2007-04-26 / Editorial Page

Shopping for healthy food

Shopping for healthy food

Making wise food choices at the grocery store requires thought and time. Sadly, many of the foods that are in the grocery store aisles today are not the best choices. In general, if you shop the perimeter of the store, you will find more of the healthy food choices that you desire. Foods found in the deli are an exception to this rule. They tend to be full of salt, fat and/or sugar.

The key to selecting the best foods is to look at the Nutrition Facts Label when it is available. Most people look at the calories and fat, but you can find other important nutrients as well. The key is to compare similar products and to make sure the serving size is the amount you really eat.

Many people do not understand the % DV or Percent Daily Value listed on the label for many of the nutrients. This value tells you what percentage of a nutrient that product contains versus a recommended amount for a person who eats 2,000 calories a day.

All you need to remember is that for healthy nutrients like calcium or Vitamin C, you want to get at least 100% of the Daily Value each day and for less healthy nutrients like cholesterol or saturated fat you want to get less than 100% of the Daily Value per day. Of course, you will not probably get this entire amount from one food. Normally you get your daily quota from a variety of foods that contain different amounts of that nutrient.

A food is high in a nutrient if the Daily Value is 20% or more. It is low in a nutrient if it has 5% of the Daily Value or less. If you require a different amount of calories, you will need to do some math to figure out your exact needs, but for product comparisons just looking at the data on the label is enough.

To improve your food choices, begin at home. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label on foods you already buy. Focus on the key nutrients that concern you. If you try to consider too many nutrients at once, you will get confused.

Decide on one food you want to replace before you go to the store. By selecting only a single food to change, you will spend less time in the store as you scan labels.

Look at foods similar to the one you have decided to replace. If you find a similar product with a better nutrient content and the price is right, buy it. Keep in mind that many products that are called low fat or low in sugar may not be that different in calories than the original product. You have to decide if the change is worth it. And of course, the final decision will depend on whether it tastes good or not.

Once you have changed this initial food, move on to other products you want to replace. Not all foods will have acceptable substitutes, but new products are always appearing, so do not give up. You will probably find replacements for at least half of the foods that you decide do not meet your nutrition goals. This process may sound time consuming, but if you change one food a week, in just a few months, you will be eating a much healthier diet.

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