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Beware of misleading nutrition labels

“People are being misled in the grocery store, not only by food labels, but also by some government standards,” says Jan McAlister, a nurse practitioner at Piedmont Heart Institute. For example, products labeled “no trans fatty acids,” may in fact contain trans fat. By government standards, when a food is labeled trans fat-free, it means there are not enough trans fatty acids in the product to declare it on the nutrition label.

If you eat more than the serving size, you could easily consume more than the recommended daily value of trans fat. The best way to know what you are consuming is to read ingredient labels. “Hydrogenated oil” and “partially hydrogenated oil” are other words for trans fat.

Why processed food tastes so good

“There are two things in our products that taste good to us: fat and sugar,” explains McAlister. “In order to sell a low-fat product and make it taste good to the consumer, manufacturers will add more sugar.”

To make up for loss of flavor in sugar-free foods, manufacturers often add fat. “For the consumer to buy something healthy, they need to look for low-fat, sugar-free products,” she explains.

The #1 grocery shopping tip

The easiest way to make better choices at the grocery store? Stick to the perimeter, where you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy. The inner aisles contain non-perishable and often highly-processed foods, like crackers, chips and cookies.

“Unfortunately, what I find in my heart patients is that they don’t eat enough vegetables,” says McAlister. “We have to eat more vegetables. Potatoes are not a vegetable, they are a carbohydrate. Corn is not a vegetable, it’s a starch.”

To improve overall health, she says we need more greens and other colorful vegetables in our diet. When buying meat, stick to lean varieties, like fish, chicken, pork and turkey. When you purchase beef, be sure it is 97 percent fat-free.

Skip the sugar

“Dessert is a problem in our society,” says McAlister. “Our generation eats 100 more pounds of sugar each year than our ancestors did.”

In addition to dessert, fruit juices and colas can also send our sugar consumption through the roof. Skip the sweet drinks – even diet versions – in favor of water. McAlister recommends drinking 30 to 50 ounces of water a day. Processed foods are “marketing disasters waiting to happen,” she says.

By sticking to whole, unprocessed foods, you can make a significant impact on the health of your heart. For more information on heart health, visit Piedmont Heart Institute.

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