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Easy Ways to Shop and Eat Healthier

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The Best New Packaged Foods

Short of getting a food-science degree, how can you tell which foods live up to their health promises and which don't? We asked Jayne Hurley, RD, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., who evaluates and samples 400 to 500 packaged foods each month, for advice. Here, the claims you'll be seeing on food labels in your grocery store this year -- and the truth behind them.

"Made With Whole Grains!"

What it really means: A food has to have just 8 grams of whole grains per serving to make this claim. "That's less than one gram of fiber," says Hurley. "Unless the label says 100 percent whole wheat, you really can't trust it."

What to do: Make sure whole wheat flour is the only flour on the list of ingredients. (Unbleached wheat flour is actually white flour.) Smart, healthy picks include:

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Whole Grain Brown Rice It comes in its own microwavable pouch. Nuke it for 90 seconds, and you've got a whole-grain carb to go with dinner.

Kellogg's All-Bran Breakfast Bars They're high in fiber and low in calories -- not an easy combo to find in the slew of bars out there.

Kashi TLC Chewy Cookies When you're craving a cookie, you can't beat the one called Oatmeal Dark Chocolate, which has 130 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

Lean Cuisine Spa Cuisine Classics "These frozen entrees are made with brown rice and whole wheat pastas such as orzo, which I think gives them an edge over most everything else in the frozen entree aisle," says Hurley. Choose from such tempting meals as salmon with lemon dill sauce (4 grams of fiber) and chicken in peanut sauce (3 grams of fiber).

Whole Foods Market 365 Organic Whole Wheat Pasta "Some whole wheat pastas can have a gritty taste, but not this brand," says Hurley. "It's delicious."

"50 Percent Less Fat Than Regular Potato Chips"

What it really means: Lay's potato chips can now claim to have 66 percent less saturated fat since the company switched from cooking its potatoes in cottonseed oil to heart-healthy sunflower oil last year. The amount of saturated fat in the chips has dropped from 3 grams per serving to 1 gram. "Potato chips have never been that high in saturated fat," explains Hurley. But they can be high in calories.

What to do: If you need a chip fix, Hurley suggests the reduced-fat types, because they taste almost as good the regular ones for about one-third less fat. One ounce of Lay's Classic Potato Chips (15 chips) has 150 calories and 10 grams of fat, while 1 ounce of Ruffles Reduced Fat chips (about 13) has 140 calories and 7 grams of fat. Or you can eat baked chips, which have about 110 to 120 calories and about 2 to 3 grams of fat per serving. Just stick to the snack-size bags so you don't binge.

"50 Percent Light Cheese"

What it really means: Almost all cheese now comes in a slimmer version. But when more than half the fat and calories are removed, the flavor can really suffer.

What to do: Buy the reduced-fat brand that nutritionists uniformly adore: Cabot, from a small cheese company in Vermont. "Their 50 percent light cheese really nails it when it comes to taste," says Hurley. Cabot even sells bags of 53-calorie mini light cheese bars, which make great portable snacks. Our spy saw foodies toting them at the nutrition conference. Your other option: Use less full-fat cheese. "This is easier to do with sharp cheeses, such as Parmesan or feta," says Hurley. "They both have such a strong taste that you can feel satisfied using less."

"Helps Strengthen Your Body's Immunity"

What it really means: Almost all yogurt contains live active cultures, and many contain good bacteria known as probiotics, which can promote a healthy digestive tract. But now, new options like yogurt drinks and cottage cheese made with supposedly even more powerful probiotics are hitting the dairy aisle. The most recent entry: Dannon DanActive, a drink that claims to help boost the body's immune system, thanks to a specific strain of bacteria called L. casei Immunitas. "When study participants drank DanActive, their immune systems were stronger than those who didn't," says Miguel Freitas, PhD, scientific affairs manager at Dannon. Experts caution shoppers to check the sugar content of a product.

What to do: Read the nutrition-facts label, says Hurley. "A 6-ounce serving should have at least 20 percent of your day's calcium and contain no more than 1.5 grams of saturated fat." To keep calories at 100 or below, choose a nonfat plain yogurt or a light one with an artificial sweetener like sucralose, such as Dannon Light & Fit yogurt.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2007.

 

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