Experts offer advice on navigating the supermarket.
Good nutrition starts with smart choices in the grocery store. Cooking up healthy meals is a challenge if you don't have the right ingredients in your kitchen.
But who has time to read all the food labels and figure out which items are the most nutritious and the best buys? Grocery shopping can be a daunting task, simply because there are so many choices.
"Markets perform a great public service, but keep in mind they are designed to get you to buy (and, therefore, eat) more food, not less," says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating.
But with a little guidance, healthy choices are a cinch to find in any supermarket.
Plan Ahead for Success
The process starts even before you head to the grocery store, experts say. Before you set out for the market, plan your meals for the week, and create a list to shop from. It takes a few minutes, but saves time in running back to the store for missing ingredients.
To save money, use coupons, check the weekly grocery ads, and incorporate sale foods into your meal planning. And don't shop hungry: An empty belly often results in impulse purchases that may not be the healthiest.
"When planning your grocery list, consult the guidelines of MyPyramid [the government nutrition web site mypyramid.gov] to make sure you are including all the foods you need for good health," advises Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids.
To help meet the pyramid guidelines, you should be filling your cart with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lean meat, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts, she says.
Most of us tend to eat the same foods over and over again. But variety really is the spice of life, says Ward.
"One of the tenets of the pyramid is variety, so instead of white potatoes, choose sweet potatoes, which are much richer in beta-carotene, or baby spinach instead of iceberg lettuce," she advises.
Be adventurous; aim to try a new fruit or vegetable each week, she advises.
Both Ward and Nestle say organic foods are a great option, but note that they may not be the most economical choice.
"You get the same nutritional benefits with fewer pesticides [with organics], but eating plenty of produce is more important than choosing organic foods," says Ward.