Friday, June 8, 2007

Understanding The Language

Once you've made the commitment to healthy living, the diet part of it is easy, right? Wrong. Unless you know what to look for on ingredient labels and what the jargon means, it can be overwhelming to try and make the right choices for your family. Here are the answers to several common questions. More detailed information and answers to questions not listed here can be found at Before undertaking any diet change or exercise program, you should always consult with your doctor.


Q: What are trans-fats?
A: Trans fats are a type of fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine.Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. However, a small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods. Trans-fats are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. Trans-fats have been linked to heart disease because of the effect they have on cholesterol. FDA guidelines only require trans-fats to be listed on nutrition facts if the serving contains less than 1/2 g per serving, so be sure to look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on ingredient lists.

Q: What does "refined" mean and what foods does it apply to?
A: The term "refining" means to remove by a purification process, certain coarsenesses or impurities. The process most often refers to sugars and grains.

Q: What is the difference between wheat and whole wheat?
A: Whole wheat refers to the unrefined grain. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Most refined grains are enriched. This means thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Unless the label says "whole wheat," it isn't whole grain. Some products are made with a mixture of refined grains and whole grains, so read labels carefully.

Q: What are some other names for sugar?
A: Even a product that claims "no added sugar" on the label may still contain additional sweeteners, due to rounding. If you're watching your sugar intake, look for the following terms on the ingredient list: corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltodextrin, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, rice syrup, saccharose, sorghum or sorghum syrup, sucrose, syrup, treacle, turbinado sugar, xylose.

Q: What is the difference between sea salt, table salt and kosher salt?
A: Nutritionally speaking, kosher salt and sea salt are no different than table salt. The difference between these types of salt mostly concerns their taste and texture. Salt can be harvested from seawater through evaporation (sea salt), or it can be mined from inland deposits (rock salt). The type of salt that is most often used in cooking and at the table is from rock salt. Kosher salt is a coarse-grained rock salt that usually has no additives. Gourmet cooks often prefer the texture and flavor of kosher salt in cooking. Sea salt comes in either fine or coarse grain and has a slightly different taste because of different minerals it contains. Many people prefer sea salt to table salt because they claim it has a more subtle flavor. Sea salt also contains no additives.

Q: How do I know how many calories I need per day?
A: Your calorie intake depends on your age and size, as well as your activity level. It can be different for everyone. You can use the calculator at to give you a rough idea, but you should also consult with your doctor if you think you need to adjust your calorie intake.

Q: What is the difference "organic" and "natural?"
A: According to the USDA, food can be labeled “natural” only if it does not contain artificial flavor, coloring or chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. Also, the product and its ingredients cannot have been more than minimally processed. This means that to be natural, the traditional processes used to make food edible, preserve it or make it safe do not fundamentally change the raw product. Ground beef, for example, is not a “natural” product because the act of grinding the meat makes it more than minimally processed. "Organic" food is produced according to government-regulated standards. Crops must be grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers or sewage sludge. Ionizing radiation and additives must not be used during processing. Animals used for food must be raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Neither crops nor animals can be produced with genetically modified organisms.

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