By Jenna Siebenmorgen, Mercy registered dietitian
March is National Nutrition Month, so it’s a great time to offer healthy tips on navigating the grocery store and reading food labels.
A few things you want to think about before you shop are to always have a grocery list. This helps you stay on track with what you intend to purchase. Some people find it easier to plan their meals, which also helps you know the items needed.
Aim for a variety of whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat or fat-free dairy and plenty of fruits and vegetables to fill your plate.
Once you get to the store, start with non-perishable or dry items first. Always save frozen foods, meat and eggs, and dairy for last to ensure they stay cold for as long as possible.
When choosing fruits and vegetables, remember that fresh, frozen and canned are options. Choose no-sugar-added fruits and low-sodium canned vegetables. Often, frozen and canned options are less expensive and easier to prepare.
Carbohydrate foods such as breads, pasta and potatoes provide the body with energy. To help maintain weight and blood sugar control, choose more whole-grain products such as wheat bread, whole-grain pasta or brown rice. When looking for bread, the first ingredient should read “whole.”
Packaged items such as cereals, granola bars or frozen entrees can be a sneaky source of sugar and sodium. When selecting cereal or a granola bar, look for products with less than 12 grams of sugar per serving. Frozen dinners should have less than 600 milligrams of sodium per serving. Consider pairing a fruit or vegetable with a frozen entrée for a complete meal.
Sugar-sweetened beverages can add calories very quickly. The sugar in these products is added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to less than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams per day for women and 9 teaspoons or 38 grams per day for men. A 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola has 16.25 teaspoons and 65 grams of sugar!
Excess consumption of soda, sweet tea or even juice can hinder weight loss efforts and lead to tooth decay or cavities. Instead, try flavoring water with fruit or a natural sweetener and opt for unsweet tea or at least tea that is half sweet and half unsweet.
A few tips for leaving the grocery store would include to bag liked items together to make putting groceries away at home easier. Wash and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables, keeping them in sight for a quick grab-and-go snack.
By following these steps, you will improve your health. Most people find that when they improve their eating habits, they have increased energy levels, higher self-esteem and confidence, and ultimately live a happier, healthier lifestyle.
Jenna Siebenmorgen, MS, RD, LD, CPT, is an outpatient registered dietitian with Mercy Fort Smith. For more nutrition information, contact Mercy Nutrition Services at 479-259-9548 and schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian, which is a food and nutrition expert.