You’ve likely heard that in order to eat healthy, you have to shop “only around the perimeter of the store”. It’s true that the produce, fresh meat and seafood counters, and dairy section are all around the outside of the grocery, but so is the bakery! You may be surprised to see what nutritious food awaits in the middle aisles. What’s important is what you buy.
Bread: When buying bread, look for the word WHOLE in the ingredients such as 100% whole wheat flour. Whole grains contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than refined or enriched grains.
Savory grains: Grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, bulgur, quinoa and barley are digested more slowly and keep you feeling fuller, longer. There’s good evidence that diets high in fiber are linked with lower rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Cereal: When buying cereal, choose those that contain at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. Low sugar varieties should have no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
Vegetables: Have a variety of frozen vegetables on hand. Frozen vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and flash frozen so they are very nutrient dense.
Speaking of sodium: A food is considered low in sodium when it has 125 mg of sodium per serving or less. Look at the percent Daily Value in the Nutrition Facts section of the label. A food containing 5% or less of a nutrient is low in that nutrient. A food with 20% or more of a nutrient is high in that nutrient.
As for dietary fat: Current research suggests the type of fat is what matters. Limit saturated and trans fat. Saturated and trans fat are solid at room temperature and are found primarily in animal foods such as bacon, beef, butter, full fat dairy products, and poultry skin. Coconut oil is also highly saturated. Both types of fat raise blood cholesterol.
Nuts, seeds and oils: Chose unsalted or lightly salted nuts or seeds for snacks and canola or olive oil for cooking. These contain heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat.
Meat and dairy: Go for lean and low fat varieties more often such as 90% lean (or higher) ground sirloin or flank steak. Choose milk, yogurt and cheese that is made with skim or 1% milk.
More in the middle: Head to the interior section of the store for beans or lentils. Beans and lentils are excellent sources of fiber as well as protein. Choose dried beans or canned varieties without salt.
Finally, don’t be fooled by foods that seem healthy, but really aren’t. These include items like gluten-free desserts, granola bars, fried vegetable snacks, fruit snacks, soy-based nuggets and fake meat patties. These foods may be high in sugar, fat and sodium, but offer little in the way of nutrients.
By Lisa C. Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.