Column: Food choices: this or that?

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Commentary by Debra Balos, DO, IU Health Physicians Family Medicine – Zionsville

We make food choices every day based on a variety of factors such as taste, calorie count, nutritional value and preference. Sometimes we think we’re making the healthier decision, when in fact we aren’t considering the whole picture. Here are a few examples:

Fat free or regular – Some fat-free foods are also taste free. To compensate, food manufacturers often add other ingredients like sugar, flour, thickeners and salt to boost the flavor or enhance texture. So while we’re eliminating fat, we may be adding calories or eating ingredients with little nutritional value. Also, because fat-free and reduced-fat foods often lack taste, we may tend to eat more of them to feel satisfied. In this case, it may be better to eat a small serving of a more satisfying whole-fat food to avoid overeating. When choosing “good” fats, look for monounsaturated fats (examples: canola and olive oils) and polyunsaturated fats (examples: tuna and salmon), which both lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Butter or margarine – Margarines earned a bad reputation years ago when the trans fat the spreads contained was shown to clog arteries. Today, many margarines are free of trans fat. You can tell by the consistency with softer being better. Butter, on the other hand, is high in saturated fatty acids, which can increase LDL cholesterol. The healthier option is a soft margarine, but be sure to check the sum total of saturated and trans fats on food labels to confirm your decision.

Light salad dressings – Again, sugar and salt are often added to light salad dressings. Make the wiser choice by mixing your own dressing with vinegar and olive oil. Balsamic and sherry vinegars are mild, flavorful options.

Artificial sweeteners or real sugar – Compared to real sugar, sugar substitutes have very few calories. They are also considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Sugar-free foods can still contain carbohydrates, fat and calories, which can impact weight management.

Bottom line? Make it a habit to read nutrition labels. It’s the best way to know what foods contain so you can make the best choices.

Debra Balos, DO, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine – Zionsville, 55 Brendon Way, Ste. 800, in Zionsville.  She can be reached by calling the office at 317.777.6400.


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