Healthy eating starts with the foods you buy and store in your pantry and refrigerator. In order to start living a healthier lifestyle, you need to have access to food options that provide the best nutritional value and satisfy your hunger.
As I was grocery shopping, I noticed how many food ads jump out at you as you walk through the aisles. If it’s not the buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) bargain or the coupon item that calls your attention, it’s the store display to a new food product that was not on your “eat healthy list”. No wonder Americans are so confused on what to eat, they are constantly being led to the not-so-good-for-you food choices.
To help avoid this, I have some tips that will ensure you make better food shopping choices and leave your refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthier foods.
1. Make your list – even if it’s a mental list, take a moment to figure out what you really need to purchase before facing endless options.
a. Think about your week ahead − what does your schedule look like − what will your meals and snacks consist of?
b. Using a list may keep you more focused and help you avoid wandering through the store and decrease your chance of falling into the marketing trap.
2. Avoid going shopping on an empty stomach – doing so may cause everything your eyes land on to look irresistible.
3. Purchase as fresh as possible. Fresh foods tend to be on the outer aisles of most groceries stores, with all the boxed, canned and frozen foods in the middle aisles.
a. Reading food labels can help you indentify better choices of the boxed, canned and frozen products. Beware:these items often have added fat, salt and sugar.
b. Choose items with recognizable ingredients – when possible choose items free from preservatives and additives or GMO’s (genetically modified).
4. Vary your nutrients. Make sure you purchase foods from each food group to ensure that you have the items needed to make balanced meals and snacks.
Use the guide below to help you.
Fresh produce – Choose a variety of different options, colors, textures and leafy options,. Choose vegetables that you can eat raw (such as a snack or as a salad) and those that you can cook (such as a side dish or as a main entrée). Choose fruits that you can carry with you for a snack and some that require to be cut up. Seasonal and locally grown vegetables and fruits tend to be on sale. Pay closer attention to signs indicating what region, farm, or location the produce comes from. Choose options that are grown closest to you.
- Fresh vegetables and fruits are low in calories and fat, and high in fiber.
- If you need a quick option, choose the pre-cut, ready-to-use options of vegetables and fruits in the fresh produce section.
- If you choose canned vegetables, look for the “no-salt-added” options.
- If you choose canned fruits, look for the options in fruit juice, avoid the ones in syrup.
- When purchasing fruit juice, read the ingredients and choose the 100% fruit juice option. Limit the serving size of juice you choose to drink.
Proteins– Choose white meat poultry and lean cuts of meat such as round or sirloin. Eat more fresh wild caught fish, such as salmon.
- If you choose ground poultry or beef, look for the leanest option (such as ground chicken breast, ground turkey breast, ground beef (95% lean/5% fat or leaner).
- Choose more plant-based proteins like beans, nuts/seeds, legumes and tofu.
- Eggs, egg whites and nut butters with no added ingredients also make good alternative protein sources.
- Processed meats should be avoided.
Dairy products- Choose 1% or nonfat skim milk, nonfat yogurt and low-fat cheeses. Avoid full fat items like cream, whole milk, and high-fat cheese (such as creamy cheeses).
- Compare the nutritional information and check the ingredients list on yogurts. Most Greek yogurts have more protein than regular yogurts, making them more filling (keep an eye on calories, fat and added sugar).
- Almond milk/soy milk/rice milk can be used instead of cow’s milk for those with intolerances, allergies or taste preference. Make sure to read ingredients. Flavored options have higher calories and sugar content.
- Choose products free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
Grains, Rice, Breads, Pasta and Cereals – Choose whole grain and whole wheat options that provide more than 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- Rice, brown rice, wild rice, black rice, quinoa (a seed-like, whole grain.
- Pasta-compare pasta brands to find the highest in fiber, keep serving size in mind. Barley, couscous and whole wheat orzo are good alternatives.
- Bread, crackers, bagels – Look for whole wheat, multigrain options, compare calories, fiber and sodium content to find the best choice. Choose the smaller portion sizes.
- Cereals – those with no-added sugar and high in fiber are best. Compare nutritional information on cold cereals to find the best option. Oatmeal, hot quinoa with no added sugar are good choices.
About Natalie Castro-Romero, M.S., R.D., LDN
Natalie Castro-Romero is the Chief Wellness Dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Florida International University. She completed her master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo. Ms. Romero is certified in adult weight management and works passionately to improve the health of both adults and children. Her clinical experience includes working with patients suffering from gastrointestinal disorders and critically ill patients in intensive care. In addition, she has conducted research on eating behaviors and pediatric obesity. Her research has been published in several peer-reviewed medical journals.