Weight Loss

What Are We Really Eating?

The previous post, How To Read Nutrition Labels, deciphered how to read the new labels which are intended to clarify the contents of the food we eat. Often what’s represented as “healthy,” may not be. Remember that the percentages shown on labels are for only one serving. So, the total value of the ingredients need to be increased proportionately if more then a serving is ingested. Here are some examples of foods commonly consumed. Let’s see what we find when they are investigated in more detail:

Granola Bars:

Granola bars are frequently a grab-and-go snack for kids, hikers, and people on the move- and considered a healthy snack.

While ingredients like “oats and honey” sound on the healthy side, this is one (of many) foods that is deceptively unhealthy. The total fat content for a serving is 11%, on the higher end for a snack food. But, the good thing is there aren’t any trans fats, which ideally aren’t consumed at all.

You’ll notice the label lists the amount of sodium is 7% of the recommended value. While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 grams per day, the American Heart Association actually suggests an ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams per day. Using that amount, the sodium content is actually 12% of the recommended total amount for a whole day. That’s a big difference. Erring towards consuming less sodium will help your heart health and blood pressure.

Now, here’s where it gets hazy. In the previous posts about reading nutrition labels, it was mentioned that ingredients are listed starting with the ingredient that there is most of in the food, descending to the ingredient there is the least of. In the granola bars, there are mostly oats, but sugar is immediately the next ingredient. Then, two ingredients later, is honey, another form of sugar. Again, two ingredients later, is brown sugar syrup. Out of the 10 ingredients, 3 are sugars- something to definitely take note of.

At 190 calories per serving, a better choice for a quick snack would be an apple, handful of nuts, or string cheese.


Yogurt, and most recently Greek Yogurt, has always been looked to as a healthy breakfast and snack food. With so many varieties available, it’s not difficult to find a healthy option, but it’s also easy to inadvertent chose one full of sugar and little health benefit.

This version of Greek Yogurt is better than most in terms of the positives. A lower calorie item (120 calories), there also isn’t any fat, which is a plus. There is a significant amount of protein (12g, 24% of the Daily Recommended Value), which will help satiate you. The recommended amount of protein, per day, is 45g for a sedentary woman, and 56g for a sedentary man.

The sodium and cholesterol levels are both at 2% DRV, which is good as well.

Cut off in the image are the ingredients, listed as:

“Nonfat yogurt (cultured pasteurized nonfat milk), evaporated cane sugar, peaches, water, fruit pectin, locust bean gum, natural flavors, lemon juice concentrate.”

In this item again, sugar is the second ingredient, with 15g. It doesn’t sound high, but the World Health Organization recommends only 25g of sugar each day for women, and for men, 38g. When considering that, 15g doesn’t leave a lot of room for all other sources of sugar you’ll likely encounter in a day. Consuming yogurt as a dessert, which then works as a lower-sugar substitute for ice cream, (which has more fat, cholesterol, and other unhealthy ingredients), is a reasonable option.

While a great source of protein, consider a lower sugar option, otherwise you will consume a lot more sugar in one serving than anticipated.


When fruits are dried, their antioxidants levels are more concentrated and according to the Berkeley Wellness Newsletter, raisins are “one of the richest sources of antioxidants of all foods.” But, sugar levels also become more concentrated in all dried fruit.

You’ll notice in the nutrition label for these dried raisins that carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals are almost all that comprise the ingredients. And then there’s the sugar- 29 grams! Just one serving of raisins already exceeds the recommended amount of sugar for the day.

What’s the takeaway? Consider substituting fresh grapes for the raisins. You’ll be able to enjoy more grapes (it takes 1 pound of grapes to make a serving of raisins!), and still come out on top as far as nutritional value.

Salad Dressing:

Eating a salad is clearly a good choice for overall health, if the ingredients and dressing are within appropriate portion size and made of high value ingredients. Especially with the dressing, it is easy to overlook that a portion is only 2 tablespoons.

In that portion alone, there is 11% of the total daily fat (for a 2,000 calorie diet), and 18% of total recommended sodium. Stop to remember that the sodium levels are calculated at the higher amount than is recommended by the American Heart Association. So, if you follow the more conservative AHA recommendations, the sodium levels are actually 28% of the daily recommendation.

Down to the ingredients- the very first ingredient is sugar. With a total of 14 grams, that’s half of the recommended amount of the day- if you only have the 2 tablespoon portion.

Instead, try making your own dressing. Here are several a great recipes that add flavor, and only a portion of the sugar (if any at all):

Image courtesy of: Fresh Express


It’s hopefully not a surprise to anybody that potato chips are high in fat. Some manufacturers have worked to improve that by using different cooking methods like baking and kettle cooking, rather than frying. But, that can only go so far.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people consume less than 10% of their calories from fat. If you look at the label for these Kettle Cooked chips, the fat percentage is already above that. Consider that the portion size is also only 1 ounce. Thats about the weight of five U.S. quarters. It is very easy to consume more than one portion at once, multiplying all nutritional values, too.

The amount of saturated fat is also on the higher end, making this a double whammy of unnecessary fat intake. Read more here about the different types of dietary fats to know which benefit you, rather than potentially harm your overall health.

The other big culprit in chips is often the sodium levels. In these chips, the total is 140 mg; using the conservative recommendation of 1,500 mg from the AHA, that amounts to about 9%, not too bad.

Overall, the biggest downside of consuming chips is typically the high fat content and the sodium. If you shop smart, you can find options that have lower levels of both. Processed foods like chips are, generally speaking, something to avoid.

A great alternative is butter free popcorn – but watch the portion! Most popcorn bags hold several portions.

Coffee Creamer:

Many people enjoy coffee creamer with their morning brew, I know I do. But, this is another item where the easiest thing to overlook is serving size.

The serving size for this creamer is only 1 tablespoon. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who consumes the serving size! When considering the dietary value of this, be mindful of how much you’re really adding to your coffee.

The overall fat content is low, but again, consider how many portions are really consumed. Once you’ve multiplied the serving size, the daily recommended total for fat increases quickly (remember, fat should contribute 10% or less to your total daily calories).

One of the most noticeable things is the sugar level. At 5g per serving, even just two servings of this takes you well on your way to the recommended maximum of 25g for women and 28g for men.

Use items like this sparingly, or look for alternatives. Adding almond, soy, or rice milk are other ways of adding flavor to your coffee.

Whole Wheat Bread:

There’s no denying that whole grain bread is a healthier alternative to highly processed white bread, but grabbing just any loaf may land you in the same boat.

This loaf of whole wheat bread has a relatively low amount of total fat and saturated fat. The catch here is that the amounts are for one serving size, which is one slice of bread. For a typical sandwich with two slices of bread, double all the amounts on this nutrition label. Now, we’re looking at more than half the day’s recommended amount of fat, as well as a decent chunk of the day’s sodium.

This whole wheat bread does have a good amount of dietary fiber, which is essential in any healthy diet. And, there’s the additional benefit of vitamins and minerals all whole grains provide.

Once again, sugar is added- but relatively speaking, it is not a high amount- 8 grams.

Lastly, one thing to note is the preservatives in pre-packaged bread. They are meant to increase the shelf-life, but some preservatives have been linked to asthma related sensitivities, food allergies, and some types of cancer. While not a reason to panic, it is something to be aware of in anything you consume. As much as possible, follow the guideline, “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”

Check with your provider if you have any questions about medication interactions or special dietary needs such as with diabetes or high blood pressure. Learning what is in your food and choosing how you consume the daily recommended requirements is up to you. Don’t let labels mislead you. Read them carefully and they can become an easy way to improve your eating habits and overall health.

dsc_0323-1    -Dr. Courtney


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