My last tip, “Healthy Grocery Shopping—Part I,” covered the general layout of most supermarkets as well as simple guidelines for produce, protein, and dairy shopping. Now we’ll review different types of starchy carbohydrates (pasta, bread, etc.) and some easy guidelines for understanding what food labels really say. The more you learn, the better your shopping experience will be!
The starch in your diet
To avoid confusion, think of two starch categories called “Eat Most of the Time” and “Eat Rarely.” The starches in the “Eat Most of the Time” category are beneficial within your diet’s guidelines (whole-grain bread, whole oats, brown rice, etc.). They are less refined and closer to the natural state of the grain. Some of their benefits are that they’re full of fiber and nutrients and will help keep your blood sugar level stabilized.
Examples of the starches in the “Eat Rarely” category are the highly refined varieties (white pasta, white breads, white rice, etc.). These are converted into sugar quickly, and have a similar effect on your blood sugar as when you eat sweets, which can trigger cravings for more sugar and carbohydrates. These starches also contain little or no fiber, and offer little or no nutritional benefits. When you do eat these starches, eat them in small portions accompanied with a strong source of protein to help control their effect on your blood sugar level.
Your starch rule of thumb: Steer clear of highly refined items and select whole-grain varieties.
Just the facts
Once you turn your cart to the center aisles, understanding the Nutrition Facts label is key to making healthy and satisfying food selections—and attaining long-term weight control. You simply have to know what you’re eating in order to make the best choices. Labels don’t have to be complicated. You don’t need a degree in nutrition to ask yourself, “What’s in here?” Take a look . . .
Just focus on a few key areas:
Serving Size and Calories—How many servings are in a package and how big is a serving? Keep in mind that most packages contain upwards of 2.5 servings—and the serving size listed on the package may not be the size of a serving in your meal plan. A small package of nuts could contain 170 calories per serving but the package contains three servings. If you ate the package, you’d have eaten 510 calories quickly—from a small amount of nuts. Beware, too, of beverages—they can be serving-size traps. That bottle of juice drink may look like one serving, but the label may list it as two or even three servings!
Fat Content—Labels tell you the total number of fat grams in one serving, and whether it’s saturated or unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat sources (olive oil, avocado, etc.) are the most beneficial, whereas amounts of saturated fats (butter, cream, etc.) should be limited. Finally, try to avoid trans-fatty acids (listed as “partially hydrogenated” oils) because they are believed to contribute to high cholesterol levels, and therefore to increased risk of heart disease and obesity.
Carbohydrate Content—Depending on your personal dietary guidelines, carbohydrates may make up approximately 40 percent of your daily food intake. Of that, about two-thirds should come from produce, and about one-third from less-refined “Eat Most of the Time” starchy carbohydrates.
Protein Content—Depending on your personal dietary guidelines, protein may make up 30 percent of your daily food intake. Protein helps keep you satisfied, so strive for good sources of protein at each meal (such as turkey, fish, chicken, etc.). Remember, when it comes to protein, more is not necessarily better—especially if you’re choosing proteins with a higher fat content like nuts or beef.
A word about ingredient listings
Ingredients are listed in order from highest to lowest content. So if sugar is the first ingredient listed, that product contains high amounts of sugar as compared to the other ingredients.
If reading labels during your busy shopping trip seems like too much of a hassle, plan a visit to the store just to read labels. Think of it as a time-saving exploration that will set you up for success in your future shopping trips. You can jot down a list of the brands and items you find that are both healthy and delicious. Add those items to your shopping list each week and you’ll be able to grab them and keep the cart rolling. Or practice label reading with items you already have at home. It’s easy and, after a while, you’ll look at labels out of habit.
Remember, we all have to grocery shop! No need to be nervous. Follow my strategy for painless shopping and you’ll see—food shopping and preparing your own meals will help you stay on track with your weight loss goals.