10 Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping
By ALLISON STOWELL
There are few environments as stimulating as the supermarket. Loud sounds, bright colors and signs everywhere make for a distracting atmosphere. Use these 10 tips to cut through the noise and shop for the best foods for your home.
Go for produce and color.
A healthful shopping cart should include an abundance of colorful, antioxidant- and nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits. Pick up a "rainbow of colors," such as ripe tomatoes, oranges, yellow peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables, purple potatoes and blueberries to create an array of vibrant dishes.
Don't be fooled by fancy fonts.
It's the job of the food manufacturer to develop appealing packages that make you want to buy their products. It's your job to decide if what they created is ideal for you. Avoid falling into traps set by fancy packaging, fonts and key words designed to attract you by reviewing the food's ingredient list and nutritional info to determine if a food is truly the best choice.
It's not so much total fat as the type of fat.
The food label has a lot of very important information: There are up to five lines devoted to the total and types of fat (saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated). This information is critical because it isn't so much the total fat as the type of fat you consume. With this in mind, save time by first ensuring the food you choose is free of trans fats. Then find the saturated fat content and aim to keep it as low as possible — below 10 percent of DRV (Daily Reference Value).
Is it "low sodium" or just a "little less sodium"?
According to the FDA, a food labeled with "reduced sodium" must contain 25 percent less sodium than the original product. This means that if the original product is way too high in sodium, then the reduced-sodium version may still be far too high. Be sure to read the nutrition label to determine exactly how much sodium is in a product.
Balance your cart.
Your shopping cart provides a snapshot of your kitchen. If your cart is an imbalanced collection of carbohydrate-rich foods, lacks lean protein and contains few heart-healthy fat choices, then your kitchen will reflect this as well. As you shop, inspect your cart and ensure that it contains a balanced selection of foods.
Picture packing snacks for your children.
While shopping, consider the snacks that will be packed for work and school, since these snacks are the fuel for a long day. Pick up balanced granola bars (with at least six to seven grams of protein), unsalted nuts and dried fruit, seeds, cheese sticks and other protein or heart-healthy, fat-rich choices.
Choose fish and go lean in the meat department.
Get into the habit of purchasing fresh or frozen fruit regularly to achieve the American Heart Association's goal of consuming fish twice per week. Also aim for lean protein choices like skinless chicken, center-cut pork and lean red meat that appears bright red in the package.
Choose low or reduced-fat dairy.
When it comes to dairy — including milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream — aim for skim, nonfat or low-fat choices to limit your intake of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, which will reduce your risk of heart disease.
Reduced fat: no. Hint of salt: yes.
Speaking of "low fat," you'll see this label all over the store, even on foods that are already low in fat in the first place (like crackers and pretzels). If the original product is low in fat, then go for the version that is unsalted or only has a hint of salt.
Look up, look down, look all around.
Many factors go into determining where a product is placed on a shelf, and none of them have anything to do with you. Take the time to look at the lower and upper shelves, as well as the parts of a section that aren't front and center, to be sure you identify the best choices for you.
Readers -- Do you make a list before you go food shopping? Do you check your cart while you shop to make sure it's balanced? How do you keep yourself from buying junk food or processed foods? Do you buy foods that are labeled "low fat," "fat free" or "low sodium"? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Allison Stowell, M.S., RD, CDN, is the registered dietitian for the Guiding Stars Licensing Company, a company devoted to helping you find the good, better and best choices at the supermarket. A working mom of two, Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.