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Using Food Labels to Help You Lose Weight: Expert Q&A

We’ve touched on whole grains. Many foods now carry the Whole Grain Stamp on their labels. Is it helpful?

Very helpful. The Harvard Nurses' Health Study showed that women who ate more whole grains tended to weigh less than the women who rarely ate whole grains. The reason is probably what I mentioned before -- that whole grains take longer to digest, so they make a meal more satisfying. Whole grains are also much more nutritious than highly-refined grains. And when you’re dieting and cutting back on calories, you want to get the biggest bang for your calorie buck.

The Whole Grain Stamp makes it easy to see if a food is a good or excellent source of whole grains. If you’re choosing a bag of chips, the one with the stamp is usually going to be a healthier choice compared to chips or crackers without whole grains. Best choice of all, however is eating the whole food without a package or label, such as a baked potato instead of chips or cooked wheat berries instead of wheat crackers.

 

Food manufacturers and groups like the American Heart Association are also putting their own “healthy-choice” labels on foods. Can that lead to confusion?

It’s important to know what criteria they’re using. One health label may indicate that the food is low in saturated fat, for example. That’s good. But if the food is full of refined sugar, that’s not so good. Again, I encourage people to think holistically. Look at the health claims on the front of the package, but verify them by looking at the ingredient list and the nutrition facts panel. According to federal regulations, for example, a food can call itself trans fat-free if it contains 0.5 or less grams of trans fats per serving. The only way to know that a food is truly trans fat-free is to look at the ingredients and make sure there are no partially hydrogenated oils listed there.

There’s a lot to look for. Do you find that dieters get frustrated and stop trying to figure out labels?

No. At the beginning, it’s true, you do have to spend a little time reading labels and comparing products. But once you’ve chosen the one that looks healthiest to you -- with the lowest calories and the most nutrition -- you don’t have to go through the process every time you shop. Of course, it’s worth comparing labels now and then to make sure products haven’t changed. 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD on May 26, 2014

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