Friday, May 17, 2013

How Are Foods Altered in Order to Make Them Lower in Sodium, Fat or Sugar?

A friend told me she avoids foods with chemical additives. I think that's a good thing, but she said she includes in this category foods that are labeled "low fat" or "low sodium" or "sugar free" because to be able to alter the food in that way, they add other things to it. Is it true that to change foods to be 'low sodium' etc., they use more additives?  Thanks, Ellen L.

Hi Ellen,
That's a good question, and the answer is, "not all the time".

Some foods typically have a lot of salt, sugar, or fat in them, and these ingredients can be easily eliminated or removed. Examples include "unsweetened tea", "unsalted pretzels, chips or crackers" and "low-fat" or skimmed milk. There is nothing added to the foods to substitute for the sugar, salt or fat. When you buy skim milk it's just plain milk, and when you buy unsalted chips they are the same chips, just without salt on top.

In other cases, something IS added and a great example of this is fat-free salad dressing. In order to make the dressing look, taste, and feel like one with oil, something with a thickened consistency, such as glycerol, is added and sugars are often added as well... same with lower fat peanut butter (which, interestingly, rarely is lower in calories than regular peanut butter, so what's the point?!)

Another of my least favorites is "diet tea" which apparently does not mean the same as "unsweetened"...Much to my dismay, these will generally have an artificial sweetener added.
I find it discouraging that it's nearly impossible to find some products without the manufacturer adding sugar or other sweeteners: fruit juices, canned fruits and brewed tea particularly annoy me! Just when I think I've found a real, plain bottle of tea or juice (because it says "no sugar" on the label) I turn to the ingredient label and see there is stevia or sucralose or aspartame added. Why can't I just have plain tea? Since when is a pear not sweet enough on it's own that the manufacturers feel compelled to add something to make it sweeter? Even worse, in my opinion, are products that are 'renovations' of original, fresh, whole foods, like "low-calorie orange juice"... definitely some altering going on there!

But, I digress.
To answer the question, you can find out what's really in the food by checking the ingredient section of the nutrition panel. If you aren't sure what everything is, try comparing it to the original product that will be right next to it on the shelf.
Some "low-sodium" soups may just have much of the added salt left out while others may have potassium chloride added, which mimics a salty taste.

I also want to add that sometimes a product is just making a claim and hasn't been altered at all. Examples that come to mind are "cholesterol-free peanut butter" (because cholesterol is only present in animal fats), "caffeine-free 7up" (as they tell you on the commercial, 'never had it, never will'), and "Less-Fat" bragging notes on peppermint patties and 3-musketeer bars (which show, when you look closely at the small print, that they are comparing themselves to other 'full sized candy bars' which frequently contain nuts, that are a natural source of fat and calories).

The fact is, some of these "lower in ... " foods will be better for you in some way if you can weed through the details. Reducing the sodium in your diet could keep your blood pressure lower, and limiting fat and sugar can help control your weight. So do a little more reading on the side panel to discover which of these foods you might want to avoid because of the additives, and which of them have merely left out ingredients you didn't want as much of in the first place.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How Does a "Cheat Day" Fit Into My Diet?

I am starting a diet to lose weight. I've heard that people incorporate a "cheat" day or meal into their diet. My question is, how does this work? If I eat right 5 days a week and "cheat" the other two, will I still lose weight? Does a cheat day mean eat one food you don't allow on your diet, or eat whatever you want all day?

Thanks, Carl R.

Hi Carl,

Let's start with an example to illustrate how this might work: Say you are eating 500 fewer calories than you need on a daily basis so you can lose 1 pound a week (if you burn 2200 calories a day you'll be aiming to take in 1700).
If you "cheat" one day a week and consume an extra 500 calories above your needs (2700 calories), you will cancel out one of your dieting days. In this case you will lose one pound every 9 days instead of every 7 days.

If you cheat big time and really pig out one weekend and consume 1000 calories above what you burn on each weekend day you'll cancel out 4 of your diet days, plus you won't lose on those two days either. It would take 7 weeks to lose one pound at this rate!

And, in fact, many dieters quickly find out that they can completely trash all their progress during the week when they just let go on the weekend.

A better approach might be to pick one "cheat" food to include on a rare basis and plan to exercise it off. For example, you might decide to have 2 strips of bacon on Sunday breakfast, or an alcoholic beverage on Fridays after work (or even both!). This would add about 300 calories into your work, and not even set you back one day.