Shop smart for a healthy lifestyle

Shop smart for a healthy lifestyle

A big part of enjoying healthier eating is buying healthier foods, and that means making smart choices where it matters most – at the supermarket.  Choosing the freshest, healthiest foods is an important first step toward making healthy and delicious meals your whole family will love.

In general, most supermarkets are laid out with the healthiest, most nutritious foods around the perimeter of the store.  That is where most stores locate their produce section, their dairy section, their meat counter, and the like.  Of course, the middle aisles of the grocery store also contain nutritious foods, such as canned and frozen vegetables, whole grain cereals and more.

And of course each shelf of the grocery store also contains both good and bad choices for healthy eating.  For instance, the cereal aisle is home to both the healthy, home grain cereal, and those cereals that contain more sugar than corn.  In many cases, the difference will be obvious from the packaging, while at other times you will need to read the nutritional information carefully to ensure the food is healthy for your family.

As a matter of fact, learning to read nutritional labels is one of the most important skills any health oriented shopper must learn. This government mandated labels contain a wealth of information if you know what to look for.  Not only do nutritional labels contain vital information on calorie counts, fat grams and sodium content, but they contain detailed information on the percentage of each vitamin an mineral a serving contains.

When looking at nutritional labels, however, pay careful attention to the portion size listed.  This is particularly important when looking at calories, fat grams and the amount of sodium.  For instance, a serving of juice is generally 8 ounces, while the average juice glass at your home may be 12 or even 16 ounces.  It is important to carefully look at serving size, and to do the mental calculation necessary to reflect how much of each product will actually be consumed at one sitting.

When shopping for healthy foods, it is usually better to opt for les processed foods.  For instance, 100% fruit juice would be better than a fruit juice blend that may contain as little as 5% or 10% fruit juice.  And plain frozen vegetables would be healthier than vegetables in a butter sauce.  When shopping for meat, try to buy fresh meat whenever possible.  Frozen meat products, or those already seasoned, heat and eat products, often contain unhealthy ingredients as well as preservatives.

When it comes to dairy products, it is best to buy low fat and non fat varieties when at all possible.  The one exception to this rule is feeding babies and young children.  Their growing bodies need the fat and calories contained in whole milk products, but adults and older children are better served by low fat alternatives.

When choosing canned soups, there are a number of fat free and low sodium varieties.  Try to choose these soups for a healthier lifestyle.  Other high protein, low calorie soup choices include black bean soup, lentil soup and split pea soup.  These healthy soups are good sources of protein, fiber and folate.

Ethnic foods, such as Mexican and Chinese, can be excellent sources of healthy meals, and the traditional ways of preparing such foods are generally very healthy.  It is important to stay as authentic as possible when choosing and preparing Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian food.  This will help guarantee both great taste and healthy eating.  For instance, traditional salsa is an excellent, low calorie, and nutritious dip, and the traditional Mexican black bean dip is usually fat free. 

Seasonings can be an excellent way to spice up healthy cooking without adding additional fat and calories.  Herbs and spices are a great way to add zest to any meal, and starting an herb garden of your own is a great way to save both time and money while providing fresh tasting, healthy meals for your family.  When buying spices in the grocery store, be especially careful about sodium content.  Read the label carefully, since the first ingredient on many bottled spices is actually salt (another great reason to start that herb garden).

Choosing the best meat for healthy eating

Choosing the right meat and poultry products can be one of the most difficult parts of cooking and eating for better health.  Meat, seafood and poultry are important sources of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals, but they are often laden with undesirable qualities such as saturated fat and cholesterol as well.  Choosing the best, leanest cuts of meat is important to any health conscious shopper.

One of the most important things to know when choosing meat, seafood and poultry products is that less is often more.  That means buying meat, seafood and poultry products that have been processed as little as possible.  The past few years have seen quite a jump in the number of convenience foods, but these foods are often much less healthy than their fresh meat counterparts.

One reason why this is so is the need preservatives, sodium and other additives.  Foods that are frozen, microwavable or ready to eat often contain large amounts of sodium, often more than you need in several days.  While it is fine to keep a couple of these convenient foods on hand for quick meals, they cannot form the basis of a healthy eating lifestyle.

Fresh meat, seafood and poultry, on the other hand, does not suffer from the need to add sodium or preservatives.  Buying fresh meats and seafood, and preparing it yourself, is the best way to have confidence in the nutritional quality of the food you feed your family.

Of course no discussion of fresh meat is complete without a note or two about safe handling techniques.  Food borne illnesses can easily be spread through contaminated meat, poultry and seafood, and it is impossible to tell from looking if the product is contaminated.  Since cooking to the proper temperature destroys these food borne pathogens, the most important thing is to keep raw meat and poultry away from foods that will not be cooked.

That means keeping things like salad bowls and bread plates well away from the area of the countertop where the meat is prepared.  Any surface touched by raw meat, seafood or poultry should be thoroughly cleaned with an antibacterial solution, and separate cutting boards should be used for vegetables and meats.  Following these basic food hygiene practices is the best way to protect yourself and your family from food borne illnesses.

Cutting the fat is also an important consideration when it comes to choosing meat, seafood and poultry.  While most types of fish are healthy and low fat, some fish, such as salmon, can have significant fat content.  Again, the nutritional labels should be your guide.

When it comes to chicken, the best course of action is to buy skinless, boneless chicken breasts.  This type of poultry is healthy, convenient and easy to use.  And best of all, skinless, boneless chicken breasts are often on sale, so stock up on them when your local grocery store runs its next promotion.  A good alternative for those with the time is to buy regular chicken breasts and remove the skin and bone yourself.  This is often a less expensive alternative than buying the boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Ground turkey can be an excellent and lower fat alternative to ground beef, but again it is important to read the label carefully.  That is because ground turkey, particularly the less expensive brands, often contain skin and fat along with the lean meat.  Ground turkey breast, or a brand with a lower fat content, can be a healthier alternative.  Ground turkey breast can be used in any recipe that calls for ground beef, including burritos, barbecue, tacos, chili and even hamburgers on the grill.

And of course, eating healthy does not mean giving up delicious foods like beef and pork.  Lean cuts of beef and pork can be an important part of a healthy diet.  Beef and pork are both excellent sources of iron, zinc and B complex vitamins, and properly prepared, lean beef and pork are nutritious as well as delicious.

And finally, there are a number of lower fat, healthier alternatives to beef and pork.  Meats like buffalo, venison and emu are much lower in fat than beef, while providing the same or even higher levels of protein.  The downside of these exotic meats, of course, is the price, but if you can find a local supply at a good price they are definitely worth a look.