Published June 21, 2013
Making some packaged food taste good and getting you to buy it can involve a lot of tinkering and some shifty science. The result isn’t always pretty. We expose.
"Convenient" can be code for belly bloat
Check the labels on your favorite packaged eats, such as soups and frozen dinners, and you'll be shocked at how much salt is in there. Case in point: One package of ramen noodles has 1,820 milligrams of sodium—that's 80 percent of what should be your daily limit of 2,300 mg. (On average, we consume almost 50 percent more than that each day.) Aside from making your jeans "shrink" a size overnight (thanks, water weight!), high-salt diets can be bad for your stomach and heart. Avoid OD'ing by buying snacks with less than 250 mg of sodium per serving and prepackaged meals with less than 600 mg.
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"Diet" food is often just sugar by another name
When companies remove fat and calories from a food, they have to replace it with something to keep it from tasting like cardboard, and that something is frequently sugar—lots of it. The primary ingredients in many 100-calorie snack packs are white sugar, white flour and oils, said Judy Caplan, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). So, basically, empty calories. For between-meal snacks, opt for whole foods, like nuts or fruit.
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Everything isn't always better with bacon
To preserve those delicious pork slices, companies usually use nitrates or nitrites. When added to meat, these preservatives and other additives form compounds that some research suggests may be linked to cancer. Hot dogs, turkey and ham are often cured this way, too. Skip "uncured" varieties—processed meat contains naturally occurring nitrates anyway—and instead watch your intake. The ideal: less than 7 ounces per week.
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The soy in your mock dog may be nothing like tofu
Fake-meat soy products can easily contain 40 or more ingredients, some of which don't exactly sound mouthwatering: disodium guanylate, anyone? What those products often don't contain: many of the health benefits of soy. That's because the soy comes in isolate form, which means you're getting the protein but none of soy's fiber or antioxidants, said SELF contributing experts Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D. Their advice: If you want the benefits, eat whole soy foods, like tofu, edamame and miso.
If it's been enriched, it wasn't great in the first place
"The word enriched on a label means that a grain has been stripped of many of its nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins, and then a fraction of those nutrients were added back in," said Andrea Giancoli, R.D., a spokeswoman for AND. Although enriched breads are a better option than regular (refined) white bread, the one word you want to see on the label is whole. Whole grains retain all their original good-for-you stuff—fiber, antioxidants, vitamins—which means they don't need to be enriched to get a passing grade.
"Organic" may be a mirage
Simply because a product label says it's all natural or organic doesn't mean it's healthy. But when you see these buzzwords on a package, you tend to think the product is better for you, says Giancoli. Many organic products don't contain artificial substances, but they can have plenty of added sugars, refined grains and oils. Be sure to check labels on any food you're buying. Organic or not, if it's high in saturated fat, sugar or calories, give it a pass.
This article originally appeared on Self.com.