bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Why you should read the ingredients

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A couple of weeks ago, a study of packaged foods in the US showed that many of them listing 0% trans-fat on the labels actually still contained trans-fat. Many dietitians said, “No shit”. This is why reading the ingredients is often more valuable than reading the nutrition facts panel.

Many manufacturers use trans-fat in their food products but also use a serving size that allows them to report the amount of trans-fat per serving as being 0%. Until trans-fats are banned, what can you do about this? One, you can read the ingredient list. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated”. That’s your trans-fat. Avoid foods containing any partially hydrogenated ingredients. Two, make your own food. When you make it yourself you can decide what goes into your food. Use as few highly-processed packaged foods as possible. I know that it’s not realistic to expect that everyone is going to start cooking and baking everything at home. Be savvy. Do what you can. Aim for packaged foods with as few ingredients as possible. And remember that while you may be saving time in the short-term by buying frozen dinners, you’ll likely lose time in the long-run.


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Grocery Store Lessons: Protein powder

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As with all foods/supplements, all protein powders are not created equal. Protein powder isn’t something that I consume much of. I find it’s often gritty and overly sweet and I’m confident that I can get adequate protein from consuming whole foods. However, for the sake of product knowledge, I do occasionally try a protein shake as part of my breakfast.

I always look at the protein content of each protein powder. As an aside, most tend to be about 24 grams per serving, although, some, such as hemp protein powder, can be considerably lower (8-15 g). Something I never considered looking at was the sodium content until one day I just happened to notice it on the package shown on the above left. I was shocked that a serving of protein powder would contain half a day’s worth of sodium. It is a “sport” protein so maybe that’s why; to replace electrolytes lost during an exceptionally sweaty workout. Still, I’m sure that most people wouldn’t expect to be getting so much sodium from a protein shake and I imagine that there are others out there like me who never even thought about looking at this information. I started looking at the nutrition information labels on other protein powders in the store. Most were similar to the much more reasonable 130 grams seen in the whey protein powder (pictured above right).

If you do consume protein powder regularly you might want to check the label to ensure that you’re not getting more sodium than you bargained for.


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Grocery store lessons: Greek yoghurt

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I’ve extolled the virtues of Greek yoghurt in the past. It’s a pretty great source of protein at up to 18 grams in 3/4 of a cup! Of course, once something gets popular you know that the knock-offs aren’t far behind. I think that nearly every brand of yoghurt now has their own line of Greeks on the market. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t actually Greek yoghurt.

True Greek yoghurt is made by straining regular yoghurt so that you’re left with a thick creamy yoghurt. This separation of the whey (that’s the watery stuff that’s strained out) leaves the Greek yoghurt rich in protein but also removes some of the calcium… It can’t all be good, right? While a serving of plain yoghurt has about 30% of your daily recommended calcium, a serving of Greek yoghurt only has about 15% of your daily recommended calcium. But I digress…

What’s wrong with the “knock-off” Greek yoghurts? Well, they’re not strained. Instead of just containing milk and bacterial culture they add thickeners like carrageenan, corn starch and pectin to achieve a thick Greek-style creaminess. They also add milk protein to bump up the protein content but from the ones I’ve seen that still only puts them at 8 grams of protein per serving. That’s actually¬†less protein than you’ll find in many traditional plain yoghurts. Most of them also tend to be targeted at the “dieting” community so they’re sweetened with artificial sweeteners. And lest you think “at least I’m still getting the calcium I would from traditional yoghurt” you’re probably only getting about 10% of the Daily Value.

If protein and a thick creamy yoghurt are what you’re looking for make sure to check the ingredient panel as well as the Nutrition Facts Panel to ensure you’re getting exactly what you bargained for. When it comes to yoghurt ingredients, less is definitely more.

*The photo above shows the Nutrition Facts for a traditional Greek yoghurt and a “knock-off” Greek. Can you tell which is which?


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Follow Friday: How to choose a coconut oil

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A colleague shared this article: How to Choose a Coconut Oil with me a little while ago and I’ve found it very helpful when selecting coconut oil. I had always assumed that the more expensive it was, the better. This is not necessarily true. The best tips I’ve learned are to look for a nice white product and to avoid “refined”. It’s like any other plant oil, the more refined it is, the more quality, nutrients, and flavour it’s losing. Also, just because it’s an oil, don’t assume that it’s safe to consume if you have food allergies or celiac disease. I’ve noticed some labels indicating that they may contain gluten. Always read the label!


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Follow Friday: Expeller pressed oil (via @fooducate)

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I must confess my ignorance. Yesterday at work my colleague and I were checking the ingredients on frozen whipped toppings to see if they’d improved any since we had last looked. As dietitians, neither of us are fans of hydrogenated oils or high-fructose syrups. Most of the toppings hadn’t changed any since the last time we’d looked (i.e. they still contained all of these undesirable ingredients). However, a newer one mentioned “expeller-pressed oil”. “Hmm” we said to each other “what does that mean?”. I promptly went and googled it (how did we get by before the Internet??), which brings me to this Follow Friday.

I found an excellent explanation regarding expeller-pressed oils (and the other methods of oil extraction) on fooducate’s blog. Basically, expeller-pressed is good. Cold expeller-pressed is best (although in the US – and Canada? – the cold part doesn’t hold much meaning). Another thing to check for when I’m label reading now.