Supermarket Smart: How to Make Healthier Choices

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Are you confused at the supermarket?  It's no wonder, as the average market has more than 35,000 items and not every market has the same 35,000. Americans chose from about 500 or so different foods in the 1900; we choose from more than 50,000 today.

The numbers help to explain why it's so hard to make healthy choices when shopping for food because temptation is everywhere.  Foods that are part of a nutritious diet include lean meat-poultry-fish, low-fat dairy, veggies, fruits, beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

You must have these ingredients on hand at home to cook healthy, and preparing your own meals is key. You want to control the amount of salt, fat and sugar in the food you eat.

Before you venture to the supermarket, go through your cabinets, fridge and pantry.  This way you can see what's on hand and what you need to buy.  Then make a list and stick to it. I know you're thinking, "Uuugh, she wants me to make a list."

Although it might take a little longer to shop at first, the benefits are well worth it.  Here are a few things that making a list will help you to do:

  • Make healthier choices;
  • Reduce impulse buying;
  • Save money because you are not grabbing foods that are not on the list;
  • Spend less time at the supermarket;
  • Become an educated consumer;

My rule: If it's not on the list, don't buy it. No need for temptation staring you in the face at home.

The periphery of the supermarket has most of the healthiest choices: produce, lean meat-poultry-fish, low-fat dairy and whole-grain breads. Don't stop there. You will find other nutritious foods in the middle aisles, including whole grains, beans, unsweetened cereals, teas, water and flavored seltzers.

Many people purchase a lot of pre-packaged foods for convenience.  Some choices are much better than others.  Read the labels so you can make the best choices and look for foods with the least amount of salt, fat and sugar.  If you can't pronounce the words or they look like Dr. Frankenstein would be using them, don't buy it.

Here are a few terms you might see while surfing the aisles:

  • Healthy - Food is low in fat (especially saturated fat or trans fat) and has limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium;
  • Free - Contains only tiny amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol or calories per serving.  With sugar-free, look to see if there are artificial sweeteners and, if so, don't buy it (chemicals, my friends);
  • Good Source - One serving provides 10-19 percent of your total daily needs of that nutrient;
  • Low Sodium - One serving has 140 milligrams of sodium or less;
  • Low Cholesterol - One serving has 20 milligrams of cholesterol or less, and 2 grams or less of sat fat;
  • Reduced - One serving has 25 percent less than the regular version;
  • Light - One serving has 50 percent less than the regular version.

Diane Henderiks' Supermarket "7?

  1. Never go grocery shopping hungry.
  2. Choose the smallest fruits and veggies (Mother Nature packs many of her fruits and veggies in perfect serving sizes).
  3. Choose lean meats, poultry and fish.
  4. Choose low-fat dairy products with less than 3 grams of fat per serving
  5. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals with 3 or more grams of fiber and less than 2 grams fat per serving. Avoid refined products.
  6. Opt for low sodium whenever possible, 140 milligrams or less per serving is great.
  7. Let your intelligence make your food choices not momentary, fleeting cravings.

Happy Shopping!

Henderiks is a registered dietitian, founder of and a "Good Morning America" health contributor.

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