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Published: Tuesday, 6/27/2006

Take time to read labels

When shopping for groceries, too often we go too fast. We race into the store on the way home from work or between school and soccer practice.

I know I m guilty of this. And I m beginning to think many of us miss the fine print on package labels because we shop too fast.

Last week, I took a quick (naturally) trip to a local supermarket and read the fine print on food labels the panel on the back or side of a package that contains product-specific information about serving size, calories, and nutrients. Percent Daily Value (% DV) is based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

What prompted this was the comment cookbook author Steven Raichlen made recently about ham being 20 percent injected with water and other juices. His statement was not far off.

In the fresh meat case, I found packages of chicken leg quarters enhanced up to 9 percent with chicken broth; chicken thighs with up to 12 percent chicken broth; pork tenderloin enhanced with a solution of up to 12 percent water, salt, and sodium phosphates; tequila lime turkey tenderloins had up to 30 percent of a flavoring solution; and teriyaki pork tenderloin with 20 percent flavoring solution and teriyaki seasoning.

The end result: We buy a package of meat thinking we have four servings and when the extra fluid makes it cook down, there is less on the plate.

Then I turned to sodium (current guideline is maximum of 2,300 mg per day) and salt on labels and I found barbecued seasoned ribs had 930 mg sodium or 39 percent DV; canned pasta sauce had 510 mg sodium or 21 percent DV and canned soups like Campbell s Soup At Hand (Tomato) had 940 mg sodium or 39 percent DV (regular tomato had 710 mg and Campbell s Healthy Request had 450 mg). Ramen noodles had 790 mg sodium or 33 percent DV.

For people who have high blood pressure, they may be sodium sensitive, says Karen Bakies of the Dairy Council Mid-East. When you look at something that is 10 percent, it s a moderate source of sodium; if it s 20 percent, it s a high source of sodium. A moderate sodium intake for most people is recommended. We are probably seeing people eating two or three times that amount.

You also have to look at the portion size. I was surprised to find that frozen mozzarella sticks were surprisingly low if you eat one: 280 mg sodium or 12 percent DV (no sauce). So if you were limiting sodium, you would want to limit it to one stick.

There s a range of sodium in some items. Sliced ham for sandwiches ranged from 370 mg to 530 mg to 770 mg per slice (fat-free).

Tyson s line of 100 percent Natural Chicken with no added hormones or steroids still had up to 12 percent natural chicken broth.

I found freshly butchered spare ribs (a store manager s special) with no extra water, seasoning, or sodium flavorings, definitely a good buy that week. Other packaged meats and poultry had no extra broth or seasoning. But the key is reading the label.

Two weeks ago the American Medical Association report found that modern food processing and preparation practices raised sodium levels in diets around the world. Until food manufacturers are able to retool products to reduce the sodium like they have done for trans fats, the consumer needs to read labels to select products with less sodium. You can also cook some terrific meals from scratch in a short time.

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