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What's New on Your Supermarket Shelf?

Health, convenience prime concerns for consumers
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What's In, What's Out continued...

Another trend is foods that are enriched, fortified, or otherwise pumped up nutritionally. Manufacturers are adding nutrients such as calcium and folate to foods to help fill the nutritional gaps in our diets.

"This is great for minerals such as calcium for people who have trouble tolerating dairy," says Linda McDonald, RD, editor of the Supermarket Savvy newsletter. But she notes, "some food manufacturers have taken it too far." Eating some foods or beverages is similar to taking a vitamin pill -- and they don't always taste so great, she says.

At the same time, manufacturers are rushing to remove another ingredient, artery-clogging trans fats, from their products. Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats, are found in many processed foods and are made by turning liquid vegetable oils into solid products like margarine and shortening.

On the heels of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines' recommendation to limit trans fats, many manufacturers are reformulating products to reduce or eliminate them. In January 2006, all food labels will be required to list the amount of trans fats the foods contain. (In the meantime, be sure to read labels and compare brands.)

Of course, new food technology is about taste as well as health.

Consider slow-churned ice cream technology, which makes lower-calorie ice cream taste like the real thing without artificial sweeteners or fat substitutes. This means manufacturers can deliver the creamy taste of full-butterfat ice cream at a fraction of the calories -- now that's progress!

The Magic Number: 100

One of the hottest trends in weight control is portion-controlled, 100-calorie packages. Coca-Cola, Cheese Nips, Wheat Thins, Pringles, Oreos, and Ritz crackers have all jumped on the bandwagon with portion-controlled versions of their snacks and drinks.

These 100-calorie packs are ideal for people who crave snacks but can't control their own portions, says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Still, she points out, they're not exactly health foods.

"These are essentially small portions of calorically dense snack foods, and a lot less nutritious than a piece of fruit, handful of nuts, or a low-fat yogurt," she says. "Approach them mindfully, and try to limit these snacks to once a day. It is better to fill up on fruits and vegetables."

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