You know them as “added fiber,” “added protein,” and “a good source of whole grains!” But it turns out enrichment is best left to high school. These sound wholesome yet are anything but, says New York City registered dietitian and expert label decoder, Marissa Lippert. “The newest ‘healthy’ food products are often the worst offenders,” says Lippert, who’s the author of The Cheater’s Diet and founder of healthy Manhattan eatery Nourish. Don’t shop at Whole Foods without our guide.
“GOOD SOURCE OF WHOLE GRAINS”
Look for it in: cereals, crackers, pasta, and bread products
Don’t take this phrase at face value. “Made with whole grains” has a very cloudy definition, says Lippert, and it sounds suspiciously similar to terms on food labels that are regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To be deemed an “excellent source” of whole grains in the eyes of the FDA, a product must contain at least 16 grams of whole grains per serving.
But a “good source” can have anywhere from 8 to 15 grams of whole grains. According to these guidelines, even Lucky Charms cereal, which has 8 grams, qualifies as a good source of whole grains. Bottom line: the best source of whole grains are, well, whole grains, and foods that have the fewest ingredients, like brown rice, oatmeal, basic bran cereal, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, 100% whole grain bread, and whole wheat flour.
Look for words like: maltodextrin, inulin, polydextrose, and oat fiber
Extra fiber is suddenly everywhere. A quick survey of the supermarket shelves found added roughage in ice cream, cereal bars, and even water. “Manufacturers use it as a marketing claim aimed at dieters because fiber keeps us more full for longer, typically with fewer calories, and speeds up digestion,” says Lippert. But here’s the catch: Added fiber powder, the type that goes into packaged products, is digested entirely differently in our bodies from the fiber that’s found naturally in foods, and does not provide the same health benefits. Lippert’s advice? Steer clear. “Reach for natural, whole sources of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and you’ll never go wrong.”
Look for words like: soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, wheat protein isolate, and hydrolyzed soy protein
Added protein can be found in milk, chocolate, soup, and beverages. Similar to added fiber, it’s a marketing claim. “Manufacturers know added protein carries weight among misinformed dieters seeking to fill up fast on fewer calories,” Lippert says. “But the best way to do that is with real food, fresh, whole ingredients and lean protein sources like tofu, edamame, beans, chicken breasts, lean red meat, low-fat dairy, nuts, eggs, fish, and seafood.” And for many people, added protein in packaged foods can cause serious bloating and an upset stomach. —Alexandra King