We would all be healthier if we read and understood nutrition facts labels. On the other hand, we would also be healthier if we just avoided most processed foods. Regardless of how healthy processed foods appear on the nutrition facts label, they all contain sodium or sugar to make them taste better.
If you don’t want to spend time deciding which processed foods are the least harmful each time you shop for groceries, try these tips:
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and fresh fish and meats are located.
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables, like carrots, grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, celery, cucumbers, yams and squash.
- Avoid most processed meats, which are usually high in sodium.
- Select lean cuts of meat and plan to eat sensible portions a few times each week rather than every day.
- Skip margarine, pudding and sugar filled yogurt found on the perimeter.
- Purchase cheeses naturally low in fat, like Swiss and Parmesan, and plan to use sparingly.
- Venture down aisles with single ingredient items: rice, dried beans, 100 percent whole grain oats, healthy oils.
- Learn to cook with spices and herbs.
- Purchase whole grain pastas and breads.
- Low-salt canned tomatoes and beans are also good. But be wary of the trade off when a canned item states low fat on the label. Sodium is usually increased to compensate for the loss of flavor when fat is reduced or eliminated. To lower the sodium in canned beans, drain the liquid and rinse in water.
Consider eating healthy an investment: You can spend more time and money now to purchase healthy foods, or pay more later in increased health care costs.
Having the right foods on hand when it’s time to prepare meals at home is an important first-step in sticking to a heart-healthy diet. To do this, read and understand the nutrition facts label when shopping for foods. To avoid succumbing to temptations from all that’s available while you browse the aisles and read labels, it might be easier to create a grocery shopping list in advance. Unless you’re purchasing foods you’ve previously researched, how will you know a product’s nutrition data while preparing your list?
Online tools make it easier
If browsing multiple websites for every product you intend to purchase sounds too time-consuming, the American Heart Association’s one-stop online location is a handy tool for creating a grocery shopping list of heart-healthy certified foods. Products are broken into categories similar to the aisles where they are stocked at the grocery store — milk is in the “Dairy” category, fresh fruits and vegetables are in “Fresh,” and so on.
When a product’s information is accessed, the packaging logo is displayed so you can be sure you’ve selected the right item along with the product’s ingredient list and nutrition facts panel. Selected items are added to a list, which can be saved and modified, printed, e-mailed or downloaded to a web-enabled mobile phone or PDA.
The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) is having its first ever Supermarket Health and Wellness Conference May 11 – 13. Due to consumers’ increased desire to purchase foods that promote good health, the industry is taking proactive steps to “develop health and wellness programs and market to the evolving shopper,” according to FMI’s news release March 10. The conference is an encouraging sign that consumers are becoming more educated about the importance of making healthy food choices and make their wishes known.
According to the FMI’s website and backgrounder, the institute operates on behalf of its 1,500 member companies, which are food retailers and wholesalers around the world — not food shoppers and consumers. Its combined annual sales volume of $680 billions represents three-quarters of all food retailers in the U.S.
Consumers’ need unbiased information
FMI’s plans to “develop strategies and tactics to capitalize on emerging health and wellness opportunities across the entire store,” is an indication that they are aware of consumer concerns about having healthy food choices. While I believe information provided by supermarkets will be accurate, I’m not convinced it will be presented without bias. Consumers are already obtaining comprehensive and unbiased information and educational resources from other sources, such as The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Dietetic Assocation (ADA). In fact, these organizations and others are at least partly responsible causing consumers to begin to seek out healthier options.
I believe that FMI’s move to create education at the store level is a good one; however, I do not believe consumers should rely solely on this information in making final decisions about which foods to purchase. Consumers would be wise to continue educating themselves and staying up to date on the latest research and comparing information provided through supermarket programs to other reliable sources.