Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: A Heart Healthy Trip through the Grocery Store
You may never have thought of it this way, but the routine chore of grocery
shopping has a huge impact on your health. The choices you make when you go
to the store are literally some of the most important choices you make in your
life, even though it sounds dramatic to put it that way.
The latest trend in the grocery store industry is to have a dietitian on staff
to assist shoppers in their quest for better health. If your local food store
doesn't offer that service, we're here to help.
Let's go through, aisle by aisle, to take a look at what should stay on the
shelf and what should land in your cart.
For starters, don't arrive at the grocery store hungry. This really will help
you to make healthier choices. It's much easier to resist potato chips and cookies
when your stomach is full.
First, the produce: You already know this-fresh fruits and vegetables are
good for you. They're lower in calories than many foods, low in fat (many don't
have any fat at all), they're good sources of fiber and they're full of nutrients.
When you're in this section, vary your colors. Buy yellow peppers, deep red
apples (and eat the skin), broccoli, oranges. Add apples to tuna salad. Eat
oranges instead of a candy bar. Remember, you want to eat at least five servings
a day of foods from the produce section.
Dressings and condiments: For the fewest calories, go for the low-fat or
no-fat dressings. If you're not too worried about calories, choose the dressings
that contain olive or canola oil. Remember that mayonnaise is a high-fat item,
usually with more saturated fat than is good for you. Plain, low-fat yogurt
is a good substitute. And remember that pickles are high in sodium. It's best
to skip them, especially if you're watching your blood pressure. Salsa is an
excellent condiment for spicing up burgers. It usually has a low-fat or no-fat
content, and it's got vitamin C as well.
Pastas and sauces: These items are across the board in terms of health benefits.
For pasta, try the whole wheat. It has more fiber and it doesn't convert to
sugar as quickly after you eat it as white pasta does. (And remember that a
serving of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball.) When you choose a pasta
sauce, read the label for fat content. Some sauces are full of flavor and very
little fat, so look for those. Cream sauces and sauces made with vodka usually
have a higher calorie count.
Cereals: The thing that can get you in the cereal aisle is the sugar content.
Try to leave the Fruit Loops, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cap'n Crunch etc., out of
your cart. Read the labels to find the cereals that have the highest fiber count
and the lowest sugar count. Sweeten them up at home with fresh fruit or raisins.
(And be sure to use non-fat milk.) If the kids give you grief about your new
cereal selections, offer to let them have the sugary stuff one day a week.
Prepared foods: This can be another booby trap area if you're trying to eat
healthy, especially if there aren't labels on the foods (and there usually aren't).
The first thing to keep in mind is portion control. Ask for the smallest containers,
especially if you're eating for one. Choose vegetables that aren't in a creamy
sauce, lean meats that aren't fried, broiled fish, etc. Don't be shy about asking
how a dish was prepared.
Snack foods: It's best to roll the cart right past this aisle, but just in
case, here are some guidelines: stay away from potato chips and Pringles and
corn chips and other fried chips. Avoid cottonseed oil and other hydrogenated
fats. Don't be fooled by the "cholesterol free" labels. Technically,
they may be true, but if the food contains trans fats or saturated fats, they're
more likely to increase your cholesterol.
If you have to choose a snack, choose pretzels, but keep in mind that even
though they're low in fat, they offer no real nutritional value, so you're getting
a lot of empty calories from them. Avoid most of the cookies. They're high in
saturated fat or trans fat and they're high in calories. (Remember that warning
about shopping on a full stomach? That's to help you move through the cookie
aisle without a purchase.)
Sodas: Avoid them! They're full of sugar and calories. Drink water instead.
Diet soda is marginally better than non-diet, but it's not doing you any real
good. You need water instead.
Baked goods: For the most part, avoid them. Buy whole grain bread, and remember
that one slice usually counts as a full serving.
Frozen foods: A meal that you prepare with fresh ingredients is likely to
be more satisfying and nutritious than most of the frozen meals you can buy.
If you're in a time crunch and you really think that a frozen dinner is your
only option, read the labels for fat, sodium, sugar and calorie content to make
sure you make the healthiest choices.
Meats and dairy: If you buy luncheon meats, choose the ones that have reduced
fat and sodium. Buy less red meat and replace it with fish and skinless chicken.
Choose low-fat or no-fat dairy-milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. Full-fat dairy items
aren't healthy and they're full of fat and calories.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute