Read and Compare Labels
There are the low fat deli meats, next to the healthy multi grain wraps, strategically placed by the lower calorie snack pack of cookies. The bigger question is how healthy are these foods? Companies have done a great job of making packaging look appealing and creating wording that markets their products as a healthy choice. Unfortunately, it is left up to the consumer to call them on their marketing tricks and the only way to do this is to become educated on the foods you eat. The best way to do this is to use food labels that are mandatory for all prepared foods. It will tell you how many calories are in each serving, amount of sugar, fat, protein, vitamin/mineral content and it will list the ingredients in the product.
Now what about the products that do not need a label, such as baked goods, produce, meat and seafood products? Many of these products also use marketing tricks to look like healthy options but it's sometimes hard to know which is best. These are the foods that take a little more digging to find the best choice.
How to Choose Well at the Bakery
When choosing baked goods, lower calorie or lower sugar choices usually have only a small difference than their regular counterparts. When it comes to baked goods, I suggest buying the regular version but have a smaller portion.
How to Choose the Right Produce
Many people think organic is the way to go when it comes to produce-- however, the better option would be to buy local and in season produce for better quality, nutrient dense products. Organic produce does not necessarily mean better quality produce; it just means it meets the criteria set by the United States Department of Agriculture for organically grown foods. These products can still be picked early and put in a warehouse to ripen then trucked off across the country to grocery stores. Picking produce early decreases the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables.
How to Select Healthy Meat
When selecting meats, look for cuts with minimal fat or marbling which will be less tender but healthier. To tenderize meats, use slow cooking methods, pound out meat to thinner cuts or use low calorie marinades.
What to Look for in Fish
When selecting seafood, always choose the non-breaded version. Cold water fatty fishes are higher in Omega-3's, which help to protect against certain diseases.
Many health professionals will tell you to shop the perimeter of the store but this may not be the best advice. There are many foods that fit into a healthy diet that are down the middle aisles of grocery stores. It just takes a little more time of reading food labels to figure out what foods are good choices and which are less healthy options. Become a food detective and seek out the foods that meet your needs as a consumer!
Grete R. Hornstrom is a Clinical Dietitian who is currently specializing in pediatric care. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Physical Education with a concentration in Exercise Science from Kent State University, a Master of Arts in Wellness Management from Ball State University, and a Master of Science in Dietetics from Ball State University. She has worked with overweight children and adults, recreational and elite athletes, chronically ill children, and every day people on developing nutrition plans and healthy lifestyle changes. In addition she has worked with recreational teams, high school teams, and college teams educating them on the importance of nutrition and performance. She has completed one marathon and three half marathons in the last two years. Her newest sport of choice is cycling.