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Gear up to grocery shop with five tips to make food shopping healthy and fun.

For more tips to keep a healthy body see our Seven Step Plan for Healthy Living.

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Nutrition Smarts

Smart Food Shopping
by Christine Palumbo, RD

We're going to take an aisle-by-aisle tour of the grocery store to help you the next time you do your shopping. First, when shopping, keep in mind these general shopping tips:

  • Your best bet is to concentrate your shopping time around the periphery of the store — the produce, meat, dairy and bakery sections. But don't stop there, you'll find nutritious foods like beans, whole grains, and cereal in the middle aisles.
  • Read labels carefully and look for foods that are minimally processed. Choose 100% fruit juice over a fruit juice blend; plain frozen vegetables over those with butter sauces; fresh poultry or meat over those already seasoned; whole fresh potatoes over prepared French fries or scalloped potatoes.
  • Dairy products are an exception to the minimally processed rule. It's better to buy versions where naturally occurring fat has been removed, such as fat free milk or low fat cheese.

Let's take a virtual tour of a typical store and find some tips for shopping wisely.

In the Produce Aisle

  • Color counts — bring home an entire rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Save time by purchasing refrigerated jars of mango citrus salad, grapefruit, tropical salad, pears and other fruit. Or select pre-cut fruit like pineapple, watermelons or honeydew melons.
  • Other time-savers include fresh cut vegetables like baby carrots, celery, and bagged salads.
  • Buy small. Smaller sized fruits are often sweeter and more tender than larger, more mature pieces.
  • Choose dark green salad items like romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, spinach, curly endive or radicchio. A little iceberg's OK for crunch.

In the Cereal Aisle

  • Think whole grains! You can find whole grain in hot as well as cold cereal. Examples of whole grain hot cereal include Wheatena, oatmeal, and oat bran. Some whole grain cold cereals include Wheaties, shredded wheat, Frosted Mini-Wheats and Grape Nuts. Read Nutrition Facts labels to find cereals that contain at least five grams of fiber per serving. Check front labels for claims such as, "whole grain" or "rich in whole grain."
  • Cereals such as grits, cream of wheat and cream of rice are highly refined and offer little fiber.

Bread, Waffles, Crackers, Tortillas

  • Look for the word "whole" as the first ingredient on the ingredient list.
  • Don't count on terms like "multi-grain", "twelve grain" and "cracked wheat"— they can be deceiving. They're mostly refined flour with a touch of whole-grain flour.
  • Some examples of whole grain crackers include Rye Krisp and Triscuits.

Pasta, Rice and Other Grains

  • Regular or quick-cooking brown rice makes a delicious side dish. The quick-cooking type retains all the health benefits of regular.
  • Whole-wheat pasta takes some getting used to with its nutty texture. Try to substitute it for plain every other time or make your pasta half and half.
  • Whole-wheat couscous is available in health-conscious stores. Use it (or regular) in salads and as a rice substitute.
  • Barley can be used in soups and stews and also works in hearty salads, pilafs and casseroles. It's considered a whole grain.
  • Most rice and pasta mixes are too high in fat and sodium to be considered healthful. You may be able to experiment with the preparation to reduce the amount of either or both.

Read Part Two — snacks, beverages, oils plus other items.

About Christine Palumbo

Christine Palumbo, MBA, RD has been a nutrition communications consultant since 1989, providing dietary counsel and analysis on various nutrition, health and weight management topics to corporate clients and news media outlets nationwide. An active member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the Illinois Dietetic Association and the Chicago Dietetic Association for more than twenty years, she has served on a variety of boards and practice group committees within those organizations.

Palumbo has been featured in national women's, health and business magazines, daily newspapers and local and national radio and television programs. She also received the Illinois Dietetic Association's Outstanding Dietitian of the Year award for 2002.


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