We know which aisles in the supermarket can yield a treasure trove of healthy foods, and which aisles can't. But could some of the basic foods you feed your family every day be contributing to obesity? In part three of a special series on “Today” called “Obesity: Living Large in America,” NBC News medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman and guests look at fighting obesity on the home front. Dietitian Elisa Zied was was invited to discuss this topic on the show, and here she writes about common culprits that can hinder healthy eating:
With obesity rates at an all-time high, many families try to stock up on more healthful foods and beverages to manage their weight and get the key nutrients they need. But many items found behind closed doors — in refrigerators, cabinets, and pantry closets — may unknowingly be loaded with calories, fat, and/or sugar which can undermine even their best efforts to eat more healthfully. Here are six of the most common culprits that may lurk in your kitchen, with tips to help you choose more healthful selections.
We all know milk does a body good, and that it’s a great source of key nutrients including calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein. But while two percent milk is lower in calories and fat than whole milk — one cup contains 125 calories and almost five grams of fat (three of them saturated) vs. 150 calories and eight grams of fat (4.5 saturated) — it’s still not much of a nutritional bargain, especially for those who consume more than one cup a day to meet current recommendations (the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the equivalent of two to three cups of milk per day for those over the age of two).
A better bet: To save calories and fat, especially artery-clogging saturated fat, opt for low-fat or 1 percent milk — 1 cup contains approximately 105 calories and only two grams of fat (1.5 of them saturated). Skim or fat-free milk, an even better option, has only 80 calories per cup. If you don’t love the taste or texture of 1 percent or skim milk, mix 1/2 cup of 2 percent milk with 1/2 cup of 1 percent milk, to ease the transition and get used to the thinner texture. Or you can buy 1 percent milk that contains added milk proteins and nonfat solids and boasts a thicker, more creamy consistency.
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Of course, if your kids won’t drink plain milk, flavored milk (such as chocolate milk), sold in eight-ounce boxes, can be a tasty option to help get some calcium into their diet. But most chocolate milk boxes are made with 2 percent milk (not 1 percent or skim milk), and contain 200 calories, 5g fat (3g saturated), and 29 grams of sugar — more than double the sugar found in plain milk (which has 12 grams of sugar from lactose, the natural sugar found in milk).
A better bet: Make a more healthful, lower sugar alternative by adding two teaspoons of chocolate syrup to one cup of 1 percent milk for a total of about 138 calories and 19 grams of sugar (a savings of more than 60 calories and 10 grams of sugar). If you use skim milk, you’ll save an additional 25 calories for a total of 113 calories per cup.
Low-fat yogurt with fruit added
Although yogurt is an excellent vehicle for calcium and other key nutrients, including phosphorus and riboflavin, most yogurts made with fruit on the bottom pack in lots of extra sugar, not from fructose (the sugar found naturally in fruit) but from added sugars such as fructose syrup and high fructose corn syrup. One six-ounce container of plain low-fat yogurt has 100 calories and 12 grams of sugar, whereas yogurt with fruit added can have up to 150 calories and 28 grams of sugar.
A better bet: Buy plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt and mix in 1/2 cup of fresh fruit. You’ll likely get more fiber as well as other nutrients provided by the additional fruit, and may even save a few calories.
Whole grain breads and cereals
With the recent push to incorporate more healthful whole grain products (vs. refined ones) into the diet (the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least half your grains — or about 1-1/2 to 3 1-ounce equivalents a day for most people — to come from whole grains), food manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to provide more whole grain bread and cereal options for consumers. But many whole grain breads and cereals can still pack in a lot of added sugar (from high fructose corn syrup and other sources) and skimp on much needed fiber.
A better bet: Make sure the breads and cereals you buy are whole grain (check the ingredients list and look for a whole grain such as whole wheat or whole oat listed first). Then read the Nutrition Facts panel and see how much fiber is in the product — aim for three grams of fiber per slice of bread, and at least four or five grams of fiber per cup of cereal. Also, look for as little sugar as possible. Look for breads with no added sugar (many contain small amounts of high fructose corn syrup, so read the ingredients list to see if it’s present). When you buy cereal, look for those with no more than eight grams of sugar per cup (preferably less).
Although it’s lower in fiber than a whole apple, apple sauce can be a healthful stand-alone snack, and is easy to incorporate into recipes for homemade muffins, breads, or pancakes. But did you know that regular or original applesauce packs in about 100 calories and 22 or more grams of sugar (half of it added sugar) for a 1/2 cup (four ounces) serving?
A better bet: Look for unsweetened varieties of apple sauce; it’s flavorful and provides half the calories — about 50 — and half the sugar — only 11 grams, with none added — per 1/2 cup (four-ounce) serving.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She is the author of "So What Can I Eat?!" (Wiley, 2006) and the upcoming "Feed Your Family Right!" (Wiley, 2007). Visit her at elisazied.com.