February 28, 2010

CSPI's Whole Grain Finds & Frauds

The Center for Science in the Public Interest publishes the Nutrition Action Health Letter, the "World's Largest Circulation Health Newsletter". At $10 for a yearly subscription, the newsletter is an outstanding deal if you are interested in nutrition and enjoy humorous takes on the topic. The newsletter summarizes nutrition-related research, advocates for stricter nutrition labeling laws and regularly exposes unhealthy products masquerading as health foods. The CSPI folks are the self-proclaimed "food police" - and their Washington, DC based think-tank are responsible for:
The "Whole Grain Finds & Frauds" article in the March 2010 Nutrition Action Health Letter delves into new whole grain products and whether or not they deserve to carry the "whole grain" title on their packaging. The products that the authors maintain are Whole Grain Finds, include:
The Whole Grain Frauds the article identifies, include:
  • Cheez-It crackers "made with 5g of WHOLE GRAIN per serving" - but since each serving is 30-grams (27 crackers), that doesn't mean much
  • Kellogg's Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts tout "20% daily value for Fiber" - this fiber comes from inulin, which is an isolated fiber which may not have the same health benefits as fiber that occurs naturally in foods - not to mention each pop tart has three teaspoons of sugar per serving
  • Hamburger Helper has a "wholesome" line - claiming 8 grams of whole grain, but an undisclosed amount of refined grains
  • Lance's Whole Grain Sharp Cheddar Cheese crackers (found in vending machines) may say they're whole grain, but the first two ingredients are white flour and oil, making them a low fiber whole-grain fraud
The article stresses the importance of looking at order of ingredients when trying to identify good sources of whole grains. For bread products, look for "whole wheat flour" to be listed ahead of "enriched wheat flour" for your best bet in identifying Whole Grain Finds.

February 24, 2010

When is a Bagel Not a Bagel?

By definition, a bagel is a firm-textured bread that is boiled and then baked. Your standard bagel will cost you 300 calories and usually has only 1 or 2 grams of fiber, depending upon the flavor. Thomas' new Bagel Thins are a completely different story: 110 calories per serving and 5 grams of fiber per thin. The only similarity between the two products are that they each maintain a hole in the middle. 

While Thomas' Bagel Thins are a worthy attempt to bulk up the fiber and bring down the calories on the traditional bagel, they really are just a repackaging of the same company's (Bimbo Bakeries USA) Oroweat Sandwich Thins, featured in a previous post on this blog. The bread in the so-called bagel is soft and chewy, featuring the texture traditional to any bread product with added isolated fiber ingredients used to increase fiber content. It's doubtful that the Thomas' Bagel Thins have ever seen boiling water before being baked!

If you are looking for a real low-calorie bagel, you might consider another Thomas' product, the 100 calorie bagel. They're small - and not always high in fiber - but at least it's boiled and a bagel...not just flattened out whole wheat bread with a hole in it!

February 18, 2010

Mott's Plus Fiber Applesauce

Mott's Applsauce has a new line of "Mott's Plus" snack-sized applesauce cups. Three different flavors are "formulated with important nutrients for which women often don't meet their daily requirements":
  • Cranberry Raspberry flavor has 3 grams of dietary fiber
  • Apple flavor provides 10% of the daily value for calcium (100 mg)
  • Pomegranate provides 17 mg of the protective antioxidant vitamins C & E
While natural no-sugar added applesauce consists of apples, water and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) - the high fiber variety has a lot more ingredients, including maltodextrin (an isolated fiber) and apple puree concentrate, which help give it 2 more grams of fiber per serving than the standard variety.

Here's how the Mott's Plus Fiber No Sugar Added applesauce stacks up against their traditional No Sugar Added applesauce:

Are you wondering why all commercial applesauce contains added ascorbic acid (vitamin C)? If you've ever cut an apple and watched as it turned brown when exposed to air, then you have witnessed the phenomenon known as enzymatic browning. Vitamin C is an antioxidant - meaning that it prevents oxidation on the fruit surface. When vitamin C is added to a fruit or vegetable's flesh, it prevents discoloration. 

So is Mott's Plus Fiber No Sugar Added applesauce the healthiest apple product you can eat? Not exactly. From its ingredient list you can see there's a lot of stuff added to bulk up the fiber and make the high fiber version taste good. In actuality, if you like apples, then choosing a good old apple is your best choice. One small sized apple (2 3/4" diameter) has 80 calories and 4 grams of fiber, not to mention that a real apple is also packed full of water and will cost you less per serving than an applesauce cup. As with a lot of these new high-fiber processed food products, it seems logical to ask - "Why mess with the real thing?"

February 16, 2010

High Fiber Diet Linked to Lower Weight and Waist Circumference

An article published in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied the effect of a high fiber diet on almost 90,000 healthy Europeans aged 20-78. The researchers followed the subjects for six and a half years, analyzing dietary fiber intake from cereal sources vs. fruit and vegetable fiber sources to study the effect on weight and waist circumference. 

At the study's conclusion, subjects who increased total dietary fiber (regardless of fiber source) intake by 10 grams/day experienced a statistically significant prevention of weight and waist circumference gain. Intake of cereal fiber led to prevention of both weight and waist circumference gain, while fruit and vegetable fiber intake was inversely associated only with waist circumference and not weight gain.

The researchers conclude that their data supports the beneficial role of increasing dietary fiber - especially cereal fiber - in the prevention of body weight and waist circumference gain. 

Are you looking for ways to increase your intake of dietary fiber from cereals? Here is a list of some cereal grains to include in your diet:
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa

February 15, 2010

Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Bars Sued in Class Action Lawsuit

A class action lawsuit filed in Southern California last week claims that Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bar packaging and advertising deceptively mislead consumers. The suit claims that Nutri-Grain bars allow you to "Eat Better all Day" because they contain calcium and whole grains; however, the bars also contain trans fat, which is known to elevate LDL levels and increase heart disease risk. The plaintiffs also contend that the product packaging is misleading in that it shows Nutri-Grain bars next to a water bottle, salad, apple and person exercising - all implying that Nutri-Grain bars are part of a healthy lifestyle.

So are Nutri-Grain bars really a good source of whole grain? On the Nutri-Grain website, Kellogg's proudly displays an "8 gram of whole grain per serving" stamp from the Whole Grains Council - a topic covered in a previous post. While this is not the more admirable100% Whole Grain stamp from the Whole Grains Council, it does indicate that there are some whole grains in the product. A nutrition facts panel from a Nutri-Grain bar - in this case the Blackberry Bar - shows that one bar has 2 grams of dietary fiber and 130 calories:
The first ingredient in Nutri-Grain bars is whole grain rolled oats - a good source of whole grain; however, the second most prolific ingredient in the product is enriched wheat flour - basically, white flour with some vitamins added back in. Nutri-Grain bars are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, and dextrose. The 2 grams of fiber comes not necessarily from the rolled oats, but from the added isolated fiber sources of bran and soluble corn fiber. 

And how can they get away with saying the product is trans-fat free on the label when the plaintiffs contend the bars do have trans fat? Well, as of January 1, 2006, the FDA mandates that trans fat be listed on a food's Nutrition Facts panel. There is a loophole however that permits any food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be labeled trans fat free. So you can see products that have "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" (i.e. trans fat) in their ingredient list, while it says 0 grams trans fat on the food label. Manufacturers can determine their own portion size, so many have decreased portion sizes while retaining trans fat and getting in under the 1/2 gram of trans fat per serving rule; others have merely replaced trans fat with saturated fat, another heart-unhealthy fat that also raises LDL cholesterol levels.

So, if you are now looking for a healthier breakfast alternative to the highly processed Nutri-Grain bar...try one half-cup of quick cooking oats made with one cup of nonfat milk and a half cup of blueberries for a more filling 270 calories, 1/3 of your daily calcium needs and 6 grams of fiber.