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What's Hiding on Food Labels?

Food labeling is confusing - what do those labels really say about fats?

For those of us who study food labels, whether it's for allergies, fat, sodium, or carbohydrate content, there are a couple of new federal rulings that will affect our buying habits. One addresses the inclusion of allergy-causing ingredients or derivatives. A second attacks the fats that affect our hearts and health.

There are eight foods identified as major players in causing allergic reactions - from mild to serious. These are: soybeans, peanuts, shellfish, fish, wheat, milk, and eggs. Manufacturers now have to be specific in their labeling rather than using "byproduct" words such as "casein."

Regarding fats, many foods now proudly boast "Zero" transfats on their packaging. But, if you read the label, you'll still see "saturated" fats listed. Those as just as harmful. In addition, even those with "0" trans fatty acids can still have as much as 0.5 grams of transfat for each serving. The same goes for carbohydrates, by the way. If there is less than 1 gram per serving, it does not have to be listed.

With regard to fats, if the ingredient list includes "partially hydrogenated fats," then there is some amount of trans fat - you simply do not know how much. Next, you should check the cholesterol content - it can still be high, even though the fats listings are low.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the "good" fats (HDL) and work to help lower the "bad" fats (LDL). Omega-3 fatty acids also work to lower "bad" cholesterol. So it remains difficult to decipher the cholesterol contents, unless you "know" your foods (i.e., tuna, salmon, etc.)

Average healthy individuals should have about 10% of the "good" fats in a daily diet. Those with heart disease or who are at risk should lower that to 7% or less. It is possible to directly impact cholesterol levels with a concentrated diet of less fats - and it can be done quickly.

Now, you simply have a little more assistance from those labels on your food.


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