SHARON KEYS: Be careful about misleading food labels

Labeling trends in our supermarket are beginning to reflect the new 2005 Dietary Guidelines. It is true that we should eat more healthily, including more whole grains and fiber, and less sugar and trans fat. But beware – claims on food labels are sometimes misleading.

More whole grains: If the bright, bold print on the package reads “Made with whole grain,” be careful. These foods can contain a little or a lot of whole grain. It is not the same as whole grain. Look for foods made with 100 percent whole grain or compare the fiber content to a similar food. Choose the food that contains the most fiber.

Less sugar: When you buy these foods, you may also be thinking fewer calories. It is not always so. It may mean that the food contains less table sugar. Other sugars, such as honey, corn syrup or some whose names we don't recognize, may be added and the calories are higher than the original product. Other times, only the serving size has been changed. Read the label for foods with lower total carbohydrates or calories for the same serving size.

No trans fat: Trans fats must now be listed on all food labels. Trans fats generally come from partially hydrogenated oils. They promote heart disease as much as saturated fat. It looks as if many food manufacturers are putting saturated fats back in to replace trans fat. The combined grams of saturated and trans fat should not add up to more than 4 grams per serving in any one food. Less is better.

More fiber: People assume that when fruited yogurt (or other food) advertises increased fiber, that the fiber comes from more fruit. This is not generally so. Functional fibers, such as maltodextrin, polydextrose, inulin and cellulose, are added. These compounds are poorly digested and, therefore, count as fiber. Functional fibers are safe, but may not provide the benefits of the natural fiber that comes from fruits, vegetables and wheat bran.

The evidence that fiber can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer comes from studies of people who ate fiber from real foods. Also, when functional fibers are produced, phytochemicals and antioxidants are undoubtedly lost.

Weaker claims: In the 1980s, Congress passed a law that allowed health claims about disease on food labels, but only if the FDA determined that the claim was backed up by significant scientific agreement. This is no longer the case. The FDA now also allows claims based on weaker evidence, as long as the claim contains a phrase like “suggests but does not prove.” Claims using the words “supports,” “maintains” or “promotes” require little or no evidence of benefit. They can appear on any food, even junk foods. No wonder we are confused.

So what should we do?

Realize that the bright, bold print on the front of the labels are marketing opportunities for food companies. Plan to shop around the edges of the grocery store where we can buy fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy products. When we buy processed foods, don't be fooled by the bright, bold print. Read and compare Nutrition Facts labels of similar products and pick the best one.

Try the following recipes for healthy, natural goodness.

Orange-Walnut Slaw

5 cups shredded cabbage or slaw mix

1 small orange, peeled, cut in eighths

2 green onions, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon (or less) oil

2 tablespoons sugar or 3 packets sugar substitute

1 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans), toasted

Combine cabbage, orange pieces and onion in large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients except nuts in a shaker and mix well. Pour over slaw mixture. Toss gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Add nuts before serving and toss again. Serves 6.

Chicken Salad Amandine

10 large or 20 small green grapes, cut in half

10 large or 20 small red grapes, cut in half

1 medium stalk celery, diced

1/2 bunch green onions, diced

1/2 bunch broccoli florets, separated into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons raisins

1 ounce smoked turkey luncheon meat or Canadian bacon, cut in small pieces

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and diced

2 tablespoons reduced-calorie mayonnaise

6 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

4 large lettuce leaves

Combine all ingredients except lettuce. Serve on a bed of lettuce. Chill. Serves 4.

Sharon Keys is a registered dietitian at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

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