Don’t be fooled by fat-free foods

It’s been said that the best things in life are free. Many people think when they see fat-free foods that they have hit the jackpot. They can eat as much as they want because the item contains no fat.

Unfortunately, foods labeled fat free, reduced fat, low fat or sugar free do not equate with calorie-free and contain additives like salt, sugar and chemical fillers that make them less than healthy.

If you want to keep off unwanted pounds, you need to look beyond the claims on the front of the package and take a critical eye to the nutrition label and ingredients. Labeling a food item fat free is a classic bait-and-switch marketing strategy the food industry uses to try and get consumers to forget about the calories.

Labeling a food as fat free is a tactic companies use to get consumers to forget about calories Click To Tweet

Kari Kooi, RD, LD, with Houston Methodist Wellness Services, says reduced-fat products often contain the exact number of calories per serving as full-fat versions.

Reduced-fat foods have a perceived healthy image that researchers have dubbed a “health halo.” Studies have shown that people tend to eat twice as much or more of these foods.

Nutrition facts
Don’t just look at fat content. You need to also pay attention to serving size and other macronutrients such as carbohydrates.

Manufacturers often set the serving size for packaged foods to be unrealistically small (a serving size of Oreos is three cookies, ha!), so it’s important to look at the number of servings per container.

For example, chips and drinks offered at the checkout lane in the grocery store appear to have one serving, but often times have two or more.

Instead of looking for products with health claims such a low fat, Kooi suggests concentrating on eating healthy fats from whole foods such as nuts, olive oil and avocados. Monounsaturated fats found in these foods have been shown to lower LDL or bad cholesterol and boost HDL or good cholesterol in the blood.

Omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon and anchovies also have been shown to lower LDL. She says that fat plays a strong role in feeling satisfied after eating, thereby helping with appetite control and should make up at least 30% of our daily calories.

She also recommends avoiding trans fats as much as possible as it promotes inflammation in the body. Products that contain partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list have trans fat.

When it comes to sugar free, it’s extremely important for people with diabetes to be smart label readers. Sugar is a carbohydrate and foods such as sugar-free cookies or candy are not free of carbohydrates. A person with diabetes may be unintentionally consuming large amounts of carbohydrates, which could lead to increased blood glucose levels.

The best way for all of us to avoid being fooled by reduced fat and sugar-free labels and putting on those unwanted pounds is to shop for nutrient-dense foods that don’t come in a package and therefore require no labeling.

Paint your plate with phytochemical foods

Color is a key element of the full sensory experience of eating and plays a big role in making food attractive and desirable. That’s why it makes perfect sense that nature’s most nutrient-dense foods are designed to be colorful.

Food has the amazing power to influence everything from your mood to overall health. You can maximize your body’s potential for radiantly-good health by fueling your body with a rainbow of plants. You will feel light and energized from eating this way instead of having that sleepy, sluggish feeling a “beige” diet of processed, refined foods leaves you with.

Think of your plate as a canvas; add splashes of vibrant, vivid colors to optimize nutrient density and to shower your body with the entire phytochemical spectrum.

What are phytochemicals, you ask? Phytochemicals are plant compounds that provide cell-protective antioxidant power and impart different colors to plant foods. That’s why it’s so important to think in terms of eating from the rainbow. More than 10,000 phytochemicals have been found and scientists speculate there are several thousand more yet to be discovered. 

blueberries-in-cartons
Blueberries get their color from anthocyanins, which help protect the brain from oxidative stress.

Plants produce phytochemicals to protect themselves from environmental threats such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When we eat plant foods, they impart these protective properties to our bodies and offer disease prevention in a number of complex ways.

For example, lycopene is responsible for the red coloring of watermelon and tomatoes and offers skin protection from the sun, while anthocyanins give blueberries their deep-blue hue and can help slow age-related memory loss by protecting the brain from oxidative stress. Lutein and zeaxanthin provide emerald green coloring to broccoli, kale and spinach and play a key role in maintaining healthy vision.

Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Each phytochemical has a fancy scientific name, but all you have to remember is to eat the rainbow in plant foods every day and you will get the full spectrum of phytochemicals.

Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free… Click To Tweet

Colorful ideas for painting your plate:

  • Swap pale iceberg lettuce for dark-green arugula or spinach. The richer the color, the more phytochemicals present. 
  • Stir berries (fresh or frozen) into cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. For an even greater antioxidant boost, eat a mix of berries. Shopping tip: Frozen produce is often more nutrient-dense than fresh. 
  • Jazz up salads by adding orange or grapefruit segments, apple or nectarine slices, sliced beets, dried cherries or pomegranate seeds.
  • Add grated carrots and zucchini to pasta sauce, turkey burgers or meatloaf for moisture and a pop of color.
  • Stuff color into sandwiches with sliced apple, avocado, cucumber, spinach and/or sprouts. 
  • Spread creamy avocado onto whole-wheat toast and top with slices of juicy tomato for a plant-powered snack.
  • Mix fresh herbs and chopped tomato or red bell pepper into your scrambled eggs.