The rules of nutrition and healthy eating can be as simple as: 1) don’t count calories, and 2) eat real and wholesome foods. Unfortunately in today’s fast-paced world, the natural and homemade route is sometimes blurry, and even unrealistic. Sometimes we are left with no choice but to reach for easy and convenient processed foods.
Supermarkets cordially welcome you with beautiful flowers, but these are not “I love you” flowers, rather they are just part of the design to woo you into making impulse purchases. This trend continues through the store. Unsubstantiated and unregulated health claims have turned supermarkets into aisles of wrapped and boxed confusion, and even a healthy, savvy shopper can fall prey to the marketing ploys of food manufacturers. Nutrition messages on the front of packages are designed to grab your attention and make foods sound healthier than they really are. Empty claims like “contains antioxidants,” “made with real fruit,” and “high fiber,” and colorful, fancy packaging can leave you reaching for foods that fall short in the nutrition department and prevent you from eating greener and cleaner.
But you don’t need a GPS to successfully navigate the supermarket and avoid overstocking your cart with products filled with harmful oils, unfriendly preservatives, and sugars. Grocery shopping is not rocket science, but it can be overwhelming, so plan ahead: never go food shopping hungry, bring a grocery list, and keep your reading glasses handy to check nutrition labels and ingredients.
Aim for foods with 5 ingredients or less. By rule, ingredients are listed in order of prominence, so beware of foods that lead off with things like sugar or enriched bleached flour. Another rule of thumb: if you don’t recognize an ingredient, you probably don’t need it. And the old recommendation of sticking to the perimeter of the store actually works: there you’ll find whole foods that are minimally processed. Following this rule will steer you away from the maze of aisles crowded with pre-packaged and often unhealthy foods. When you do venture into the aisles, remember that the healthiest options are not often located at eye level. Be sure to look on the top and bottom shelves to locate the best options. By following these tips, you won’t let your need for convenience derail your diet.
- Look for the “right” fiber in the ingredient list. Organic sugar is still sugar, and high in fiber doesn’t necessarily mean whole grains. If searching for a cereal, for example, choose a cereal that has 5-6 grams of sugar or less and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Read ingredients to make sure the fiber is coming from naturally high-fiber ingredients like whole grains and not added fiber (inulin, chicory root) often used to cover up traces of refined grains.
- When in doubt, make your own food and beverages. Remember, just because a food or beverage looks healthy doesn’t mean it is healthy. For example, some store-bought green smoothies/juices are more like a sugary treat and can have as many as 50 grams of sugar! To prevent a sugar and energy crash that leaves you feeling like napping at 11 am, make your own smoothies at home and follow a 4:1 ratio of vegetables to fruits.
- Know the difference between a great ingredient and a bad product. Don’t let one good ingredient promoted on a box or bag of food make you believe it is a health food. It is best to always read the label of all packaged foods. For example, quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse, but a quinoa chip not so much. The idea of a quinoa chip sounds healthy, but most of the time its nutrition profile is exactly the same as a regular corn chip. Read the ingredient list and make sure quinoa is listed as the first ingredient. Same rule applies for sweet potato, black bean and veggie chips.