Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Omega 3 Buyer Beware - Don’t be fooled by processed omega 3 products

For the past couple of years, many processed foods have been boasting the label *trans fat free*, as consumers became more aware of the health concerns of ingesting trans fats. The interesting thing is that almost all of these products still contain trans fats, although it must be less than .2 grams per serving to be labeled as trans fat free. (still not good enough, in my books)

In recent months, however, labeling is changing from *trans fat free* to *with omega 3*. This change is in response to media reports on the health benefits of omega 3 fats (which are true).

Sounds like processed food manufacturers are finally taking health to heart, right?

WRONG

Never, ever believe labeling on the front of a package – If a manufacturer can get you to buy something with omega 3, they no longer need to try to persuade you with a trans fat free statement, and therefore many don’t worry about making it trans fat free!

So you purchase some cookies which are enriched with omega 3’s, thinking you are eating healthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I checked a package of omega 3 enriched cookies the other day, and the third ingredient was modified palm oil (yup, trans fats). Whole flax seed, and flax seed oil were the ninth and tenth ingredients – almost last!

There are three major problems with this:
1. There are more trans fats then omega 3’s, so it kind of defeats the purpose (ingredients are always listed in order of amount included – the more of an ingredient in something, the sooner it is listed.

2. Flax seeds really need to be ground for us to digest, otherwise they just go right through us, so there is no point spending the extra buck for the fancy omega 3 products if they contain whole flax seeds.

3. Ground flax seeds and flax oil go rancid quickly, and spoil if heated at high heat. If you bake it into something, you could create free radicals, which are very harmful to your health. Now your healthy food isn’t so healthy after all.

We are blessed to have nutrition labels on our food in Canada, and we need to read them. I am not saying that all food labeled with omega 3’s are bad, but many are, and you need to be a savvy shopper! The bottom line is you should question anything that is processed, regardless of the whole grain, fat free healthy label you see on the packaging.

Here are a few tips for healthy shopping:

* Anything with trans fats in it should be considered junk food and off limits, even if it appears to be healthy, or is boasting to be filled with omega 3’s. Trans fats go by the terms modified, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or vegetable shortening.

* Keep your purchases of processed foods to a minimum (this means anything in a box or package). Make your own cookies, granola bars and muffins, so that you know what is going into them.

* If you do buy pre-made, processed food, please read labels and check for sugar, salt, fillers, MSG, hydrogenated fats, and preservatives. The more you realize how much junk is in your food, the more you will begin to appreciate a good old apple!

* Remember that nothing beats whole foods. If you are looking to up your omega 3 intake, eat some fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or anchovies. Grind up some fresh flax seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle them on your salad, cereal or yogurt. Always try to eat the food itself containing the nutrient you are looking for, rather than a supplement or expensive product that has it listed in the last three ingredients.

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