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Healthy cooking means looking beyond packaging

Being a savvy consumer best defense
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Many products being marketed as health foods are actually imposters, one study says. High-calorie counts and unnatural ingredient lists tell the real story behind their deceptive green packaging and health-conscious rhetoric. In a report published by The Journal of Consumer Research published on April 12 called “The Impact of Product Name on Dieters’ and Nondieters’ Food Evaluations and Consumption,” researchers found that many traditionally unhealthy foods were labeled with healthier sounding names. “Ambiguity is prevalent in the food industry: potato chips are marked as ‘veggie chips,’ milkshakes are sold as ‘smoothies,’ and sugary drinks have been repositioned as ‘flavored water,’ although the names of the latter item might lead a consumer to infer undue nutritional superiority over the former,” the report said. Carol Arnold, general manager of Foothills Farmers Market Association, was shocked when she saw the ingredient list for a common food her family eats. “The ingredient list on flour tortillas was a mile long,” Arnold said. “I didn’t even know some of the ingredients that were in it.” To avoid the pitfalls she often finds at the grocery store, Arnold is a proponent of buying direct from growers at local farmers markets. “Any time you add the boxes you are losing nutritional value.” Arnold said. “What farmers markets offer is it’s the purest form of food. It’s unadulterated. It’s fresh picked, so it has the highest nutrient-level you will get from food.” Sunrise Natural Foods in Auburn also gets their produce from local growers, most of whom are certified organic. Assistant manager Teresa Gonzales said most of her customers pay close attention to labels. Kale Chips and rice chips are two of the healthy snack foods Sunrise Natural Foods offers that have only real food in the labels. “Rice chips have just a few ingredients and every one you can recognize,” Gonzales said. “Kale chips are dehydrated chips that basically just have nutritional yeast, cashews, kale and lemon. You don’t feel weighed down and heavy after you eat them.” While many consumers believe healthy food costs more, Arnold said to feed a family of four three servings of fruit, a salad and a vegetable each day for a week would run about $75 at the farmers market in Old Town Auburn. Arnold keeps her family away from prepared foods as much as possible by making healthy substitutions, like nuts roasted in rosemary and olive oil instead of chips. Registered Dietician Catherine Nishikawa is the Nutrition and Food Service Manager at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. Nishikawa said that nearly all food manufacturers make health claims on their labels to get people to buy. “When you are at the market go beyond the claims on the packaging and look at the list of ingredients. In general, the longer the list of ingredients, the more processing took place,” Nishikawa said. “What makes a food healthy is the nutrient density and in general the closer the food is to its ‘natural’ state the more nutrients are retained.” Nishikawa suggests taking items eaten everyday, such as boxed rice and pasta, and replacing them with whole grain varieties. Sally Christensen teaches her patients at the Weimar Institute for Health and Education how to achieve wellness by making healthy swaps. In one class, Christensen uses natural sweeteners like fruit, fruit juice, agave nectar and honey instead of refined sugar to make desserts. Her most recent creation was a Pina Coloda Cream Tart. Christensen said many of her patients who suffer from cardiovascular problems, obesity and diabetes see dramatic improvement in their health just from changing their diet. “It’s very rewarding to see patients not only take medicine to not get worse, but to actually get better,” Christensen said. Her rule of thumb is if she doesn’t recognize something as being a real food, she won’t eat it. “I would say organic is healthier and it depends on food additives whether I would like it or not personally,” Christensen said. “If it’s a lot of flavor-enhancing chemicals without being real food, I try not to choose those and don’t recommend them for my patients.” While many products don’t live up to the claims on their packaging by being label-savvy, consumers can make informed choices. “It is important to keep in mind that there is room in most people’s diet for a wide variety of foods, including some that are less healthy,” Nishikawa said. “Whether your diet is ‘perfect’ is not what is important. Making small changes at a pace that will ensure long-term success is what is.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com. ______________________________________________________ Try This:Kale in a Krunch Habanero Ranch Snacks Calories: 130 per 1 oz. Serving (28 g/about 1/3 package). Ingredients: cashew, kale, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, miso, apple cider vinegar, habanero, garlic spices, Himalayan crystal salts Not that: Sun Chips Garden Salsa Multigrain Snacks Calories: 140 per 15 chips. Ingredients: whole corn, sunflower oil, whole wheat, rice flour, whole oat flour, sugar, garden salsa seasoning (salt, tomato powder, cheddar cheese [milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], dextrose, onion powder, sugar, buttermilk, whey, romano cheese [part-skim cow’s milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], whey protein concentrate, maltodextrin, modified corn starch, autolyzed yeast extract, corn oil, hydrolyzed wheat protein, spice, disodium phosphate, natural flavor [including green bell pepper], malic acid, artificial color [yellow 5 lake, yellow 6 lake, red 40 lake], citric acid, lactic acid, and nonfat milk). Far right: photo of Sun Chips