Practically everyone these days is watching what they eat. Are you one of them? If you are, you probably try to make informed decisions about your food. Do you find it’s sometimes hard to know what a good choice is and what’s not?

It’s easy to be confused. Look at all the ads on TV. Every product wants you to think it’s a good choice. Or that you’re a good mom for you feed your kids their products. It’s important to keep in mind that these are paid advisements. Their motivation is to sell products.

Let’s take a closer look at three different scenarios – three different ways we think we’re making healthy choices. See how healthy your decisions have been.

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Have you seen the television ads that recently started running about high fructose corn syrup? One point the ads make is that HFCS comes from corn. This is true, but it has nowhere near the nutritional makings of an ear of corn. In fact, HFCS is a food additive and preservative made from genetically modified corn. The chemical change the corn is put through results in a product that prolongs shelf life, maintains moisture, and is cheaper than sugar.

Is there a downside to HFCS? First, as with any sugar, it is an "empty calorie", meaning there are no vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or nutritional value of any kind.

But, there is more cause for concern. HFCS, because of being chemically modified, is metabolized differently. It gets absorbed more quickly than regular sugars, and, unlike glucose, enters the cells without the help of insulin. What does this mean? Dr. Mark Hyman explains in his book Ultra-Metoblism, "Basically, that means that eating HFCS makes your cholesterol level shoot straight up and causes problems with your liver that slows down your metabolism."

Cholesterol levels are not the only body function negatively affected by HFCS, your liver is affected, too. Fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease in America, affecting 20% of the population, the main cause being sugar consumption. The most common form of sugar is HFCS, which has been called a "supersugar". The consumption of all these sweeteners raises insulin levels, which contributes to the accumulation of fat in the liver cells. This can lead to insulin resistance.

HFCS has also been blamed for obesity. Dr. George Bray, principal investigator of the Diabetes Prevention Program at Louisiana State University Medical Center told the International Congress on Obesity that in 1980 the relatively stable obesity rates began to climb. This was just after HFCS started being used in mass quantities. By the year 2000, obesity rates doubled.

In 2004, researchers from the University of North Carolina and Louisiana State University published a paper about the role beverages with HFCS might play in the obesity epidemic. Between 1970 and 1990, there was a 1,000% increase in the consumption of HFCS beverages and a correlating rise in obesity. Researchers theorize that fructose may play a role in the obesity epidemic because of the way it is metabolized.

Make a habit of reading labels. Anything that has been processed stands a good chance of containing HFCS. Switch to organic products, which are less likely to use HFCS in salad dressings, ketchups, etc. Start making the shift to whole, natural foods. Whether or not you choose to consume products containing HFCS, base your decision on your own research, not on what some television ad wants you to believe.

Low-fat/fat-free foods: It was back in the 1990's that the food industry started creating reduced-fat and fat-free variations of their products. Today, more than 90% of American adults are consuming these new variations, including milk, cheese, salad dressings, potato chips, mayonnaise, margarine, ice cream, and frozen desserts. There is no question these products are popular, but do they make a difference for someone who is trying to lose weight, someone like you?

First thing that needs to be said is these products are fat-free, not calorie free. If you are consuming more calories than you are burning, you will gain weight, even if you are eating fat-free products. Fat-free and low-fat products aren't necessarily lower in calories. Take a look at these examples:

Peanut Butter - serving 2 tablespoons
Regular: 190 calories, 16 grams of fat
Reduced Fat: 180 calories, 12 grams of fat

Fig Newtons - serving 2 cookies
Regular: 110 calories, 2 grams of fat
Fat Free: 100 calories, 0 grams of fat

Yogurt - serving 6 ounces
Regular: 165 calories, 6 grams of fat
Low Fat: 175 calories, 2 grams of fat

Notice the difference in the yogurt. How can the low-fat variety have more calories than the regular variety? In order for low-fat and fat-free products to still taste good, many times they will contain more sugar than the regular variety. More sugar, more calories.

This is disturbing when you consider that in the last 20 years, we have increased sugar consumption in the U.S. by 26 pounds, to 135 lbs. of sugar per person per year! That means the average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week.

We all know sugar is not good for us but take a look at some of the health risks that can come from consuming sugar:

• can suppress your immune system and impair your defenses against infectious disease
• can produce a significant rise in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol
• contributes to obesity
• can cause gallstones
• can contribute to osteoporosis
• can increase your systolic blood pressure

These are just some of the health risks I found when I searched the internet. Not to mention the rise in diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

The irony is that today, Americans are eating less fat than they used to but obesity is widespread. Cutting out fat intake means nothing when one eats ten fat-free cookies at a time. The fat-free trend is having no impact on health or waistlines. Start reading the packages of your reduced-fat and fat-free products. Make informed decisions. And, remember, calories are calories even if they're fat-free ones.

Whole Grains: This has become a popular phrase on food labels. Cereal boxes tell you their cereal is made with whole grains. This can be very confusing. In the manufacturing process, whole-grain wheat is stripped of its 11 vitamins and minerals, then synthetic chemicals are added that give it four vitamins and minerals. It can now be called “Enriched”. Companies can also label their products as “made with whole grains” even when the whole-grain ingredient may only represent 5% of the total finished product. They blend whole grains with refined grains to make the product cheaper. Labels of “enriched wheat flour”, “wheat flour”, “white flour” and “all-purpose flour” are not whole grains. Foods labeled “whole-grain wheat” are.

Maneuvering grocery store aisles can be a daunting challenge. Educate yourself on reading labels and you can be confident of making healthy choices.

Author's Bio: 

Lynn Smith is a health and weight loss coach and co-founder of Health Coach Team. Health Coach Team offers individual and group coaching on health and weight loss, teleseminars, articles and resources to support women in losing weight and gaining health and energy. Lynn has co-authored "The YES Diet: A New System for Permanent Weight Loss," a no-hype approach to permanently reaching your weight-loss goals.

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