Posted: Aug 15, 2013 7:00 AM
 
Feeling overwhelmed in the grocery aisles these days? Claims that a certain food is heart healthy or low carb may sound good — but what do they really mean? We cut through the labels and find out the real story.

We all try to do our best to read nutrition facts and watch what we eat. But what does some of this lingo mean, anyway? What if your food labels aren't really giving you the whole story? We took a look at a few of the common labels for foods, to figure out what they really mean.

Believe it — or not

Those nutrition facts panels that you find on everything from soup to cereal are tightly regulated, but the health claims that are splashed across the front of the box don't fall under those same rules. According to Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, before a company can claim that their product either prevents disease or makes a body part stronger, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that there is a scientific consensus supporting their claims.

The trick is that claims that a food product either supports or maintains a bodily function are not as closely monitored. It's all in the wording, and marketers are savvy when it comes to skirting the laws. A food with the phrase "may help reduce the risk of heart disease" on the front of the package would require scientific backing and FDA approval, while "helps maintain a healthy heart" would not.

Heart-healthy

The label heart-healthy is only allowed on FDA-approved foods that have backed their claims with scientific evidence.

According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million adults in the U.S. have at least one form of heart disease. If you have a family history of coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems or other heart-related issues, you may be able to reduce your personal risk of having these problems by making just a few simple changes and eating a healthier diet.

So what does it mean when a food is labeled as heart-healthy? The label heart-healthy is only allowed on FDA-approved foods — such as brown rice or canola oil — that have backed their claims with scientific evidence. Educate yourself on what to look for on the nutrition facts labels as well, to help you make better choices.

Low carb

Too many carbs can cause your blood sugar levels to rise, making your pancreas work harder to produce insulin.

This is one term you see popping up on everything these days. Carbs (carbohydrates) are found in many different foods and are not all bad. There are carbs in breads, pasta, beans, milk, potatoes, cookies and corn, just to name a few. They also come in a variety of forms, most commonly sugars, starches and fibers. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables all contain carbs and are part of a healthy diet. Too many carbs can cause your blood sugar levels to rise, making your pancreas work harder to produce insulin. Low-carb diets — such as South Beach or Atkins — have been popular in the past, but have mixed reviews from the medical community.

How do you know how many carbs you are consuming? The amount of carbohydrates per serving is listed on the nutrition facts label and is broken down between sugars and dietary fiber. The percentage shown in the far right-hand column is the percentage of your daily recommended intake — but remember it is per serving. A percentage lower than 5 percent may be considered low carb.

Bottom Line^ The healthiest way to eat is to vary your diet to include a balance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. By reading labels and knowing what you're eating, you are taking the right steps to a healthier body.

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