As I was deciding what recipe to post today, I came across this Forbes article and had to
share it with you. It’s all about how confusing food labels can be. The article starts out “Imagine three items in your grocery cart: Peppercorn Ranch SunChips, Cocoa Krispies and Country Crock margarine.
The first is stamped with a red heart, indicating that it’s a good source of whole grains. The second has a banner saying that the vitamin-enriched rice cereal will boost your immunity. The third bears a green label deeming it a “Smart Choice,” a green seal of approval on the front of food packaging to indicate healthier fare.
If you are like the typical hurried consumer, chances are you don’t spend much time considering how such messages end up there. Here’s one way to look at it: The chips have no trans fat and contain 18 grams of whole grains; the cereal boasts one-quarter of one’s recommended daily vitamin intake; the margarine has fewer calories and less cholesterol than butter.
Yet, even with this information, it can be hard to understand why a bag of chips with more than 20 ingredients—including corn syrup—and a cereal laced with sugar and semi-sweet chocolate, are purportedly good for one’s health.”
I have some bad news that I just realized in the past couple years, food companies are not looking out for your best interests. The article goes on to explain “That confusion can often be traced to inconclusive research and eager marketing claims. While science has given us clues about how to achieve optimal health, researchers don’t yet know how the body best absorbs certain nutrients. Meanwhile, the food manufacturers behind the labeling have a lot at stake: The market for so called functional foods and beverages, or products that offer improved health through supplements or a combination of healthful ingredients, was more than $30 billion last year.”
That’s right $30 billion! Food companies have quite a bit at stake in getting you, the consumer, to believe that their product is good for you. I used to take what was written on food packages at face value. If a cereal box shouted out in bright text that it was full of fiber, I didn’t look closer to realize that it was full of even more sugar. If a frozen meal lured me in with its promise of protein, I didn’t notice that it also had 3 days worth of sodium in one meal.
I didn’t realize that “a product can come close to exceeding or just barely offering a vitamin or nutrient and still be sold as good for you. And that’s when food labels can sometimes give way to potentially misleading health claims.”
In my recent post on sustainable seafood, I talked about what’s wrong with the seafood industry. Unfortunately, that’s not the only aspect of the food industry that needs to change. Sometimes it can feel easy to say, “So what? It’s got some extra sodium or sugar, but it’s fast and easy to make, and at least it has fiber right?” Really, we shouldn’t think so lightly about what’s going into our bodies. Food is more than just food, it’s the fuel that powers every part of your body, and the wrong fuel can cause serious problems. Too much sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes. One of the effects of too much sodium is high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular and kidney problems. So how do you avoid this when grocery shopping?
“Barbara Schneeman, Ph.D. director of the Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements at the FDA has some straightforward advice: When in doubt check out the nutrition facts and look for the serving size and calories. As a rule of thumb, 5 percent or less of an ingredient’s recommended daily value is low, and 20 percent is high.”
Bottom line, my advice is to try to avoid those packaged foods in the first place. When you shop in the grocery store, stick to the outer edge and avoid the aisles, which are full of unhealthy options with misleading labels designed to grab your attention. If you buy some prepackaged items, stick with healthier ones by reading the entire label, not just the front. Then use them appropriately. In the beautiful Shrimp Alfredo basket below, each person ends up getting about 2 TBS of Bertolli Alfredo sauce in their meal. If I had simply dumped the jar of sauce in with some pasta, each person served would end up getting a meal with a lot more fat and sodium. I don’t always make everything from scratch, but when I don’t, I make sure that what I’m cooking is still as healthy as possible.
Shrimp Alfredo Baskets (Pot Pie for Grownups!)serves 2 as appetizer or main dish
1 dried shiitake mushroom
1 cup boiling water (approximate)
2 puff pastry shells
7 shrimp without veins or shells
2 baby carrots
1 TBS olive oil
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup alfredo sauce (I used Bertolli)
Place the mushroom in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let it sit while you prepare everything else.
Bake pastry shells according to package directions. While they’re in the oven, chop 5 of the shrimp into about 6 pieces each. Using a vegetable peeler, shave small curls of carrot. Remove shiitake mushroom from the water, cut off and discard stem, then chop mushroom into tiny pieces (you can save water as stock).
Add olive oil to a small pan and heat on medium high. Add shrimp (chopped and whole), carrots, mushroom and peas. Stir while cooking until shrimp is pink and firm. Remove the two whole shrimp and add half the alfredo sauce. Mix well.
When pastry shells are done, remove from the oven and remove the top and center layers of the shells. Spoon half the mixture from your pan into each shell. Top eash one with a whole shrimp. Heat remaining alfredo sauce in the pan or a microwave for 15 seconds. Drizzle it over the top and serve.
Approximate cost/serving: The puff pastry shells were about $3.50 for 6, which makes them perfect for cooking an affordable fancy meal. Altogether, this comes out to $2 a serving! I love making this recipe for a cheap gourmet dinner!
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Nutritional and cost information is for estimating purposes only, and subject to variations due to region, seasonality, and product availability.