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Nutrition: The Good, the Bad, the Useless

by Derek Crytser

USDA to Tyson Foods: Stop Using Misleading Label

The eat-healthy-get-fit craze is in full swing in America today. There seems to be a gym on every corner and a sporting goods store or two or three in every shopping plaza, yet the sad fact remains that over two thirds of American adults are overweight. Why is this? Well one reason may be that advertisers have jumped on the health craze bandwagon. Face it; grocery stores are jam packed with items shouting “All Natural”, “Lightly sweetened” and “Reduced fat”, but do these slogans even mean anything? Now I’m not going to trash the food industry and try to argue that none of these foods are good for you, but you have to know what to look for.

The Good
“Organic” - Yes, I know that organic items tend to be more expensive and can put a serious dent in the wallet, but, hey, at least your foods won’t be filled with potentially dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Products labeled “organic” are held to strict standards and regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP). These standards include, but are not limited too, regulations in how livestock may be raised, absolutely no hormones, and regulations regarding handling; these items may not be mixed with non-organic products because of possible cross-contamination. Another plus is that if a product is labeled organic, then every ingredient in it must also be organic. Organic is not synonymous with healthy, but it’s a great place to look!

“100% whole wheat” - Everybody knows that whole grains are the way to go, so don’t let them fool you! If you are picking up a wheat product, pancakes, bread, crackers, etc., make sure it claims to be one hundred percent whole wheat. “Multigrain” or “Wheat” just don’t cut it.

“Low sodium” - Products claiming to be low in sodium can contain no more than one hundred forty milligrams of salt per serving. For those looking to reduce their sodium intake, pass on reduced sodium products and head straight for the “low sodium” section.

The Bad
“Reduced Fat” - Stamped on bags all over the potato chip isle, this is one of the most used slogans in grocery stores today. Although, this term means that the fat grams are reduced by at least twenty five percent, this reduction usually comes with an increase in sugar and sodium; better move on to the next isle!

“Reduced Sodium” - Another term that can be found on products all over the grocery store; this term only means that the sodium levels have been reduced by twenty five percent regardless of the total amount of sodium. Not entirely bad, but beware.

“Good Source of…” - A mainstay of products targeted towards children, such as fruit juices and cereals. This slogan means that the product contains between ten and nineteen percent of the daily required value. That means that, you would have to eat up to ten servings in order to meet your daily requirement. While, this may not be a problem, if the sugar content of the product is thirty or forty percent of the suggested daily intake you could be consuming three to four times your daily allotted sugar in order to get enough calcium. Not a good trade off, move on.

The Useless
“All Natural” - When you see a product sporting this phrase look the other way. The FDA has set no standards of what can be classified under this term making it basically meaningless. Now, I’m not saying that all foods carrying the slogan “all natural” are bad for you, but make sure you look at the ingredients. If the ingredients start off with high fructose corn syrup, cheap processed sugar, or words you can’t even pronounce, such as, Polysorbate 60, chances are these products are high in trans fat, preservatives or both. If, on the other hand, the ingredients consist of wheat, flour, and baking soda, then you are probably in the clear.

“Lightly Sweetened” - Emblazoned on the boxes of many items, especially cereal boxes this slogan may be the worst of all. The FDA as set no standards regulating the use of this term essentially rendering it useless. Just take a look at Kellog’s Smart Start. It claims to be “lightly sweetened” yet, according to “Eat This, Not That”, they have more sugar per cup than Oreos!

“Wheat” or “Multigrain” - A mainstay in the bread isle these terms are, also, essentially meaningless. Unless the product says one hundred percent whole grain, chances are good that, they are made up of heavily processed and refined ingredients. “Wheat” only means that the product was made from wheat flour and many of these products are heavily refined and colored to appear darker. "Multigrain” simply means that there is more than one type of grain in the product, but if the product is made of barley, rye and rice you might as well head straight for the Wonder bread.

The Unforgivable
“Trans Fat-Free” - Ok, so some of these products really are trans fat free, but the daily suggested value of saturated fat is only two grams and in order for a product to be labeled trans fat free it has to have less than .49% trans fat. That means, if you eat four products with .49% trans fat, you could be at your daily allotment without even knowing it. Worse yet, many products marketed as trans fat free contain partially hydrogenated oils. Partially hydrogenated oils are used as a cheap butter substitute. The downside? They contain high level of TRANS FAT! Look at the ingredients, if you see partially hydrogenated oils move on.

National Organic Program. "Organic Production and Handling Standards." National Organic Program. United States Department of Agriculture, Apr. 2008. Web. 1 Apr. 2010.
"Partially Hydrogenated Oils." TreeLight Systems. Web. 01 Apr. 2010. <>.
Zinczenko, David, and Matt Goulding. Eat This, Not That! 2010: the No-diet Weight Loss Solution. New York, NY: Rodale, 2009. Print.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Nora Hamilton August 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    There is absolutely no scientific evidence that "organic" foods are more nutritious, or better for you, than conventionally grown foods. In fact, organic is a sign of unsanitary. The E coli bacteria thrives in organic growing conditions; in conventional growing, there is no home for E coli. Why? Because your organic products are fertilized with manure. Conventionally grown foods are fed the essential nutrient, nitrogen, but not in the form of manure.

    So eat organic if you prefer, but don't do it because science has established that it's better for you. The risks of conventional foods are totally unproven, totally theoretical. No science backs them up. The real issues are with the E coli bacteria. That is a known and real risk. Plus, you can get more fruits, veggies, and protein for your money if you buy conventionally produced fresh food.

  2. Gravatar
    Howard Wright August 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    It really is gamble both ways because I have read where most vitamins and other items that man produces to duplicate mother nature usually the body is smart enough to know the difference and will mostly reject the artificial additives. I also believe that eating all the hormone and anitibiotic induced proteins probably is not that great either. Unfortunately man likes to think he is smarter than god or for those that don't believe in him mother nature.

    The FDA is supported by the pharmaceutical, food and medical companies and we're talking big money. They are not always looking out for your health as much as profit and the marketing of new items. I will take my chances with the more natural products!

    Look at the out break of salmonella poisoning in eggs from a big farm producer, they no more care about your health than some small producer who chose to do it the organic way. Go by a large producer and all you see is animals penned up getting no execise and being induced to grow as fast as possible.

    The first comment is right in it is your choice just look at all the facts first.

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer August 27, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Nora, you are right that Organic foods are no more nutritious than non-organic. But, I'll take my chances with e-coli (which can be washed away with proper cleaning) than pesticides that leach into the heart of the product. All the washing in the world isn't going to remove the pesticides from within a peach. Thanks for the comments!

  4. Gravatar
    Debra Meszaros October 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Hey guys! Good news. Yes, science has made a determination on the nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods. Problem is there are several reasons why this information is not readily available in mainstream. But if one would like to know here are a few "new" developments: 1). organic farmers are not all using manure, many are changing over to worm castings. 2). The USDA and "science" does analyze nutrient density, it is called "brix". 3). Recent findings through the "brix" measurements, organic food has increased flavor, increased nutrition, increased shelf life, increased pest and disease resistance and more anti-oxidents, See Organic Connections magazine Sept-Oct 2010 issue for more.
    Most importantly, going Organic usually means there are no GMO's in your food. Do you know how genetically modified foods are created? By using various viruses, E. Coli is one utilized (there are good and bad E. Coli), to merge the genetics and properties they wish to add/improve to that food. Want some fish genes along with that tomato you're eating? Buy non-organic.

  5. Gravatar
    Atli Magnusson December 06, 2010 at 1:38 am

    How about Organic Beef/meat, basically natural beef produced without added hormones, pesticides, or other chemicals.
    Some of the beef in USA is full of hormones, the guys grow Tits from eating too much of it and it's really easy to gain weight. (McDonalds)

    I try to eat Organic or as Natural as possible.
    One article you should read on here is the Caveman Diet.

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