Many Canadians are keen on free-from foods, but don’t always know which to choose or how they differ. Here are some of the most common questions asked about free-from food in grocery stores, and answers from those who often field them: dietitians
Q: Should I avoid soy in products?
“Soy is so pervasive in products, whether it’s soy lecithin, soy protein isolate or soybean oil. Whole, organic, fermented soy, in the form of tempeh or miso, can be incredibly healthful. But the other ingredients are problematic–they’re processed, and it gets to be too much. I would look for a salad dressing, for example, that is soy free and made with a better oil choice, such as olive oil. But it doesn’t mean you need to avoid soy altogether in its whole, fermented form.”
— Nicole Fetterly, nutrition operations manager, Choices Markets, Vancouver
Q: If a product is gluten free, is it also wheat free? And is it healthier because it’s gluten free?
“If a product is gluten free, then it is also wheat free. However, if a product is wheat free, it’s not necessarily gluten free. Gluten is a protein found in several grains, wheat being the most common in our diets, but gluten’s also in barley, triticale, kamut and rye. Just because a product is gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Many gluten-free products are high in sugar and are calorie dense. For those who have celiac disease, a completely gluten- free diet is necessary and lifesaving. For those who are looking to lose weight, a gluten-free diet full of packaged and processed foods may actually have the reverse effect.”
— Diana Chard, wellbeing counsellor, Sobeys Atlantic, Dartmouth, N.S.
Q: If I want a GMO-free product, can I look on the label to see if it contains any GMOs?
“At this point, GMOs do not need to be labelled. It’s safe to assume that most multi-ingredient products in the grocery store will contain GMOs. To avoid GMOs, look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal or a certified-organic seal.”
— Desiree Nielsen, nutrition consultant, Vancouver
Q: How much fat or trans fat can be in a product that is labelled
“If a label makes a claim like ‘fat free,’ ‘zero fat’ or ‘no fat,’ it must contain less than 0.5 grams per serving or reference amount. The amount of trans fat has to be listed if a serving or reference amount contains 0.2 grams or more. But depending on how much food a person consumes that contains any trans fat, they could easily consume more than the two grams per day that is recommended. Look deeper on the label for keywords that indicate trans fat. If you see ‘vegetable oil shortening,’ ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening’ and they appear in the top four on the ingredient list, then the food may contain a significant amount of trans fat.”
— Tova Dancevic, nutrition consultant, Fort Nelson, B.C.
Q: Should I buy sugar-free yogurt or fat-free yogurt?
Choosing a no-fat yogurt can be a healthy choice. However, fat helps us stay full and keeps us satiated. And when fat is taken out of a product, it is usually replaced with sugar to make it taste good. Sweetened and flavoured yogurts can contain two to three teaspoons of added sugar per 100-gram serving. Try a lower-fat–1% or 2% milk fat–plain yogurt and add your own sweetness with canned fruit, a little dollop of jam or honey. Or mix a plain low- fat yogurt with a sweetened/flavoured low-fat yogurt to cut down on the sugar and keep you feeling satisfied.”
— Megan Wallace, nutrition and lifestyle consultant, Edmonton
Q: Does vegan mean the product is dairy or egg free?
“Sometimes people ask for something that’s egg or dairy free, and I’ll show them some vegan prod- ucts. As any product that is vegan can’t contain any animal-based ingredi- ents, anything that’s vegan would necessarily be meat, dairy, egg and sea- food free.”
— Diana Chard
Q: Is sugar free the same as unsweetened?
“Often, sugar-free food is still sweetened with artificial sweeteners. For truly unsweetened food, look for the label ‘unsweetened’ and scan the ingredients panel for sweeteners such as aspartame, honey, and any word ending in ‘-ose.'”
– Desiree Nielsen