The hundreds of options available while buying can be baffling if you’re not prepared and well-equipped with knowledge. It’s important to read the labels and know what they mean. Read up on the most common labeling marketing myths here. Here are a few of my tips to buy the most nutritional items in the most cost effective way! Also, it goes without saying but don’t ever hit the grocery store when you’re hungry – trust me, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. No I have never polished anything off before reaching the checkout stand…never!
- You will save money buying produce in bulk and avoiding buying pre-packaged, ready-to-eat items.
- Fresh produce is often cheaper than its frozen version.
Meats & Seafood:
- The grade of meat signifies its fat content. “Select” (7% fat) is the leanest, followed by “Choice” (15% to 35% fat), then prime (35% to 45% fat).
- Choose ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast as a healthier choice than standard ground beef. Skinless options have the least fat. If ground beef is a must, choose ground sirloin, ground round or extra lean ground beef. Note: Ground poultry like ground turkey can have just as much fat as standard ground beef.
- Focus on seafood for high quality protein with healthy omega 3 fats.
- Buy oily varieties of fish that are abundant in omega 3 fats such as salmon, herring, trout, tuna and halibut. Avoid shark, marlin, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish because of toxins.
- Shellfish is great – clams, shrimp, oysters, lobsters, mussels, scallops, crawfish and crab.
Dairy and Eggs:
- Avoid full-fat dairy products and whole milk. Always choose low-fat, reduced-fat or skim versions of dairy products and choose organic varieties when possible to avoid exposure to potentially harmful environmental contaminants.
- Choose low-fat or non-fat plain yogurt and avoid the yogurt with added sugars.
- Avoid all stick margarines.
- Select eggs fortified with omega 3 fats with “omega 3” or “DHA” on the label. “Free-range” does not always indicate the presence of omega 3 fats.
- There is no nutritional difference between white eggs and brown eggs.
Grains and Cereal:
- Avoid all refined flour and processed starches.
- Only choose 100% whole grain products and recognize that physically intact grains like oatmeal and brown rice are a healthier choice than whole grain or whole wheat bread or flour-based products. Labels with “contains whole grains” or “made with whole grains” are a dead giveaway that the product is not 100% whole grain and probably unhealthy.
- Note that “fiber-fortified” grain-based foods like cereals, cereal bars and breads may not be as healthy as you perceive since adding extracted fiber to boost fiber content has no proven health value. Stick to the fiber naturally found in foods like physically-intact whole grains and beans.
- Make sure the nutritional facts for every selection lists five grams or more of fiber per serving and 10 grams or less of sugar per serving.
- Buy plain (not flavored) oatmeal. Steel cut or old-fashioned are gest.
- Buy lentils. Cheap, versatile, filling and power-packed with fiber, protein, key minerals, B-vitamins and antioxidants, lentils provide more folate than any other food and cook quickly so they require no pre-soaking thus causing less gas.
Fat is what gives our food flavor and if you know exactly which oils to select, you get great tasting food that guards and protects your health too. It is the type of fat in your diet that really matters and your goal is to bring in the make-me-healthier fats (monounsaturated and omega 3 fats) and to keep the unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) out. All oils are uniquely susceptible to oxidation which can diminish their nutritional benefits and their flavor. Oxidation of oils is accelerated by heat, light and exposure to air so store them in the refrigerator with the exception of olive oil which will solidify in the fridge. Keep olive oil in a cool, dark cupboard!
- Make extra virgin olive oil (a monounsaturated fat) your oil of choice.
- Use canola oil (a monounsaturated fat) for baking and food prep where the flavor of olive oil isn’t ideal
- Use peanut oil, sesame oil or coconut oil for very high heat (pan-frying, stir frying, etc.).
- Use cooking sprays when you want less fat and keep foods from sticking to pots and pans.
- Avoid oils high in omega 6 fats like corn oil, soybean oil (also called “vegetable oil”), safflower oil and sunflower oil.
- Avoid all shortenings like Crisco.
The Golden Rules of Healthy Eating
My mother always tells me to “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”. Regardless of the fact that most of my meals turn out to be royal feasts somehow, I try to keep this rule in mind and have a nice big healthy breakfast and plenty of healthy snacks to keep me full throughout the day so I’m not overladen with calories when I go to bed! Check out my tips for smart grocery shopping here. Here are a few other rules of thumb for healthy eating that we all know but can always be reminded of:
- Fruits and veggies
- Monounsaturated fats as your main fats (e.g. extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados)
- 100% whole grains (3 servings a day)
- Omega 3 fats regularly (oily fish, omega 3 eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens)
- Healthy protein at each meal (fish, shellfish, poultry, low fat or skim dairy products, nuts, seeds, beans)
- Strive to have a serving from each of the following daily – dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, whole citrus and berries
- Make water your primary beverage
- “Whites” as in white flour products (white bread, white rice, white potatoes, sugar)
- Saturated fats (fatty cuts of red meat, whole dairy products, butter)
- Trans fats (stick margarine, partially hydrogenated oils, shortening)
- Beverages packed with sugar (soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks)
- Any products with the any of the following in the ingredients – partially hydrogenated, fully hydrogenated, shortening, artificial color(s), artificial flavor(s) or high fructose corn syrup
- If you’re trying to lose weight, avoid dried fruits (with the exception of apricots), tropical fruits (bananas, pineapple, mango and papaya) and white potatoes. These foods will kick up your blood sugar level more than other produce choices.
- Limit red meat to two servings or less weekly (choose lean poultry as a healthier alternative)
- Avoid processed meats (bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs, salami) and fatty cuts (ribs, rib eyes, briskets, porter house, T-bones and standard ground meat)
Common Labeling Marketing Myths
“Multigrain” – This merely means that the product contains more than one type of grain. One of these types of grain could be 100% refined white flour! Stick to products that are 100% whole grain.
“Antioxidant Fortified with Vitamins E and C” – These products tend to be more expensive yet there is no scientific evidence that supplementing foods with extra antioxidant vitamins is beneficial.
“Organic” – Organic foods do not necessarily mean they are more nutritious or less likely to cause weight gain. It simply means that the food was produced without pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones so stay away from the sugary and fatty organic foods!
“Made with real fruit” – This means that there is “some” fruit (usually fruit juice) present in the product, usually a small, nutritionally-irrelevant amount.
“High in fiber” – Products that list “high in fiber” are generally manufactured foods in which isolated fiber (commonly maltodextrin, inulin, oat fiber and wheat fiber) have been artificially added to it. It means that a single serving of the food provides at least five grams of fiber but there is no evidence for any health benefits from eating isolated forms of fiber so skip the processed foods and go for the real deal.
“A full serving of vegetables” – AKA a blatant statement that the food is factory made. Again, get your vegetables from the real thing!
“All natural” – This is commonly seen on numerous processed food products and essentially meaningless.