Lunch is one my top three favourite meals of the day and like all meals, I take it very seriously. So when I was asked by Juliette Stein over at Huffington Post to help readers made better decision when it comes to wraps, I was only too happy to help. Find the article reproduced below, and here.
Wraps are one of the easiest and quickest meals you can make. All you need is some supermarket wraps, your favourite fillings and delicious condiments (looking at you, hummus).
But not all supermarket wraps are created equal. In fact, there are some really not-so-great ones on the shelves.
Which supermarket wraps are the best (and worst)? And what should we be looking for when shopping for wraps?
“Wraps provide some variety to lunches and meals if you get sick of sandwiches day in and out. They can be eaten as a simple wrap, burritos, pizza base, soft tacos quesadillas or even tortilla cups if you want to step up your game,” Sanchia Parker, accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist, told The Huffington Post Australia.
“They are readily available, budget-friendly and the fact they can be frozen without the quality of the wrap being affected is also a bonus.”
Nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin is also a fan of supermarket wraps, but said it’s crucial to pick the best ones.
“The right wrap with a nutritious filling can be a healthy meal option. It’s about being educated on what makes a wrap healthy and choosing the best wrap to suit your needs,” Bingley-Pullin said.
While wraps are a popular and convenient choice for homemade lunches and can be a lighter alternative to bread, many contain artificial colours and preservatives.
“Like most products that come in a packet, though, wraps are often a heavily processed food, often more so than bread, containing preservatives, sodium, sugars and additives to retain freshness,” nutritionist Pip Reed told HuffPost Australia.
Here’s what to look for (and avoid) when shopping for wraps.
According to Parker, fibre is the key when shopping for wraps.
“Fibre is beneficial for digestive, heart and immune health. It is found in whole grain cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables,” Parker said.
“When choosing a product with the fibre content listed, the Baker IDI recommended looking for eight grams per 100 grams, while the Eat for Health website by the NHMRC recommends anything over three grams per serve. Note that the serve sizes will change between brands. ”
Parker also urges people to be mindful of the salt content in wraps and tortillas.
“Bread products can contain more salt than you might expect. A diet high in sodium has been linked to high blood pressure, so choosing lower salt options can prevent this happening,” Parker said.
“Anything less than 120mg per 100 grams is considered a low sodium option. Ideally try and avoid anything that has more than 600mg per 100 grams — this a lot of salt.
“While it may be laborious to check the label of many products, remember once you have found one or two products that fit within these guidelines you know for each subsequent visit exactly what to get.”
How can we find healthy supermarket wraps?
On the nutrition label, look for:
- 6g or more fibre per 100g
- 4g or less saturated fat per 100g
- 1g or less trans fat per 100g
- 300mg or less salt per 100g
- 20-30g carbohydrates per wrap
- First two ingredients should be whole grain or wholemeal flour and water
- Look out for thickening agents
- Look out for numbers in order to avoid artificial preservatives, colours and flavours
While you might think the ingredient list in wraps are short, the reality is that many supermarket wraps are full of unidentifiable preservatives, flavours and colours.
“Most annoyingly is that they market themselves as being a ‘healthier choice’,” Reed said. “Yet their ingredient list is full of preservatives, emulsifiers and vegetable oils. Look for ingredients without numbers such as the Australian Organics quinoa wraps, which have minimal ingredients.”
“Look for the word ‘wholemeal’ or ‘whole grain’ on your wrap. This tells us the product is a source of whole grains, meaning it will be higher in fibre,” Parker added.
For those wanting to go gluten free, Reed said not to be fooled into thinking a wrap is a healthy alternative when flours like soy and maize are used as the main ingredients.
“Instead look for wraps based on coconut flour, buckwheat, quinoa or amaranth which are all nutrient powerhouses and gluten free,” Reed said.
4. Buzz words and claims
If you take a close look at the wrap’s packaging, you’ll see a range of buzz words and claims used to promote a healthy image, such as: natural, organic, nature, source of protein and gluten free. However, few wraps truly live up to these claims.
“Don’t rely on health claims on labels as your guide. Product marketing is very powerful and can use misleading words and claims to make the food appear healthier than it actually is,” Parker said.
Claims around fibre, however, are usually accurate.
“In Australia, there are strict guidelines around wording on products that spruik their fibre content. If you see ‘good source’ of fibre, be assured that it legally has to contain between 3-4 grams per serve,” Parker said.
“Similarly, anything that has ‘very high’ or ‘excellent source’ on its product must contain between 6-7 grams fibre per serve, so these are good words to look for.”
Bingley-Pullin also said to be particularly wary of ‘gluten free’ (if you don’t have ceoliac disease) and ‘fat free’ wraps as these actually exclude important nutrients.
“Gluten free is not necessarily a healthy option due to use of thickening agents in replace of gluten, and they may contain less fibre,” Bingley-Pullin said.
The same goes for fat free wraps as “an addition of seeds can offer a supply of healthy fats”.
“Any additions like chia seeds or quinoa are going to add nutrient value,” Reed added.
As for those green coloured wraps that look super healthy? Sorry to break it to you, but they’re not as health-giving as they seem.
“These green and other coloured wraps are designed to make us believe they are healthier because they contain vegetables. However, the spinach or other vegetable is added as a powder and is less than one percent of the total product,” Parker explained.
“Sadly, it’s not going to offer any of the nutritional benefits the actual vegetable would.”
“The green is likely to come from food colouring or a herb-based seasoning,” Bingley-Pullin added. “At the end of the day, it is healthier to add a handful of greens to your wrap.”
With all these factors considered, here are the best and worst supermarket wraps.
“A gold star to Goodness Superfoods whole grain barley wraps for its phenomenally high amount of fibre (15.8 grams per 100 grams), which was nearly double that of any of the other wraps. It was also the lower in kilojoule content overall, making it a good choice for those wanting to reduce their kilojoule intake,” Parker said.
“I also like Mountain Bread for their range of different grains including rye, barley and chia. They were generally a good source of fibre containing at least 2.6-4g (depending on type), but what I liked best was that, compared to the other wraps, the ingredient list was very simple, with just four or so ingredients. Having to play nutrition detective so often with other products makes a nice change to be able to understand every ingredient in an item.”
Reed is also a fan of wraps with small ingredient lists.
“Australian Organics are a great brand, as are Mountain Bread, which have the least amount of ingredients and no additives or preservatives,” Reed said.
As for the not-so-great supermarket wraps, well, it’s most of them.
“The rest… they’re pretty unhealthy,” Reed said.
“The [MED] Superfoods Organic range such as ‘Chia Spinach Kale and Broccoli’ or ‘Chickpea Quinoa and Beetroot’ sadly missed the mark when it comes to being good sources of fibre, with all three different products having an average of just 1.8 grams per 100 grams of fibre,” Parker said.
“With the company name itself called ‘Superfood’, it’s quite deceiving as it implies the products are inherently healthy, even if it may not be the case. And in this case, the wraps boasted containing beetroot, kale and broccoli but a closer looks shows that it was just a small amount of the vegetable powder.
“And as mentioned, the addition of vegetable powder is in no way a replacement for the vegetable itself. Not only does this not count as a veggie serving, you won’t find the same amount of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals found in the actual vegetables themselves.”
*All pictures are property of Huffington Post.