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What Does That Food Label Mean?

By , 11:12 pm on

Having grown up in an era when a favorite family car trip game was “sing the commercial jingle and name the product,” it is no surprise we are under the influence of advertising in the grocery store.  Caveat emptor! (let the buyer beware) is our watch phrase when it comes to buying food and sorting through nutrition claims.  This is especially important if you are caring for a senior suffering from chronic conditions.

Marketers know many of us are trying to eat healthier, so, in their helpful fashion, they are putting information on the packages to draw our attention to the health benefits.  The downside is, words mean different things to different people.  What to watch for:

  • Made with (usually doesn’t tell you how much of the ingredient you’re looking for is actually in there.)
  • Natural and all-natural (any meat poultry or egg product can have no artificial ingredients; could still be something you don’t want to eat; “natural sugar” is still sugar.)
  • Super food (no real definition of this, so it means different things to different people. In fact, I encourage 7 “super foods,” in relation to healthy longevity lifestyle choices discussed in Happy to 102 )
  • Whole grain (means it has at least 8 grams of whole grain ingredient per serving, not that there is not also refined grain product in the item.)
  • Extra lean (every 100 g. serving must have fewer than 5 grams total fat and 2 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol.)
  • Low calorie (40 calories or fewer per serving)
  • Light (usually refers to color, not calories)
  • Low fat or reduced fat (fewer than 3 grams of fat per serving. “Reduced fat” means the food must have 25% less fat than the original)
  • Made with real fruit (no rules for this, could be fruit juice, instead of whole fruit)
  • Multi-grain (more than one grain, but could be refined)
  • 99% fat-free (99% of the given weight is fat-free.)
  • Organic(95% or more of ingredients are organically produced.)
  • Reduced sugar, low sugar, or no sugar added (“Reduced sugar” means contains less than 25% of the original item, “low sugar” can mean anything because the term has not been regulated, “no sugar added” means none was added during processing.

The bottom line on labeling is to read the ingredients list and the nutrition facts and educate yourself on healthy eating.  If you have Alzheimer’s Disease in your family, it is especially important to pay attention to your diet, eat “heart healthy”, and incorporate some of the following foods into your life.

1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits, with the powerful antioxidant, vitamin C, improve blood vessel function and promote skin health and cell renewal. A recent study showed vitamin C helps to dissolve plaque build-up in the brain, known to be associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

2. Almonds

Vitamin E helps blood vessels widen, keeping them open and able to efficiently transport nutrients throughout the brain and body. Alzheimer’s research indicates a well-fed brain helps delay cognitive decline. Vitamin E also supports the body’s immune system.

3. Fish

Scientists have believed for decades the omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring) support brain health.  Recent research confirms this through a 4-year study of 815 seniors, showing those who eat baked or grilled cold-water fish at least once a week are 60 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, than those who do not eat fish at least once a week.  (Cooking the fish by grilling or baking preserves its benefits.)

4. Coffee

Yes, two daily cups of black, full force (caffeinated) coffee is good for you. According to a recent 2009 study from the University of South Florida, a reasonable amount of coffee reduces blood levels of a plaque-forming protein and thus, cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. The caffeine is the key; decaf coffee does not have the same impact.

Know what you’re eating and what to eat. Caveat emptor!

Additional sources: Carolyn O’Neil, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Real Simple Magazine.