When you want something, you want it. An apple is not going to squelch the need for warm, crumbly baked goods, ever. Only a cookie will do that and a big one at that. You’re well aware of this, so when you get to the store, you don’t kid yourself with produce; you head straight for the snack aisle. But once there, your diet-conscience starts to override your longing. Oh, you’re still going to give in to temptation, but you are going to pick the healthier option. The only problem is which is it? Chips Ahoy or Oreo? The first has more fat, the second more sugars and carbs. Which evil are you trying to avoid today? You haven’t a clue, so you grab the first one your hand touches.
It’s a common dilemma found in every aisle of the grocery store, including the health-food section. The nutrition labels regularly offer nothing more than confusion. As soon as you find an item with minimal fat, you realize that it has enough calories to fill two meals, but the low-cal option has more sodium than a salt lick. And the labels that have been so helpfully supplied by manufacturers are so . . . unhelpful. Yes, it’s wonderful to know that this cereal is full of whole grains. However, so is the one next to it and the one next to that. How are you supposed to differentiate between good, better and best, or bad, worse and heart-stopping? There’s no logical system . . . yet.
In 2008, select grocery stores and manufacturers will begin employing the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI). Created by health experts, the index rates items based on the good (fiber, nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids and protein) and the bad (saturated fat, sugar and cholesterol). When you walk down an aisle, you’ll see a number, either on the box or on the shelf, which will tell you how well a particular item ranks in comparison to like products. You’ll have an easy, quick method of discerning health. But what should you do until then?
Cope with the confusion. Have enough knowledge to know that calories are what add pounds. Saturated fats and trans fats are the kinds you want to avoid, and sodium is never something you want in mass quantities. And if it’s really coming down to Chips Ahoy or Oreo, ask yourself which is more important: chunks of chocolate or creamy filling?