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What's New on Your Supermarket Shelf?

Health, convenience prime concerns for consumers

What's In, What's Out continued...

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."

Whole Grains on the Rise

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines' recommendation for three servings a day of whole grains has led to an explosion of new products on supermarket shelves.

Manufacturers have launched new whole-grain breads, crackers, pasta, and cereals. General Mills has reformulated all its cereals to include whole grains, Wonder Bread has developed whole-grain flours that look and taste like refined flours, and pasta makers are scrambling to make good-tasting whole-grain blended pastas.

But what exactly are whole grains, and what can they do for you?

Whole grains contain the entire kernel of the grain, which includes antioxidants and fiber that can protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer, says Tallmadge. Dietitians note that people who eat plenty of whole grains also tend to be leaner and have a reduced risk of heart disease.

It may soon get easier to identify whole-grain products. If the FDA responds to an industry request, icons will appear on packages of products made from whole-grain sources. In the meantime, read the label and look for the word "whole" before whatever type of grain was used in the product. Terms like "seven-grain" and "100% wheat" don't necessarily mean it's a whole-grain product.

And with the new recommendations to get five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, could Mom's urgings to eat our fruits and veggies finally be sinking in?

"Stroll down the frozen or canned aisles to witness the explosion of fruits and vegetables that include seasonings and upscale sauces," says McDonald.

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