Carbohydrates, sodium levels in frozen meals, & nut oils’ nutrition

Carbohydrates, sodium levels in frozen meals, & nut oils’ nutrition

Q: What foods contain carbohydrates?
Q: When choosing a frozen meal is there an upper limit on sodium I should watch for?
Q: How do the special nut oils I see in gourmet shops rate nutritionally?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: What foods contain carbohydrates?
A: Carbohydrates include both sugars and starches. Sugars are found in sweeteners like sugar, honey, corn syrup and the products that contain them, such as cookies, candy and soft drinks. Fruits, juices and milk products also contain natural sugars. Starches are found in grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice, and dried beans. Vegetables concentrated in starches include potatoes, corn, peas and winter squash. Most vegetables, however, contain only small amounts of carbohydrates. Nuts and seeds contain modest amounts of carbohydrates. As you can see, foods with carbohydrates range from items that have no real nutritional value (except calories) to plant foods loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Since we need carbohydrates to fuel our bodies, a plant-based diet can build energy levels while improving our health. If you are diabetic, you need to regulate your intake of carbohydrates throughout the day. If you are trying to control your weight, keep in mind that eating more calories than you burn – no matter what the source – can defeat your efforts. You should be particularly careful about eating too many nutrition-poor carbohydrates, like cookies and soft drinks.

Q: When choosing a frozen meal is there an upper limit on sodium I should watch for?

A: If frozen meals don’t say reduced-sodium or healthy, they often contain 700 to 1,800 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Try to stick to meals with 500 mg or less. If you don’t need a tight limit, you might be able to meet recommendations with up to 800 mg in a meal if the rest of your day’s choices are pretty low in sodium. The total recommended daily sodium limit is 2,300 mg for most adults, or 1,500 mg for those who are salt-sensitive (those with high blood pressure, and many African American, middle-aged and older adults). It’s the daily total that counts, so if you eat a lot of high-sodium snack foods, high-sodium processed foods, or restaurant food you need to stick to lower limits than if the frozen meal is your sodium splurge. You also need to consider if the frozen dish is your whole meal or what other foods you will add. Serving fresh vegetables or fruits with the entrée will add very little sodium, but if you plan to add bread or a salad containing regular salad dressing, those foods will add to the meal’s sodium tally, too.

Q: How do the special nut oils I see in gourmet shops rate nutritionally?
A: All oils contain the same 120 calories and 13.6 grams of fat per tablespoon. One of the main differences between oils lies in the types of fat they contain. Cholesterol-raising saturated fat tends to be low (1 or 2 grams per tablespoon) in all the nut oils. Macadamia and sweet almond oils contain mostly monounsaturated fat, generally considered the healthiest type of fat. Sesame seed oil is a mixture of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Polyunsaturated fat is considered relatively healthy as it does not raise blood cholesterol. Pumpkin seed and walnut oils are high in polyunsaturated fat, some of which is omega-3 fat (like that in salmon and fatty fish). Overall, when used in limited amounts to avoid excess calories, all these choices can add interesting flavor to a healthful plant-based diet. Some oils can be used in stir-frying or other cooking, while others are meant to be used only in salad dressings, for dipping or sprinkled on grilled meat or veggies after cooking. Since nut oils are expensive, it’s good that just a little bit is needed for flavor.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org