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

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Nutrition Smarts

Smart Food Shopping — Part Two:
Snacks, Beverages, Oils and Dairy
by Christine Palumbo, RD

Last time we discussed shopping for produce, cereal, bread and pastas. Let's continue our shopping tour. Keep in mind these general guidelines:

  • 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.


  • Rice cakes and popcorn cakes satisfy that craving for salty or sweet snacks.
  • Popping your own kernels at home produces fresh, flavorful popcorn without a lot of fat calories (if you hold the butter!) Lower fat microwaved popcorn is your next bet. Steer clear of new versions that advertise extreme amounts of "butter" topping.
  • Single servings of potato and corn chips put a limit on portion sizes.
  • Other lower fat choices include pretzels, baked corn or tortilla chips, baked potato chips and reduced fat potato chips. Some fat free chips contain the fat substitute, olestra, which may cause side effects.


  • Across the aisle from snack foods are soft drinks, dubbed "liquid candy" by one consumer group. Each 12-ounce can contains 150 calories and ten teaspoons of sugar.
  • Select only 100% fruit juice over fruit beverage, cocktail, drink and punch, which have added sugars and little actual fruit juice.
  • Traditional coffees and teas are calorie free and may even offer health benefits, especially brewed tea. Beware flavored coffee drinks, which contain added sugars and hydrogenated oils.
  • Bottled waters, both still and carbonated, are gaining shelf space. Watch for flavored waters, which often have added sugars you didn't bargain for.
  • "Energy" and "smart" drinks are often enhanced with ingredients such as gingko biloba or ginseng. Manufacturers are not required to state the amount.


  • Olive, canola, and peanut oils contain healthful monounsaturated fats.
  • Small amounts of flavored oils, like sesame and garlic, can provide intense flavor.
  • Non-stick cooking sprays are primarily canola or soy oil. When used in the recommended amounts, they provide just a few calories. Prolonged spray time can hike up fat calories.
  • Mayonnaise now comes in regular, light (1/2 the fat), low fat (94% fat free) and fat free versions. Experiment to see how low you can go.


  • Besides the usual whole, reduced fat, low fat and fat free milk, new products include soy milk, lactose reduced milk, organic milk and acidophilus milk.
  • Choices among soy products abound, including vanilla or chocolate-flavored soymilk, soy yogurt and soy cheese.
  • Fat free nondairy creamer and half-and-half, both plain and flavored, are now available to lighten and flavor your morning cup of joe.
  • Buttermilk contains no butter at all, but is cultured from fat free or low fat milk. It's a great choice for fluffy pancakes and waffles.
  • Yogurt is usually low fat, but varies widely in sugar content. Light yogurt contains artificial sweeteners. Look for brands containing active cultures. There's even a portable yogurt for kids.
  • Look for lowfat versions of cottage cheese, including 2%, 1% and even fat free. Ditto for the ricotta cheese you add to lasagna and other Italian dishes.
  • Butter vs. margarine - Most nutritionists recommend a liquid or tub margarine over either stick margarine (trans fats) or butter (saturated fats).

Part three…our tour ends with a focus on the meat case, frozen foods, soup, ethnic foods and seasonings.

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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