Features October 2006 Issue

Cracking the Food Label Codes; Go Back to Basics to Avoid Another Bypass Procedure

For the sake of your heart, develop the fine art of reading the fine print.

Cracking the Food Label Codes

You don’t have to read all the small type of a food label to discover some useful messages that can help you take better care of your heart. For starters, before you inhale the snack food with a label like the one at right, zoom in on a few of the words and numbers. Cleveland Clinic nutritionist Andrea Dunn, R.D. is your guide to what’s really inside this packet of crackers.

Serving size.

The first step in reading labels is knowing serving size to avoid a false sense of security. In this case, one serving equals the whole bag. It contains about 20 small crackers totaling a modest 100 calories — a selling point.

The number of crackers constituting a serving size varies in other cracker containers. Check out the number before you’re tempted to eat double or triple servings.

Make it a habit to check out serving size, types and quantities of fat and major ingredients in packaged goods.

Saturated fat.

Aim for no more than 15 grams of saturated fat a day (if you’re on the average American diet of 2,000 calories daily). The cracker pack alone — at .5 grams — doesn’t burden you with a heavy load. But spreads can drive up the total. Smear just four tablespoons of peanut butter on the 20 crackers, for example, and you’ll exceed a third of the recommended daily saturated fat maximum.

Polyunsaturated/monounsaturated fat.

Studies indicate that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart disease. Other research shows that diets high in monounsaturated fats are also linked with lower rates of heart problems. "But the bottom line is you probably want to take in more mono- than polyunsaturated fat," Dunn says. "The reason is that monounsaturated fats, found in olive, canola or peanut oil, help lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol without affecting the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. Some studies of polyunsaturated fats — in cottonseed oil, for example — suggest that they can decrease ‘good’ cholesterol." Note that there is three times the amount of polyunsaturated fat in these crackers compared with monounsaturated fat.

Trans fat.

It’s listed as "0" on the label. But the ingredients list includes these words: "PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL," a signal that there are trans fats in the crackers. A note below the ingredients confirms that the hydrogenated oil "ADDS A TRIVIAL AMOUNT OF TRANS FATS." These fats, often found in baked and fried foods, raise "bad" cholesterol, increasing heart risks. Why the zero? Manufacturers can list "0" provided there is no more than half a gram of trans fats in a product. What’s your move? "Don’t sweat the small stuff," Dunn says, but "trivial" doses can add up. Check your shelves. Dunn did, and was startled. "I found trans fats in a can of 98-percent fat-free cream of celery soup," she says. She won’t buy it again.

Whole grains.

Guidelines for heart health encourage you to eat more whole grains, and the words "ENRICHED FLOUR" on the cracker label might fool you into thinking you’ve got something even better. Not so. To get whole-grain benefits — including higher fiber — look for the words "WHOLE GRAIN" on the label.

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Go Back to Basics to Avoid Another Bypass Procedure

Surgery to create detours around blocked coronary arteries can give you a new lease on life — less pain, longer survival.

Vessels already in place in the chest (internal thoracic arteries) generally last longer as blood-supply lines than vessels transplanted and stitched in place from the legs (saphenous veins), a new study confirms.

But like a lot of leases, it may not run forever, particularly if you don’t do your part to fight the plaque build-up that led to the procedure in the first place.

That’s one message in recently published research led by cardiac surgeon Joseph F. Sabik III, M.D. at Cleveland Clinic (July 4 2006

Circulation).

Researchers tracked 1,000 bypass patients a year from 1971 to 1998, and followed up on them every five years. The rate of "reinterventions" — second procedures — dropped during the first year and a half after bypass.

Then the rate steadily increased, from four percent at five years to 54 percent at 25 years.

Analysis of results suggests sensible steps for bypass patients.

Follow your doctor’s advice on how to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Rein in high triglycerides and seek ways to raise your HDL ("good") cholesterol. Watch your weight, waistline and diet to prevent diabetes. Exercise, daily if possible, following a plan you develop with input from your physician.