(Real) nutrition facts

nutritionLAWRENCE, Kan. - It's hard to tell what's actually healthy for you to eat these days. As soon as there is evidence of something having health benefits, the media grabs hold of it and spins it out of control.

After researchers found that diets rich in whole grains reduced incidence of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer, every food company came out with "whole grain" foods. There are now whole grain cookies, Goldfish, chips, cereals and more.

This all sounds great, but how healthy can they be?

If you take a closer look, the fine print often says, "made with whole grain," or "contains whole grain," instead of being a 100 percent whole-grain product. Some food manufacturers even color their food to make it look whole grain when it's not. Unless whole grain is the first ingredient (whole wheat or rolled oats), the product is not whole grain, and you aren't going to benefit.

Another confusing topic is fat.

Unsaturated fats are the good fats; these include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which can be found in nuts, olive oil, avocados and fish. Saturated and trans fats are the enemy. While unsaturated fats provide health benefits when eaten in moderation (key word: moderation) and raise HDL (good cholesterol), saturated and trans fats raise cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease in some cases.

Recently, there has been a trans fat hype, and almost every type of food containing fat now advertises "trans-fat free" or "no trans fat." Why the sudden change? On Jan. 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration required the listing of all trans fat on nutrition labels.

Trans fats can be found when food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation, to increase a product's shelf life.

But when people see a food item without fat, they think they can eat a whole box of that product. This doesn't mean it is calorie free. Removing trans fats from your diet can make you forget that foods have calories, and when it comes to obesity, the amount you eat is more important than what you eat. It's better to eat one brownie than a box of trans-fat-free cookies because one brownie contains fewer calories than an entire box of trans-fat-free or fat-free cookies.

There are no quick fixes, miracle pills or diet secrets. When it comes down to it, it's all common sense. Eat sensibly and in moderation. If you don't deprive yourself, you'll be less likely to overindulge.