Supermarket Strategies

October 16, 2007|By Cynthia Held, MS, RD, LDN

Have you scrutinized your grocery cart contents lately?

Perhaps the time is right with the typical supermarket containing more than 35,000 foods on its shelves. The trend is more products, more grocery stores, and with this comes countless decisions. Apparently, we are in a state of confusion about which are the most appropriate food choices, since government studies indicate two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

The adage "you are what you eat" should be prefaced by "you are what you purchase." If you buy healthy foods, you are more likely to consume healthy foods. As a dietitian in private practice, I have observed a direct link between body size and food choices of my clients. Addressing an individual's grocery shopping issues often has made a significant impact upon their overall health.

Shopping smart begins with a basic understanding of how to create a balanced diet and interpret food labels. An excellent tool to utilize for designing a healthy, individualized eating plan is MyPyramid. This updated pyramid replaces its predecessor and can be accessed by visiting the Web site Ideally, your grocery cart should be filled with a variety of foods reflective of MyPyramid. Let's translate the pyramid recommendations by taking a "mock" aisle by aisle grocery tour.


Grains should be the foundation of a healthy diet. Aim for an average of 6 ounces every day with at least half being whole grain choices. One ounce is equivalent to about one slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, cereal or pasta. Select foods that list one of the following ingredients first on the label's ingredient list to ensure you are selecting a whole grain: whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, whole-grain corn, oatmeal, pearl barley, popcorn, wild rice, brown rice, bulgur, and graham flour. These complex carbohydrates are low in fat and are an important source of fiber and B vitamins. Go for the grains to energize your body and your brain!

In the fruits and veggies category, More Matters is a newly launched national campaign replacing the 5 A Day The Color Way slogan. A simple way to meet the average number of MyPyramid daily servings of 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit is to fill half of your grocery cart full of produce. The options are immense - fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice - variety is the key. Choose a rainbow of colors for maximum nutrients. Organic products are a matter of personal preference and your pocketbook. If convenience is a factor, select pre-packaged, ready-to-serve, or salad bar offerings.

Fruits and vegetables are a natural source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (substances in plants that may prevent disease). They also contain another "natural ingredient" - water. The water content of most fruits and vegetables ranges between 80 percent and 95 percent, making you feel full on fewer calories. With their high nutrient density and low caloric density, fruits and vegetables are quite deserving of their health-promoting bragging rights. If weight control is a concern, choose fewer juices and dried fruits as they provide a higher caloric density than their fresh counterparts.

There are few excuses for excluding dairy from your diet. Milk products are major sources of calcium, protein, and vitamin D, which are essential ingredients for optimal bone health. Adults should try to incorporate 3 cups of dairy products into their daily diet; children aged 2 to 8 require 2 cups. A one-cup equivalent equals 8 ounces of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. Nonfat and low-fat dairy products have the same amount of calcium as higher fat dairy products. Choose fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1 percent) milk, low-fat yogurt with 1/2 gram of fat or less, and cheese with 3 grams or less of total fat per ounce for the heart-healthiest options. Also check dairy food labels to ensure they contain zero grams of artery clogging trans fat. Lactose-reduced dairy options are available for those who are lactose intolerant.

The best approach to selecting from the meat and beans group is to think lean. Pay careful attention to portion size, fat content, and variety. This food category includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. Collectively they are nutritional standouts in terms of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Most individuals require less than 6-ounce equivalents daily from this group, which is merely the size of two decks of cards. One ounce of meat, poultry, or fish, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds counts as a one-ounce equivalent. Skinless poultry, fish, game, and meat labeled round or loin are generally the lowest fat choices.

Select oil-based unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils (canola and olive are excellent), soft margarine and mayonnaise. Oil provides your body with vitamin E, essential fatty acids and energy. About 5-6 teaspoons daily is recommended.

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