"Healthy eating isn't an all-or-nothing deal," assures BHG health and nutrition adviser Dr. Melina Jampolis. "It's OK to mix frozen or precooked food with fresh items if it helps you get tasty, nutritious meals on the table faster. Just try to make smart choices while shopping, and do the best you can at cooking." Avoiding these pitfalls can help you make it happen.
Slim pickings in the produce section
By now you've probably heard it's best to start your shopping here. That's good advice, but don't settle for mushy strawberries or wilted spinach -- they'll just spoil uneaten in your fridge. "Check out the plain frozen produce instead," Dr. Jampolis suggests. "It's just as good for you -- if not better -- because it's flash frozen to retain nutrients."
Unwanted additives in canned foods
You might grab a can of pinto beans or peach slices and assume that's all you're getting. Not so fast, says Dr. Jampolis. Many brands contain added salt and sweeteners, which isn't exactly advertised on most labels. Take a look at the can's nutrition facts and, whenever possible, opt for salt-free or low-sodium versions with no added sweeteners. Not in stock? Rinse before eating to lower those levels.
Refined grains in rolls and breads
When shopping for bread and other baked goods, beware of the vague phrase "made with whole grains." "That product might contain 45 grams of refined grains and just 3 grams of nutritious whole grains," Dr. Jampolis says. The phrase to look for instead: "100 percent whole grains." This means the product contains no refined grains.
Empty calories in "nutritious" snacks
You already know to avoid snack foods that contain trans fat and sky-high sodium and sugar. "But don't be fooled by junk food that has vitamins and minerals added to it," Dr. Jampolis cautions. "It's still junk food with mainly empty calories." If you want a treat, keep it to one or two and choose wisely: "Seek out snacks that contain some truly beneficial component, like nuts, dried fruits, or whole grains."
Candy-caliber sugar in dairy products
Don't toss low-fat yogurt or smoothies in your cart without checking the sugar content, too. Some brands contain 30 grams or more of the sweet stuff -- the same amount found in many candy bars. (Just note that yogurt naturally contains some sugar in the form of lactose.) The healthy fix: Grab plain low-fat Greek yogurt and top with whole berries.
Fuzzy fat counts in the meat department
When it comes to ground beef and poultry, the term "lean" can be misleading. "A product labeled '90% lean' can still contain up to 10 grams of fat -- including 4.5 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat -- per serving," Dr. Jampolis says. Opt for ground meat in the 95-99 percent lean range instead. For whole cuts of beef, which often lack percentages, look for these words on labels: "Select" is the leanest, followed by "choice." "Prime" cuts are highest in fat.