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Tips for Healthier Grocery Shopping

By Dino Nowak
Certified Fitness Trainer Finding it a challenge to get through the grocery store quickly and make healthier choices? Trying to make your grocery list a little less guilty? No time to read every label? Here are some grocery shopping tips to keep in mind next time you take a trip to the market.

Fruits and Vegetables
Aim for any combination of 9 servings of fruits and vegetables—one medium piece is equal to one serving. Try to get at least 3-5 different colors—Bright, colorful fruits and vegetables contain important compounds called phytochemicals that help prevent a wide variety of illnesses including cancer and heart disease.

Try one new fruit or vegetable to keep things interesting; if your kids don’t like one in particular, they may like another. Frozen is OK, too. If choosing canned, make sure it’s canned in its own juices and not in syrup.

Grains (breads and pastas)
Choose pasta that has at least 2 grams of fiber. The first ingredient ideally should be whole wheat. Be aware of the serving sizes. Pasta is one of those foods you do not feel “full” right away; you can end up having a couple of plates full and go over your serving size limit. Warning: One serving size of pasta measures approximately ½ cup, not a full bowl.

Aim for 24 ounces a day. If you drink 2-percent milk, try to wean yourself off of that and on to 1-percent milk, and then eventually switch to skim milk over the course of a month.

Choose chicken or turkey, as they have lower saturated fat compared to beef. When at the deli, ask for low-sodium varieties and ask for a sample to determine what appeals to your taste. Ask for your meat to be sliced in one-ounce servings. For sandwiches, use 3 slices of meat. That equals 3 ounces, or one serving.

Choose fish that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which protect against heart disease and have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Some examples of Omega 3 content include the following: mackerel, 2.2g; Atlantic salmon, 1.6g; herring, 1.4g; canned white tuna in water, 1.3g; and canned salmon, 1.1g. Eat fish twice a week for health benefits.

Look at the energy per serving, watch the calories per serving, and figure how many servings are in each container. This is very telling for calorie and sugar numbers.

Water is always the best—you might even mix a little juice in your water for flavor. There is some great tasting, no-calorie flavored water and teas available. If you are looking to sweeten a drink, then use Splenda instead of sugar. It’s been proven safe and contains 0 calories. Eat fruit instead of drinking juices. If you must have juice, make sure it’s 100-percent fruit juice and not flavored sugar water.

Use healthier alternatives but don't do non-fat unless you absolutely love it; you still need to enjoy what you’re eating. Don’t fall for the low-carb advertising on the cover—many of them are high in calories and saturated fat. Choose the ones with the fewest calories and saturated fat. Even some of the “power bars” have more sugar and calories than a candy bar.

Look at what makes a serving. It will usually say 12 or 24 chips, so get more food for the energy intake. Use baked varieties whenever possible, as they are healthier and contain less calories and fat. Ideally, look for the products that have 0 grams of trans fat—trans fat can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease.

Overall Tips
Be wary of prepackaged foods. They are usually higher in sodium and saturated fat. A few brands like Lean Cuisine have done a better job of reducing sodium content. Maximum sodium intake per day is only 1,500mg, so keep that in mind when reading labels.

Be sure to multiply the label contents by how many servings per container. For example, if the label says a serving is 220 calories but there are 3 serving per container, that means if you eat the whole package, you’re getting 660 calories plus three times everything else.

Never, ever shop hungry and shop off a list.

Stop the impulse buying of sweets. If you are craving sweets, try the individually wrapped bags and limit yourself to only a couple of pieces. Try to resist the candy at the checkout stand, except for gum—sugar-free is preferred.

Dino Nowak holds some of the highest levels of certifications with the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, and the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research. He has advised and trained celebrities in the television, film, and music industries, in addition to those of all ages who have struggled with health and fitness challenges. He is the former general manager of Equinox Fitness in Los Angeles and the author of The Final Makeover: Your 40 Day Guide to Personal Fitness. He has been interviewed by major media outlets. His official Web site is

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