Learning how to read food labels is the first step toward healthier eating HOWARD COUNTY HEALTH

April 27, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Carol Goslen stood in the meat section of the Giant food store and compared the labels of two brands of sausage: Mr. Turkey, containing 75 percent less fat than pork sausage; and Healthy Choice, which was 97 percent fat free. Which was healthier?

Ms. Goslen found out last week during a tour of the Dorsey's Search store, part of a nutrition class sponsored by the Columbia Medical Plan. The course is open to members and nonmembers for a small fee.

Led by Mary Ann Buchmeier, a dietitian for the health maintenance organization, Ms. Goslen and two other county residents learned how to read food labels in order to select meats, dairy products, desserts and snacks that are lowest in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and highest in fiber.

"People find [the class] very helpful," said Ms. Buchmeier. Many want to improve their diets but don't know how to do it or how to read food labels, she said.

Before she took the one-hour class, Ms. Goslen said she was confused by food labels and the vast array of so-called light, low-calorie, and dietetic foods.

"I read these labels and I have no clue as to what I'm doing," said Ms. Goslen, who wants to reduce the fat in her family's diet.

"It's a really confusing thing to be healthy," she said.

Now, the mother of two knows the difference between light and non-fat cheeses.

"I'm going to start getting the lower fat cheeses," said Ms. Goslen.

Ms. Buchmeier said most labels are designed to entice consumers to buy products rather than provide nutritional information.

"They're not out here to educate you," Ms. Buchmeier said. "They're out here to get you to buy."

The dietitian distributed brochures on food labeling terminology, reducing sodium in your diet, and label reading information.

There is no legal definition for terms such as "light" or "lite," which can mean anything from a lighter color or texture, to reduced fat, sodium or calories, Ms. Buchmeier said.

The terms "organic" and "natural" also are used without any guidelines. But if meat or poultry is termed natural, it means that a minimum of processing was used and that it contains no artificial colors or flavors.

Ms. Buchmeier advised her students to buy only 100 percent fruit juice and avoid buying beverages labeled "-ade," "punch," "drink," and "cocktail" because they contain mostly sugar and water.

She also dispelled common food myths.

"Yogurt has a reputation of being a diet food," said Ms. Buchmeier, explaining that an eight-ounce container of yogurt with fruit contains about 250 to 260 calories, including 11 teaspoons of sugar.

"It's like having a coke with milk with a little bit of fruit on the bottom. Why not just have the glass of milk?"

Joe Adams of Columbia, who described himself as a "pizza and cheese freak," said the tour was worthwhile.

"For me, it's kind of becoming an awareness of what I'm buying," said Mr. Adams, who wants to reduce the amount of cholesterol and fat in his diet.

Students also said the tour would ultimately save them money spent on health care.

"If you spend more buying healthier foods, in the long run, you'll save dollars in the hospital," Mr. Adams said.

Incidentally, the Healthy Choice 97 percent fat-free sausage was the best choice for health-conscious consumers, Ms. Buchmeier said.

The next supermarket tour is scheduled for Saturday, May 15 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. The cost is $5 for members and $10 for nonmembers. For more information, call 740-3303.

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