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Not-So-Healthy 'Health' Foods

Some foods you think are good for you may not be all they seem

Hidden Diet Hazards continued...

While even marginally health-conscious shoppers know that packaged lunch meats and canned soups can be laden with sodium, how many of us would think to check the label on our breakfast cereal? Some cereals, Heller says, contain as much as 500 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Equally surprising is how much fat, sugar, or sodium may be lurking in your turkey meal.

"Some ground turkey can have a higher percentage of fat than extra-lean ground beef," says Sandon, while many raw turkey breasts are injected with "flavor enhancers," which loads them with sugar and salt.

"Come Thanksgiving, you should definitely read those turkey labels as well as asking your butcher for fat content on all ground meats before you buy," she says.

Label Me Confused

Of course, reading labels is important whenever you're trying to make healthy food choices. But if you're only reading the front of the package, you could still get into trouble.

According to the CSPI, a good example of why this is true can be found in certain brands of "enhanced water" (water with added vitamins and herbs). According to CSPI research, at least some of these brands also add sugar -- taking a glass of water from zero calories to 125 calories.

Another healthy dose of confusion, say experts, can come from some foods labeled "light," "all natural," or even "organic."

"Most people don't realize that 'light' olive oil, for example, isn't lower in calories or fat -- it's just lighter in color and taste," says Klein. Potato chips labeled "all natural" she says, are nothing more than potato chips without the preservatives; they're still loaded with fat and sodium.

Many manufacturers use the front label to tout a product's most healthy attributes. Unfortunately, that doesn't always mean the food is a healthy choice.

For example, consider products that boast "no cholesterol."

"At first glance you think, 'Wow, this has no cholesterol, it must be good for me,'" says Klein. "But unless you stop to read the back label, you might not realize that it could also be loaded with fat, steeped in sodium or sugar, and generally high in calories, and not very good for you at all."

Klein tells WebMD it also easy to jump to the wrong conclusion about foods labeled "low fat," many of which are high in both sugar and calories. Another potential deceiver: Foods labeled "multigrain" or "seven grain."

"Multigrain or seven grain does not mean whole grain, so you're not getting the fiber you think you are," Klein says. Unless the label says "whole grain," it's not the healthiest choice, she says.

Too Much Of a Good Thing?

Labels that tout their products as "trans fat-free" may also lead us astray, experts say. "The issue here is that any food in which a single serving contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat is entitled to be called trans fat-free," says Heller, "but if you eat enough of those foods in a given day, you are in real danger of hitting a truly unhealthy level of this ingredient."

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