Q: I know that it is healthier and cheaper to buy groceries at the store and prepare meals at home, but the choices at the supermarket are overwhelming. Do you have a guide to use?
A: I agree, it can be confusing. But, before we “go shopping,” let’s review first what the average person should be emphasizing for a “healthy heart” — because February is American Heart Month. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily. Follow these basic guidelines when planning weekly meals:
- Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups per day
- Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3.5-ounce servings per week
- Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings per week
- Processed meats: No more than 2 servings per week
- Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings per day
- Saturated fat: Less than 7 percent of total energy intake
- Trans fat: Strive for zero grams per day
- Sodium: Less than 1,500 milligrams per day
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) per week
Here are some tips to help you be heart-smart at the grocery store and choose good-for-you foods. Let’s go shopping...
Vegetables and Fruits
- Be sure to buy and eat plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables that are deeply colored – such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries – tend to be higher in vitamins and minerals than others, such as potatoes and corn.
- When fresh foods aren’t available, choose frozen or canned vegetables and fruits in water without added sugars, saturated or trans fat, or salt.
- Buy more fruits and vegetables that are good sources of fiber, including beans, peas, oranges, bananas, strawberries and apples.
- Stock up on raw vegetables for snacks such as carrot and celery sticks, broccoli, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower.
- For desserts, buy fresh or canned fruits (in water without added sugars).
- Don’t buy lots of fruit juice. It doesn’t provide the fiber whole fruit does and it’s not as good at satisfying hunger.
- Some cholesterol-lowering medications may interact with grapefruit, grapefruit juice, pomegranate and pomegranate juice. Please talk to your health care provider about any potential risks.
Milk, Cheese, Butter and Eggs
- Select fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
- Avoid milk that contains added flavorings such as vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. They usually have added sugars and calories.
- Choose fat-free, low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses.
- Use egg whites or egg substitutes instead of egg yolks. (Substitute two egg whites for each egg yolk in recipes that call for eggs.)
- Choose soft margarines that contain “0 grams trans fat” instead of buying butter. (These margarines usually come in tubs.)
- Don’t buy a lot of butter, cream and ice cream. Save those for special occasions and, even then, limit how much you eat. These foods have more saturated fat than whole milk.
- Watch out for the saturated and/or partially hydrogenated fats hidden in casseroles, bakery goods, desserts and other foods. Read the Nutrition Facts label to determine the saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol content of foods you’re considering.
Meat, Poultry, Fish and Nuts
- Buy and prepare more fish. You should eat one serving of grilled or baked fish at least twice a week. (A serving is roughly the size of a checkbook.) Good examples of fish to buy include salmon, trout and herring.
- Choose lemon juice and spices to eat with fish. Don’t add cream sauces.
- Stay away from fried fish. It’s usually high in fat — often trans fat.
- Choose cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round”; they usually have the least fat.
- Buy “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime,” and be sure to trim off the fat before cooking.
- When buying or eating poultry, choose the leaner light meat (breasts) rather than the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs). Try the skinless version or remove the skin yourself.
- Select more meat substitutes such as dried beans, peas, lentils or tofu and use them as entrees or in salads and soups. A one-cup serving of cooked beans, peas, lentils or tofu can replace a two-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish.
- Pick up nuts and seeds, which are good sources of protein and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — but remember, they tend to be high in calories, so eat them in moderation.
Breads and Baked Goods
- Choose whole-grain, high-fiber breads, such as those containing whole wheat, oats, oatmeal, whole rye, whole grain corn and buckwheat. Choose breads and other foods that list whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list.
- Limit the amount of bakery products you purchase, including doughnuts, pies, cakes and cookies. Look instead for fat-free or low-fat and low-sodium varieties of crackers, snack chips, cookies and cakes.
- Remember that most store-baked goods are made with egg yolks, saturated fats and/or trans fats. (Read the Nutrition Facts label to determine the saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol content.) Check for store-baked goods that are made with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils, skim or reduced-fat milk, and egg whites — or make your own.
- Instead of buying a raisin bran muffin, buy a loaf of raisin bread and enjoy a slice for breakfast or lunch.
Oils, Dressings and Shortenings
- Buy and use fats and oils in limited amounts.
- When you must use oils for cooking, baking or in dressings or spreads, choose the ones lowest in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol — including canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean and sunflower oils.
- Stay away from palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter. Even though they are vegetable oils and have no cholesterol, they’re high in saturated fats.
- Buy a nonstick pan or use nonstick vegetable spray when cooking.
- Choose reduced-fat, low-fat, light or fat-free salad dressings (if you need to limit your calories) to use with salads, for dips or as marinades. Better yet, use oil and vinegar (such as balsamic) for salad dressings.