Food Labels: Not-So-Healthy 'Health' Foods? (cont.)
While they may contain a miniscule amount of vitamins, and sometimes even potentially helpful herbs, Sandon says most are so loaded with sugar and fat that the bad outweighs the good.
"In many instances, you may as well eat a candy bar for all the nutrition you are getting from these products," Sandon tells WebMD.
Nutritionist Miriam Pappo Klein, MS, RD, agrees: "The high energy in many of these products comes from the fact that they are loaded with calories. There's no magic here; it's just high fat and high sugar," says Klein, a clinical nutrition manager at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.
Hidden Diet Hazards
A bowl of whole-wheat cereal; a turkey burger; banana chips; a "healthy" frozen dinner; a handful of peanuts. On the surface, that seems like a pretty healthy menu for the day.
But nutritionists say hidden nutritional dangers can be lurking even in these seemingly healthy foods.
"The breakfast cereals and frozen dinners can be loaded with sodium and sugar, the turkey burger loaded with fat, and peanuts coated with honey and sugar," says Sandon. "It's very easy to make otherwise healthy foods unhealthy."
For example, the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently found that a popular brand of banana chips not only had added sugar, but were deep-fried in saturated oil, giving them 8 grams of fat per serving -- about the same as a fast-food burger.
While even marginally health-conscious shoppers know that packaged lunch meats and canned soups can be laden with sodium, how many of us would think to check the label on our breakfast cereal? Some cereals, Heller says, contain as much as 500 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Equally surprising is how much fat, sugar, or sodium may be lurking in your turkey meal.
"Some ground turkey can have a higher percentage of fat than extra-lean ground beef," says Sandon, while many raw turkey breasts are injected with "flavor enhancers," which loads them with sugar and salt.
"Come Thanksgiving, you should definitely read those turkey labels as well as asking your butcher for fat content on all ground meats before you buy," she says.
Label Me Confused
Of course, reading labels is important whenever you're trying to make healthy food choices. But if you're only reading the front of the package, you could still get into trouble.
According to the CSPI, a good example of why this is true can be found in certain brands of "enhanced water" (water with added vitamins and herbs). According to CSPI research, at least some of these brands also add sugar -- taking a glass of water from zero calories to 125 calories.
Another healthy dose of confusion, say experts, can come from some foods labeled "light," "all natural," or even "organic."
"Most people don't realize that 'light' olive oil, for example, isn't lower in calories or fat -- it's just lighter in color and taste," says Klein. Potato chips labeled "all natural" she says, are nothing more than potato chips without the preservatives; they're still loaded with fat and sodium.