So, you're out grocery shopping for, say, the ingredients to this delicious and heart-healthy pizza. But do you take the time to read the nutrition information on the food labels? Fewer than half of Americans do, according to a recent survey by the American Heart Association. That's a discouraging figure, considering the tremendous effect the food we eat has on our health -- particularly our heart-health.
However, research shows that shoppers who do read food labels cut about twice the amount of fat from their diet as those who don't read labels.
If you're trying to stick to a healthy eating plan, having reliable label-reading skills is obviously important. Yet, in the modern media climate of fad diets and daily "breakthrough" discoveries, choosing healthy food can be more complicated than ever. Just getting through the grocery store can be a challenge, considering all the product "health claims" bombarding consumers.
Take heart. There are simple ways to quickly and reliably find what your body -- specifically your heart -- doesn't need in the food you eat.
First, look for these two red flags: saturated fat and cholesterol. As the nation's foremost authority on heart-health, the American Heart Association states that reducing saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease -- America's No. 1 killer of women and men.
Next, continue reading the food label for information on calories, sodium, added sugars and other ingredients your doctor may advise to watch in your diet.
For even faster healthy food shopping, look for the heart-check mark. The distinctive red heart with a white check mark was developed by the American Heart Association's Food Certification Program to help consumers quickly and reliably identify foods that can be part of a heart-healthy eating plan. Located on the product package, the familiar mark is easy to find and easy to use -- right when and where you're making your food selection.
"The American Heart Association red heart-check mark is a great way to find heart-healthy foods simply and reliably," says Rebecca Mullis, Ph.D., head of the University of Georgia's nutrition department. "Consumers can rest assured that the mark is based on the best science available."
Mullis says it's one tool she recommends to her own patients to help them build a heart-healthy diet. Anyone with a medical condition, she adds, should contact a physician or registered dietitian about special dietary needs.
Smart Shopping Made Simple
With so many food options in the grocery store, it's hard to spot heart-healthy choices quickly. That's why the American Heart Association created the heart-check mark. The distinctive red heart with the white check mark helps consumers easily and reliably identify heart-healthy foods that can be part of a sensible eating plan. Food packages bearing the simple logo have been evaluated to ensure they meet the American Heart Association's criteria for heart-healthy levels of saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy people over age 2.
You have more important things to worry about -- spending hours at the grocery store shopping for heart-healthy foods shouldn't be one of them.
Products that qualify for the American Heart Association's Food Certification Program carry the heart-check mark on the label. It lets consumers know instantly that the food has significant science to back the mark and meet the American Heart Association's nutritional criteria per standard serving:
- Low fat (less than or equal to 3 grams)
- Low saturated fat (less than or equal to 1 gram)
- Low cholesterol (less than or equal to 20 milligrams)
- Moderate in sodium, with less than or equal to 480 milligrams for individual foods
- Nutritious, containing at least 10 percent of the Daily Value of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron or dietary fiber
- Meats must meet USDA standards for "extra lean"
You can find a complete list of the association's certified foods by logging on to heartcheckmark.org. While there, you can use the online "Grocery List Builder" to create, print and take your heart-healthy grocery list to the store. It's an added convenience to help you shop smart -- and fast.
To learn more about reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke through good nutrition, visit the American Heart Association website at americanheart.org or call (800-AHA-USA1 for your free copy of the "Shop Smart with Heart" brochure.
Now, about that heart-health pizza -- Yes, there really is such a thing.
Fresh Tomato Pizza
Serves 4 (2 pieces per serving)
Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes
For best results, use fresh Italian plum tomatoes, which are available all year.
Vegetable oil spray
1, 10-ounce package refrigerated pizza dough
3 or 4 medium Italian plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Spray 12-inch pizza pan with vegetable oil. Press dough evenly into prepared pan. Arrange tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with basil and season with pepper. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or according to package directions. Cut into 8 wedges.
Nutrient analysis per serving: Calories 284, Protein 15 g, Carbohydrates 40 g, Total Fat 7 g (Saturated 3 g, Polyunsaturated 1 g, Monounsaturated 2 g), Cholesterol 16 mg, Sodium 500 mg)
Reprinted with permission from the trade paperback edition of "American Heart Association Quick & Easy Cookbook," Copyright © 1995, 2001 by The American Heart Association. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.
From Family Features Editorial Syndicate