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.
Although it might seem trite, a food pyramid is still a good tool for learning how to eat healthier. Categories of foods are arranged in sections within a pyramid as an easy-to-remember visual guide of the types and quantities of foods to be eaten. Categories near the pyramid’s base take up more space and represent foods that should be eaten in greater quantities and more frequently. Categories near the top of the pyramid are for foods that should be consumed in smaller quantities and less frequently.
Reducing saturated fats and cholesterol is important to improving heart-health, but it’s not a stand-alone solution. A balanced diet that includes categories of foods from a food pyramid, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is necessary to achieve optimum heart-health.
The Mayo Clinic provides a Healthy Weight Pyramid tool on their Web site. The site also provides food pyramids for healthy diets that fit a variety of lifestyles:
- Latin American
If you compare the categories from the pyramids on the Mayo Clinic’s site, you’ll see that every pyramid includes a small amount of fat daily as part of a healthy diet — as long as it’s the right type and eaten in moderation.
Basic principles apply
With a variety of food pyramids to choose from, why not choose the one that most closely matches your preferences and lifestyle? The basic principles of a healthy diet are the same on all pyramids displayed on the Mayo Clinic’s Web site:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Reduce intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
- Limit sweets and salt.
- Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, if at all.
- Control portion sizes and the total number of calories you consume.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine.
“Fresh” should be your first choice when purchasing produce, whether from your grocer’s produce section or the farmers market. Fresh produce is usually higher in nutritional value than frozen or canned — especially if purchased from a local farmers market. However, it’s not always practical or even possible to purchase produce fresh. There are instances when purchasing canned or frozen may make more sense:
- Price – Canned vegetables may be less expensive than fresh options.
- Out-of-season – Perhaps the produce you need or want to purchase isn’t in season. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can provide the perfect solution.
- Convenience – You may not have time to chop, prepare or cook fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Waste – Fresh produce has a short shelf life in comparison to canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.
Eating daily recommended portions is key
It’s perfectly okay to substitute frozen or canned vegetables for fresh. When it comes to fruits and vegetables and your health, the key is making sure you eat enough every day. The American Dietetic Assocation recommends eating 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily.
Avoid added sugar and salt
Canned and frozen vegetables may have added sugars and salt. To minimize sugar, The American Dietetic Association suggests looking for unsweetened fruit packed in its own juice or fruit juice. Also, choosing vegetables with “no salt added” or “reduced sodium” stated on the label is best.
A nice visual demonstration for substituting canned and frozen for fresh can be seen in this short video from the American Dietetic Assocation.
The American Dietetic Association recommends that women eat two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables each day. Not only is eating the daily recommended quantity of fruits and vegetables important for a heart-healthy diet, it also adds a lot of bulk, which helps you feel full after eating.
My recent visit to the Dallas Farmers Market was just what I needed to jump-start my effort to eat enough fruits and vegetables daily. Because the market’s produce was so beautifully displayed, I wanted to purchase everything I saw. Not until I was home and unpacked my bag did I realize I’d purchased far more than I could reasonably consume before it would all began to spoil.
Why measure portions?
I decided to measure and track my vegetable and fruit portions for a few days to ensure I was eating the recommended quantities, even though I believed I already was. I was surprised to discover that I was actually only eating about three cups of fruits and vegetables instead of the recommended four and a half cups.
As it turned out, I didn’t have more produce than I could eat — blueberries for breakfast, a sliced tomato and avacado for lunch, squash for dinner and a banana for a snack was easily five cups. I was able to polish off everything I’d purchased from the market in about five days.
I visited the Dallas Farmers Market yesterday, hoping to find the inspiration I needed to add more fruits and vegetables to my diet. Since this would be my first real visit to the Market, I wanted learn what the market had to offer. I was able to purchase seven beefsteak tomatoes for only $2 — a much better price than I’d find at the grocery store. But more importantly, the selection was incredible and the vegetables were so beautiful that even a die-hard meat-and-potatoes lover would find them hard to resist.
Click photo to enlarge
Click to enlarge.
Navigating the market:
The Dallas Market is located near the heart of downtown Dallas and consists of four large sheds and a floral vendor. Produce is sold in sheds 1, 3 and 4. Shed 3 is reserved for eateries and all other items, such as locally-raised beef, chicken and lamb; herbs and spices; and locally-roasted coffee. Vendors adjacent to the market and across the street sell plants and lawn and garden items and provide a comfort cushion from downtown’s looming skyscrapers a short distance away.
Three types of produce vendors:
- Local Farmers – Local farmers selling their own produce are identified with “Verified LOCAL Farmer” signs. To qualify for this designation, farmers must sell produce grown within a 150-mile radius of Dallas. The best time to purchase produce from local farmers is early Saturday morning. Unfortunately, there were no local farmers when I visited Sunday.
- Produce Dealers – Produce dealers are merchants that buy and resell produce purchased from growers or wholesale produce warehouses. During the height of local produce season, produce dealers may also sell produce grown by local farmers.
- Wholesalers – Wholesale vendors offer produce in bulk quantities at wholesale prices.