice" orange juice is processed from concentrate; Ragu, whose "Fresh Italian" pasta sauce is heat-processed; and several cooking oil manufacturers for boasting that their vegetable oils contain no cholesterol. (All vegetable oils are free of cholesterol but high in fat.) The FDA, by enforcing existing regulations and revamping the food-labeling system within the next few years, is helping to make labels more shopper- friendly. In the meantime, shoppers still must.be alert to the phrases and words used to sell a food product. "Just because the FDA is cracking down, doesn't mean that the consumer can relax," says Melanie Polk, a registered dietitian and consulting nutritionist in private practice in West Hartford, Conn. "The consumer will still have to translate the (label) information." The savvy consumer will not take a package at face value, but turn to the ingredient list and the nutritional breakdown for the real story. "You have to know what you're looking for, and that doesn't mean spending hours in the supermarket reading labels," says Polk, who also has developed a supermarket tour that focuses on label-reading and making healthy food choices. We spent a morning in a local supermarket with Polk, walking up and down the aisles, checking out package fronts. Some words used prominently on a package front give the impression of a healthful product or, in some cases, do not mean anything at all. " 'Natural' is a big seller," Polk says. "Maybe the flavor is natural, but the product can still contain a number of chemicals that most consumers can't even pronounce." The word "light" - or "lite," as it is often spelled — can have different meanings. "Look to see what the company means," Polk says. "Light could mean the consistency (of the product), the flavor, color, fat or calories." Fleur-de-Lait brand of "Ultra Light" cheese spreads is a perfect example. One quickly realizes that "ultra light" refers to the consistency of these whipped cheeses because the nutritional information is anything but lightweight — the cheese spread is a high-fat item. Both Bertolli and Philippo Berio market light olive oils. The word "light," in this case, refers to the color (pale gold) and the flavor (blander than regular olive oil) rather than the fat content. "Fat is fat," Polk says, pointing out that the fat content of light oil is the same as regular olive oil. Canned fruit designated as "light" generally means that the fruit is processed without added sugar, that it is packed in fruit juice, or both. That can mean fewer calories than the syrup- packe'd fruits. Light margarines generally contain fewer calories than regular tub or stick margarine because more air and water are added to the mixture. "Look at the nutrition information," Polk suggests. "You want margarine with the least amount of fat and the least amount of saturated fat - then use it sparingly." Most products labeled with the words "drink" or "beverage" are not 100 percent fruit juice. "Hi-C Wild Berry Drink," for example, lists water and high-fructose com syrup as its primary ingredients. A new term found on the juice aisle is "fruit juice cooler" that, while giving the appearance of a pure fruit juice drink, actually contains added sweeteners. Wording also can create the impression of a healthy super- food with Wheaties, "The Breakfast of Champions," a perfect example. The name of Kellogg's Nutri- Grain bars, a granolalike bar, "gives us a pure, healthy kind of feel," Polk says. The label reads "Made with real fruit No preservatives," but not mentioned on the front are the artificial flavors and colors listed in the ingredients. "Lightly sweet, honey-touched whole wheat flakes and raisins" is the way General Mills describes Crispy Wheats 'n Raisins on the label. But sugar is in third place on the ingredient list, with honey taking a distant place in the lineup. A few years ago, after much consumer demand and media attention, most of the major cracker and cookie manufacturers switched from highly saturated tropical oils to more polyunsaturated vegetable oils and fats in their products. But while the saturated fat content has changed, the total fat content probably has not Nabisco labels its Better Cheddars Snack Crackers — as well as many of its other products — "low-cholesterol, low-saturated fat" on the package front While those statements aren't untrue, the nutritional analysis tells the rest of the story: More than half the calories in a 10-cracker serving come from fat. A few years back, the cholesterol-lowering effects of oat bran spawned a plethora of oat-bran products. While the demand has died down —especially since some studies have questioned the effectiveness of oat bran — some companies are still using it to sell products. Nabisco promotes "oat bran" on packages of its Oat Thins crackers. Polk looked at the ingredient list to estimate the quantity of oat bran in the crack• ers. Oat bran was seventh on the list, preceded by ingredients such as flours, shortening and sugar. "The order of ingredients is important," the dietitian says. "If an ingredient is not one of the first three or four, the food probably doesn't contain a significant amount." Serving size also is a useful piece of information when trying to understand the nutritional breakdown. Archway, a cookie manufacturer that can be commended for listing nutritional information on the front of most of its packages, loses some points when labeling its Lemon Snaps. "Very low sodium! Cholesterol free! No palm oil!" says the box front. But a serving size of one cookie contains 1 gram of fat, one-third of the total number of calories. "You get 1 gram of fat when you eat one cookie," Polk says, "and it's easy to eat 10 cookies." With the thousands of food choices available in the average supermarket, shopping for the week's groceries is already a challenge. But a few minutes spent reading the fine print —the ingredient list and the .nutritional breakdown, in particular -rather than taking claims on the package front at face value will help a shopper to make an Informed choice. All natural chemicals 12 oz. Crackdown has begun on manufacturers who use misleading words Understanding data on labels By Linda Giuca The Hartford Courant FIGURING THE FAT CONTENT The nutritional breakdown of a food lists the amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein in grams. Fat is a more concentrated form of calories, containing 9 calories per gram compared with 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein. The American Heart Association suggests that no more than 30 percent of the day's total calories come from fat To translate grams into a more meaningful term, use this formula: • Multiply the number of grams of fat by 9. (A gram of fat contains 9 calories.) • Divide the number of fat calories by the total number of calories in a serving. The re- sulting number is the percent of fat calories in a serving of the food. • Example: One cookie (a serving size) contains 80 calories and 4 grams of fat Divide the fat calories (30 calories) by the total number of calories (BO) to find that the cookie derives 45 percent of its calories from fat. SEARCHING FOR THE SALT Like sugar, sources of sodium go beyond ordinary table salt. When reading labels, look for the words "soda" and "sodium" to identify products that contain sodium compounds. Here are some common additives that contain sodium found in foods: • Salt (sodium chloride). • Monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer. • Baking soda and baking powder, used to leaven breads'and cakes. • Disodium phosphate, used as a flavoring agent, to control the degree of acidity or to keep mixtures from separating. • Sodium alginatc, used to keep mixtures smooth. • Sodium benzoate, a preservative. • Sodium hydroxide, used to loosen skins of some fruits and vegetables. • Sodium nitrite, used to cure meats. • Sodium propionate, used to inhibit the growth of molds. • Sodium sulfite, a bleaching agent and preservative. Some people are allergic to sulfites. Mexican fajitas can take on a lighter flavor LIGHTEN UP Mexican cooking with grilled turkey breast, steamed tortillas and guacamole made with green peas. By Nancy Byal Better Homes and Gardens Mexican food may taste great, but it can be high in fat, too. A notable exception is this fajita recipe, which teams lean ingredients with luscious taste. You substitute plain low-fat yogurt for sour cream; make guacamole from green peas instead of higher-fat avocados; steam the tortillas rather than fry them; and grill a turkey breast that's low in fat TURKEY FAJITAS WITH GREEN PEA GUACAMOLE Green Pea Guacamole (recipe follows) 1 pound turkey breast tender- 'loin steaks (3 to 4) 'A teaspoon finely shredded lime peel Vi cup lime juice 2 cloves garlic, minced Vz teaspoon salt Vz teaspoon dried oregano, crushed V; teaspoon ground cumin Few drops bottled hot pepper sauce 3 red, yellow and-or green sweet peppers, cut into thin strips 1 medium onion, sliced Eight 6- or 7-inch flour tortillas Shredded lettuce Vt cup sliced pitted ripe olives Plain low-fat yogurt (optional) Prepare Green Pea Guacamole; cover and chill until serving time. Rinse turkey; pat dry. For marinade, in a shallow baking dish combine lime peel, lime juice, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin and hot pepper sauce. Add turkey, peppers and onion. Cover and chill for 2 hours, turning turkey once. Remove turkey from marinade, reserving marinade. With a slotted spoon, remove peppers and onion from marinade; wrap in an 18-inch square piece of heavy-duty foil. Stack tortillas and wrap in an 18-by 12-inch piece of heavy-duty foil. Grill pepper-onion packet and turkey directly over medium coals for 8 minutes. Ado' tortilla packet to grill. Turn turkey; continue grilling for 4 to 6 minutes or until turkey is no longer pink, brushing turkey occasionally with reserved marinade. Transfer turkey to warm platter; cover and keep warm. Continue grilling foil packets for 4 to 6 minutes more or until vegetables are tender and tortillas are heated through. To serve, cut turkey into thin bite- size strips; return to warm platter. Arrange pepper-onion mixture, tortillas, lettuce and olives on another serving platter. To assemble fajitas at table, place some of the turkey, pepper-onion mixture, lettuce and olives in center of each tortilla. Top with some of the Green Pea Guaca- mole and yogurt, if desired. Roll up tortillas. Makes G servings. GREEN PEA GUACAMOLE: In a blender container or food processor bowl combine 2 cups cooked pens or cooked green beans, drained and chilled; 2 tablespoons chopped onion; one 4-ounce can diced green chili peppers, drained; 1 clove garlic, minced; 7t teaspoon pepper; and a few drops bottled hot pepper sauce. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Transfer to a serving container. Cover and chill. Just before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons lime juice. Nutrition information per serving: 243 cal. (7 percent calories from fat). 2 g fat, 47 mg chol., 23 g pro., 33 R carbo., 4 g dietary fiber, 295 mg sodium. U.S. RDA: 12 percent calcium, 22 percent iron, 109 percent vit A, 158 percent vit. C, 19 percent thia- minc, 13 percent riboflavin, 31 percent niacin.