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Healthy Shopping Tips

Posted on March 15th, 2016

With your shopping list in hand, and a full stomach to fend off any tempting impulse buys, you head to the grocery store. But with supermarkets carrying an average of over 42,000 items, according to the Food Marketing Institute, it's not always easy to make healthy choices in line with today's dietary guidelines.

Understanding what food, nutrients and caloric intake are recommended for your age and activity level is a good first step to eating a well-balanced diet. The National Institute on Aging offers specific guidelines for healthy eating after age 50. Decide what's best for you and then consider these healthy shopping tips to help you through your supermarket journey:

Opt for Short Ingredient Lists
Check out the list of ingredients on each item and choose the ones with the shortest list. The more ingredients, the more sugars and chemical additives, which is exactly what you don't want. They add calories without adding any nutritional value. Even better, buy food with no other ingredients except itself! Fruits, veggies, nuts, etc., all fall into this category. If there's no label on it, you know exactly what you're getting – fresh, unprocessed food.

Learn to Read Food Nutrition Labels
While they might look a little overwhelming, nutrition labels are broken down into five sections to make them easier to interpret, including serving size information, calories per serving, nutrients to limit, nutrients that are beneficial and daily recommended value. Understanding how to read the labels can help you make healthier decisions when comparing food items. Keep in mind that the information provided on nutrition labels is based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, which may or may not be right for you. Also, the labels list calories and nutrients on a per-serving basis so be cognizant of serving size.

Understand Some Tricky Food Terminology

  • Wheat vs. Multigrain vs. Whole Wheat vs. Whole Grain – How confusing is that? The healthiest options in terms of breads and cereals are identified as 100 percent whole wheat or 100 percent whole grain (such as barley or oats) as the first ingredient. Some even include a Whole Grain Stamp, which indicates at least 8 grams (or half a serving) of whole grains (experts say to aim for 48 grams, or 3 servings, per day). Even if a product is identified as multigrain or high fiber, it doesn't mean it is actually whole grain. And enriched wheat flour is actually white flour. These details are important, as eating whole wheat and whole grains may lower your risk for heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Organic vs. Natural – Some food companies want you to think of these terms as the same thing, but in reality, they are not. To be considered organic, the producer/grower must follow specific rules and keep detailed records. Rules outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture say that organic fruits and vegetables must be grown without any genetically modified seeds, fertilizers made from chemicals or sewage sludge, chemical pesticides or herbicides, and irradiation. There are also different levels of "organic" to be aware of: "100 percent organic," "organic" (95 to 99 percent organic), "made with organic ingredients" (74 to 94 percent organic), or, for organic content of lesser amount, the specific organic ingredients may be listed. Foods labeled as natural have no real mandated requirements except that they are expected to be accurately listed. Producers/growers claiming their products are natural are not subject to inspections proving their authenticity. Kind of makes you want to eat organic, doesn't it?


Stick to the Perimeter of the Store
Most grocery stores keep the healthiest food items around the edges. Keep near the walls to find fresh produce, lean meats, dairy products and whole grains. Avoid the center aisles where the snacks and soft drinks seem to lurk and your body (and your family) will thank you! For even more healthy finds, visit your local farmers markets.

This article has been provided for educational purposes only and is based on the most reliable information available on the date of publication.

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