Test Your Food IQ

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Q: Are seven-grain and multigrain breads better for you than 100 percent whole wheat?

A: Not necessarily. Sure, multigrain breads such as wheat, oat, barley, or seven-, 12- or 15-grain sound nutritionally impressive, but take a closer look at the food label. Most multigrain breads contain enriched wheat flour along with other grain flours — basically a mixture of whole wheat and enriched flour with caramel coloring. This means they offer less fiber and lower amounts of other key nutrients, such as zinc and vitamin E. Plus, 100 percent whole grains have been associated with other health benefits, such as promoting weight loss (feeling full longer) and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

Bread labeled “100 percent whole-grain” is made with flour that contains the entire grain kernel — meaning it has the bran, the germ and endosperm — making it higher in fiber. (White bread only has the endosperm.) So, even if the package is labeled “wheat” bread, you aren’t necessarily getting 100 percent whole grains. Look at the first ingredient on the Nutrition Facts panel. If it isn’t some sort of 100 percent whole grain, you are being shortchanged.

Q: Are brown eggs better than white eggs?

A: This one used to get me — I was surprised to learn that the shell color has nothing to do with nutritional content. The only thing that determines egg color is the type of chicken it came from.

Q: If the ingredient list says hydrogenated soybean or partially hydrogenated soybean oil — is it good for you?

A: Unfortunately, just because the label has the word “soybean” doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. If it has the word “hydrogenated,” it has trans fats — meaning the manufacturer has blasted corn, soybean or other vegetable oils with hydrogen, which helps to keep them stable, makes them more solid, and lengthens their shelf life. This process turns good fats (unsaturated) into the unhealthiest fat — trans fat. Check the ingredient label of all processed food for the word “hydrogenated,” and avoid those foods when you can.

The good news is that if you see the words “non-hydrogenated” or “liquid soybean oil,” it means the product contains no trans fat.

Q: Is butter better than margarine?

A: Even though margarine is often made with heart-healthy oil (e.g. canola), it fell out of favor for a while because it contained unhealthy partially hydrogenated oil. Plus, margarine has about the same amount of calories (about 100 calories per tablespoon) as butter. But now, especially since butter is loaded with unhealthy saturated fat, margarine has made a huge comeback because many manufacturers have eliminated trans fat from their products. Stick margarine still has trans fat, but the other types, including many tubs and sprays, have managed to do without. Check the label for saturated fat content and “trans fat free” claims.

Q: Which is healthier — white or dark meat chicken?

A: White meat chicken is lower in fat than dark meat. Skinless white meat is the leanest choice for poultry, followed by skinless dark meat and white meat with skin.

Here are a few tips for making your chicken healthier:

  • Remove the skin, either before or after cooking, to reduce the fat content by almost half. Leaving the skin on during cooking will keep the meat juicier. But keep in mind if you remove the skin after cooking, the fat that was under the skin will have melted, and some of it will have been absorbed into the meat — which is also why it is juicier.
  • Trim all excess fat from the chicken before cooking.
  • Rather than using fat such as butter and oil to enhance the chicken’s flavor, try other flavoring ingredients such as flavored vinegars, wines, herbs, spices or citrus fruit.
  • Cook chicken without added fats by baking, roasting, broiling, grilling or poaching it. Stir-fry in olive or canola oil, or better yet, use a fat-free nonstick cooking spray.
    • Chicken breast, skinless (3 oz): 140 calories, 3g fat, 26g protein
    • Chicken breast, with skin (3 oz): 167 calories, 7g fat, 25g protein
    • Chicken drumstick, skinless (3 oz): 146 calories, 5g fat, 24g protein
    • Chicken drumstick, with skin (3 oz): 184 calories, 9.5g fat, 23g protein

Q: Is honey better than brown sugar, and is brown sugar better than white?

A: There is really no nutritional advantage to using honey or brown sugar over other sweeteners. Ounce for ounce, the nutrient content of honey is similar to that of white sugar, raw sugar and brown sugar. Although some less-refined, more “natural” sugars may contain minerals, you would need to eat unreasonable amounts for them to make any meaningful contribution to your diet.

Q: Which one has the most fiber — steak, skinless chicken breast, chicken breast with skin, or eggs?

A: That’s a trick question, because animal products contain practically no fiber. Only plant-based foods have fiber. Basically, the term fiber refers to carbohydrates that cannot be digested. Fiber is present in all plants, including fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.

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