Millions of adults in the United States have diabetes and a shockingly high number — 78.6 million — are now obese. That’s more than the number of people currently living in the entire country of Canada. These diseases are mostly preventable, yet they inflict extremely high, life-long costs. While many chronic diseases are influenced by choices we make every day in all aspects of our lives, there are small changes we can make to have a big impact on our health. One good place to start is at the grocery store, where most people purchase the majority of the food they prepare for themselves and their families.
Each time we step into the supermarket, we’re faced with a plethora of choices about brands, taste, price, and calories. These choices are often made depending on budget and convenience, but we must also prioritize health. The choices we make each week at the grocery store can have a lasting impact on our nutrition, but with a little awareness and savvy, we can improve our health simply by becoming better shoppers. Shopping carefully and consciously can help you avoid making these common mistakes at the grocery store.
A sandwich can be a healthy lunch alternative to a burger if it is full of lean proteins and vegetables, but the choice to pack your panini with deli meats may not be such a healthy one. Deli meats can be high in sodium and preservatives, which can negatively impact your blood pressure, and may even cause cancer, as a new study shows. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently evaluated more than 800 different studies on cancer in humans and ultimately linked the consumption of processed meats to various types of cancer. If you’re headed to the deli counter, opt out of prepackaged meats and choose fresh chicken or rotisserie chicken instead. Look for freshly sliced chicken or turkey that is organic and nitrate free.
Energy bars are often looked at as healthy snacks or breakfast substitutes, but usually they’re just another item on the pseudo-healthy snacking list. While there are some healthy and natural energy bars, many are filled with processed sugars and are high in calories. Make sure to read the ingredients in these types of bars to ensure you aren’t consuming unnecessary sugar and carbohydrates, and be aware of how many calories they have. A good rule of thumb when choosing energy bars is to keep the sugar content to five grams or less per serving — KIND Bars and Lara Bars are two of my favorite.
For many reasons, buying juice can be a big health mistake. When it comes to juice it is especially important to read labels because juices can be made from concentrate or mixed with syrups and sugars. Check the ingredients and choose juices that are 100 percent juice, but still drink them in moderation. Juice in general is high in sugar, even if it is made simply from raw fruits and vegetables. If you love your juice, try using freshly squeezed juice to flavor sparking water — one ounce of juice to every 12 ounces of water.
Low-Fat and Reduced-Fat
At one point or another, we’ve all been drawn to a tasty 99 calorie pack of cookies. Cookies, only 99 calories? As the old saying goes: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. We would all love to be able to eat our favorite junk foods in a low-fat serving without the guilt of the associated calories, but these foods are often loaded with empty carbohydrates and sugar to make them taste good. When it comes to snacking, choose natural and healthy snacks like Greek yogurt, fruit, or a handful of nuts. These natural foods tend to help you feel more satisfied and curb your appetite for salts and sugars.
Here’s a quick and delicious snack to try: Add a splash of pure vanilla extract, a handful of wild blueberries, and a dash of cinnamon to your plain Greek yogurt. This combo is delicious, filling, and good for you.
As a wellness director, I always recommend filling at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, so naturally I’m a fan of salad as a snack, side, or entrée. The more vegetables and greens the better, but one common mistake salad-eaters make is to drown a salad in dressing. Some dressings, like ranch and thousand island, are notorious for being high in calories and fat. So when you’re at the grocery store, read the dressing’s label and portion your servings accordingly. You can also ditch the ready-made dressing altogether and make your own. Dressings can be relatively simple to make with great ingredients like vinegar, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, mustard, fresh herbs, and honey. I like to make a quick, versatile balsamic dressing simply by mixing vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard.
The best advice to keep in mind at the grocery store is to simply read the ingredients and watch your portions. If you’re like me, this means making sure to bring reading glasses or a magnifying glass! There are plenty of healthy foods to choose from in the grocery store, but it does take some searching to ensure you’re choosing the best foods with the best ingredients for you and your family.