Like the infamous refrain of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, a visit to the grocery store can sometimes feel like a “three-hour tour” that ends in a shipwreck. As a nutritionist and educator, I believe that most people are trying to make healthy choices but need some help to avoid spending the entire day grocery shopping. Here are a few simple guidelines can help you shop more quickly and make healthier, more economical purchases:
Q: Where do I start?
A. Plan ahead. While at home, create a menu for the entire week. Be sure to include a variety of foods from all food groups. Check the sale ads for weekly bargains and shift menus to align with specials when you can. Be a smart shopper by making an organized list that coincides with the layout of the store.
Q: Fresh vs. canned vs. frozen. What is best?
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A. We’ve all heard to shop along the outside aisles of the store. That’s because the outer edges are typically where you’ll find the most natural, healthy foods – fresh produce, dairy, meats, poultry, fish and breads. Fresh produce in season always is the healthiest option, but canned and frozen fruits without added sugar are nutritious and convenient alternatives. Frozen vegetables typically are natural without added salt or preservatives. This makes them preferable to canned food. Frozen also allows you to prepare only as much as you desire and lets you control the amount of added fat and sodium in meal preparation. Canned fruits and vegetables certainly are better than not eating from this food group, but try to select items with less added sugar, syrup and salt.
Q: Eating fish twice a week is recommended for heart health and other reasons, but how do you choose fish?
A. First, decide when you will eat the product. Look for fresh fish that is firm and moist. Avoid breaded products. Keep fresh fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator, and use it within two days of purchase or freeze it. Frozen fish is an easy option to pull into the menu at your convenience. Canned or foil-packed-in-water items are another great way to incorporate fish into the meal plan and are available in a wide variety. Salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Cod, tilapia, orange roughy, shrimp and scallops are tasty, healthy choices, too.
Q Which bread is the best?
A. Label-reading is the best tool we have to determine what is contained within the product. For breads, cereals and crackers, look for whole grain, 3 grams or more of dietary fiber per serving and less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Q: Can I use the quick-cooking grains to save time?
A. Yes, but heed caution: Whole grain pasta, couscous, quinoa, grits, brown rice and wild rice add nutrients and fiber to the meal plan. Some instant and quick-cook versions contain extra sodium, which may lead to elevated blood pressure and increase risk factors for heart disease. To reduce sodium intake, omit salt in the cooking process and avoid buying mixes with seasoning packets. Instead, add your own herbs and spices. The dietary guideline for Americans is less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily, and even less for individuals with diabetes and heart disease. Try to select food items with less than 300 mg of sodium per serving size.
Q: What is important when reading a label?
A. Food labels assist with calorie- or carbohydrate-counting. Total carbohydrates include dietary fiber, sugar and complex carbohydrates. When making heart-healthy choices, look for this:
• Choose foods with less than 5 grams of total fat per serving.
• Choose foods with less than 3 grams of saturated and trans fats per serving.
• If you have high triglycerides, choose foods with less than 30 grams total carbohydrate and less than 15 of grams sugar per serving. (Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic guidelines.)
• For people with diabetes, counting carbohydrates can help with blood glucose control. Most individuals can consume 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal and 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates at snacks. Check blood glucose to see how the food choices affect your blood glucose. Eating well-balanced meals and monitoring carbohydrates can keep your blood glucose in good control.
Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a stressful, time-consuming experience. Make your meals healthier and your shopping enjoyable, efficient and less expensive by planning ahead and being creative.