For years you’ve seen health claims such as “low fat,” “heart healthy” and “high fiber” on foods. Now there’s a new twist. In addition to advertising nutrients, food labels are touting ingredients that sound as though they’re good for you. But in the case of products containing ancient grains, grass-fed beef and bean chips, are they as healthful as they seem? Consumer Reports’ nutrition experts clear up the confusion.
Ancient grains. The term is used on products made with amaranth, quinoa, spelt and other grains that have been grown and harvested for thousands of years. In their whole form — as a hot cereal or, say, in a pilaf — they’re good sources of protein, fiber and other nutrients. People who consume more whole grains — ancient or not — may have a lower risk of many chronic diseases.
But ancient-grain breads, cereals and other packaged foods may not boost your whole-grain intake all that much. Some have only a sprinkling of those grains. And they may contain more sugar, salt and preservatives than you’ve bargained for.
Take the new Cheerios + Ancient Grains cereal, for instance. It has five grams of sugar per serving. That’s fairly low, but original Cheerios, made from oats, has just one gram of sugar. The original also has six grams more of whole grains than the new product has. So look for foods that have whole grains high on the ingredients list, and don’t worry too much about whether they are ancient or not.
Matcha. This finely powdered green tea made from the whole leaf has more EGCG, an antioxidant that may protect against cancer and heart disease, than other green teas do. It’s also a good source of L-theanine, a compound that may help you feel focused and alert.
But those benefits are likely to diminish when matcha is in snack bars, ice cream and lattes, because those foods probably have less of it than a cup of tea does. And they may have more sugars and fat. For instance, one bonbonlike piece of Mikawaya Matcha Green Tea Mochi Ice Cream (1
Chia seeds. These seeds are thought to make the foods they’re mixed into more filling — and therefore help with weight loss — because of their fiber content (four grams per tablespoon) and their gelatinous texture. But in one study where 76 overweight adults had chia seeds before breakfast and dinner daily for 12 weeks, no one lost weight.
And packaged products may not contain very many of the seeds, anyway. In Kashi Crunchy Granola & Seed Chocolate Chip Chia bars, for instance, chia is fairly low on the ingredients list. And a two-bar serving has 180 calories, nine grams of sugars and three grams of fiber.
Bottom line: If you like the texture, mix chia seeds into salad dressings, smoothies, soup and yogurt. Just don’t depend on it as a weight-loss aid.
Grass-fed beef. Beef raised on grass instead of on grain is lower in calories and cholesterol-raising saturated fats. It also has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a good fat that may have health benefits. But don’t assume that all organic beef is grass-fed, or vice versa. Look for a certified grass-fed claim, such as the American Grassfed Association seal.
And expect to pay twice as much for grass-fed beef. To save money, stick to three to four ounces per serving, and round out your dish with whole grains and vegetables.
For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.