Q: I am on a cholesterol-lowering diet and am constantly frustrated by the labeling information on many foods. It does not distinguish between the types of fat used in different products. Describing the kind of fat by means of a long list with "and/or" provides little guidance for anyone trying to cut down on saturated fat. What should I do?
A: That problem has always plagued fat-conscious consumers. The current labeling regulation obviously was designed to allow maximum flexibility to manufacturers in their choice of fat. It does make it harder for those of us on the other side of the fence to pick and choose among products.
In a few cases, the particular qualities of a fat are essential to the nature of a finished product, and in those cases the specific name is given. In other products, manufacturers usually choose to remain vague.
Consumers have several options. One is to avoid buying foods where the type of fat is unclear. If it is a food you really want to use, call or write the manufacturer. You might also ask whether and how often the type of fat is likely to change.
In some cases, the amount of fat in question may be too small to affect your selection. You can gauge that by checking the nutrition label. One note of caution: Serving size is determined by the manufacturer, and may be quite different from the amount you typically consume. In that instance, the type of fat becomes important.
Q: I recently bought a loaf of bread whose ingredients included wheat berries and sprouted wheat. Exactly what are these wheat products? And how does unbolted cornmeal differ from regular cornmeal?
A: Although they sound exotic, wheat berries are simply a fancy term for describing whole-wheat kernels. And sprouted wheat is nothing more than just these same kernels sprouted as you would any other type of seed. If you are interested in growing your own, directions appear in some vegetarian cookbooks. (One good choice: "Laurel's Kitchen" by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey, out in a new edition by Tenspeed Press, about $15.) The crop takes only a few days to grow and can be eaten raw or used in cooking.
"Bolting" is nothing more than a sifting process used to separate coarse particles of hull and some of the germ from the endosperm, which is the major portion of the corn kernel. Unbolted cornmeal, as the name suggests, has not been put through this process, making it akin to whole wheat. It is simply the corn kernel, dried and ground. By the way, the whole grain contains more fat than cornmeal that has had the germ removed, and thus it is more vulnerable to rancidity. It should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a reasonable time.
Q: Lately I have been cooking Chinese food more and more often. As I recall, you once published figures on the sodium of various Chinese seasonings. Could you please reprint the information now that I need it?
A: Your dish is our command. As a basis of comparison, it is helpful to keep in mind that a teaspoon of salt contains 2,100 milligrams (mg.) of sodium. In analyses of Chinese condiments published a few years ago, several seasonings, including sweet-bean sauce, hoisin sauce, satay sauce, fermented bean cake, fermented black bean and dried shrimp all contained less than 200 milligrams -- or less than 1/10th the sodium in a teaspoon of salt. Brown bean sauce contained 425 mg. of sodium per teaspoon.
For other common seasonings, there was a great deal of variation among brands. In the absence of labeling information, perhaps your taste buds will aid in trying to make the lowest sodium choices.
For example, oyster sauce ranged from a low of 215 mg. per teaspoon in one brand to as high as 330 mg. in another. Among three light soy sauces tested, values ranged anywhere from 320 to 445 mg. per teaspoon. Among the dark sauces, five brands ran the gamut from 310 to as much as 495 mg. per teaspoon.