Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Can it be Easy to Make Healthy Food Choices?

One of my goals with this blog and my book has been to simplify healthy eating facts for us all. Choosing healthy products has been an on-going learning process for me since 2006, and many facts are not presented in a manner that is easy to understand! I hope that the information here provides some assistance with your everyday food choices.

Label reading 

This is additional information that goes along with the label reading hints in the first chapter of my book -- Making Healthy Food Choices

Some high fiber products are stuffed with what is essentially fake fiber. 
It is not as healthy as the naturally occurring fiber in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I now watch for and avoid maltodextrin, which has a high glycemic index of 130, on the ingredients list.

Remember that multigrain does not mean whole-grain. To receive the benefits of whole grains, the first ingredient needs to be whole-grain.

No wonder I have such a difficult time finding healthy whole-grain crackers!  I recently read this in Readers Digest: Your typical cracker is made with refined grains and flavoring built around fat, salt, and sugar. Then preservatives are often added so the crackers can sit on the shelf for a year. Also, whole-grain crackers are rare.

Triscuit crackers are pretty much my go-to cracker of choice, since I have difficulty finding other crackers with whole-grain as the first ingredient.

When checking labels for sugar content, also watch out for high-fructose 
corn syrup, cane crystals, dextrose, and evaporated cane juice.

Some yogurt manufacturers will use add-ins 
instead of straining the yogurt to make it thick. Along with the information in my book, avoid yogurt with whey protein concentrate or 
milk protein concentrate on the 
ingredients list. The nonfat meijer Greek yogurt I purchase is made with skim milk and live cultures.

How to choose authentic extra-virgin olive oil

I recently read that some extra-virgin olive oils may actually be a lower grade oil. Research shows that approximately 70 percent of bottles tested from supermarket shelves were either rancid or did not meet the criteria for the extra-virgin grade. I read MANY articles and blog posts about this topic--most of them very confusing with unclear facts. Organized here are the most important facts that I gleaned from what I read.

1. Choose oil in a dark glass or tin container, which protects the oil from light.
2. Choose oil with a harvest date--the fresher the better. In lieu of a harvest date, choose a "best by" date preferably two years out. Best by dates are usually two years from the time oil was bottled, so if you see a date that is two years away, the oil is more likely to be fresh.
3. Check countries of origin. The longer time there is between harvest and processing, the greater the chance for quality and health benefits to degrade. Therefore, when more countries are listed, there is more chance for a longer time to lapse between harvesting and processing.
4. Do not choose olive oil labeled "refined," "simply," or "pure." This means the olive oil is below extra-virgin standards and has been heavily processed to remove flavors and aromas. Though the oil is still is a source of monounsaturated fat, it has been stripped of healthful polyphenols (heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic properties).
5. Taste and smell the olive oil. When you taste a good olive oil, you might notice a peppery finish build in the back of the throat. The more of that peppery burn you feel, the higher the presence of antioxidants in the oil and the healthier it is for the body. Olive oil should smell fresh and fruity, and not fusty or musty.

Seals of quality
The seal of quality information I read was just as confusing as the information about how to choose the best extra-virgin olive oil. I am sharing a link to the most organized seal information I found online: Olive Oil Quality Seals, and I have listed the four seals and links to their websites below.

- California Olive Oil Council (COOC) certifies oils as extra-virgin. 
- Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA) tests oil quality and authenticity from store shelves up to the "best before" date.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began measuring olive oil quality in 2010. USDA states that if olive oil meets the COOC standard, it also meets the USDA standard, although the measurement criteria are not the same for both.

I had Pompeian extra-virgin olive oil in my cupboard at the time of this post. It carries the USDA and NAOOA seals of quality. I found information online, which said that Pompeian extra-virgin olive oil failed the extra-virgin quality tests before USDA began measuring quality in 2010. From what I read, it seems that most producers fail some of the tests and that the results are inconsistent from year to year. I found an interesting article in the Times about the olive oil controversy.

If I follow the 5 steps for choosing oil, which I listed above, Pompeian stacks up as follows:

1. Pompeian is packaged in a dark (pass) container, although it is plastic (fail) rather than glass or tin.
2. Pompeian does not have a "harvest date" (fail), although the "best by" date is a year and a half out (pass).
3. Pompeian lists four countries of origin (sounds like a fail, to me).
4. The Pompeian label does not contain the words "refined," "simply," or "pure" (pass).
5. My Pompeian olive oil smelled fresh (pass), and it did not taste rancid (pass). It had a mild peppery finish. I tasted it following the instructions I found here.

Some people seem to think that COOC is the best seal of approval for extra-virgin olive oil. Since I am still undecided about this, I think I will move my Pompeian olive oil into a dark glass jar, and consider it in the top half of acceptable extra-virgin olive oils, for now. I guess I will be tasting olive oil like I do wine, going forward!

Please share your comments below or on the Facebook post!