Most of us know that carrots are healthier than cookies, but what about the other items in your shopping cart? Buying healthy food is hard, especially when items at the store are mislabeled, the wrong portion size, or full of hidden diet-busters. We've gathered some surprising health-related facts to help you snack smart, eat healthy, and choose more wisely at the grocery store.
If you've been skipping the produce section to save money, reconsider. Fresh fruits and veggies make great, filling snacks, and they're cheaper than packaged munchies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that a serving of produce costs roughly 25 cents, while cookies and crackers cost about 30 cents a serving. "Fruits and veggies are also high in fiber, so they're more filling than many packaged foods," says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D. For the best value, shop in-season produce, and check out local farmer's markets.
Your daily cup of coffee does more than give you an energy boost. Coffee, be it regular or decaf, is the nation's top source of antioxidants, accounting for 40 percent of our overall intake, according to research from the University of Scranton. Antioxidants fight free radicals that can harm the body's cells. Coffee contains only one class of antioxidants, though, so combine your java with a diet full of fruits and veggies for the best antioxidant benefit.
Even staples like bread require close examination. Bread is the No. 1 source of sodium in our diets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two slices can deliver 20 percent of your daily sodium limit. Too much sodium increases risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Look for bread that has 120 mg of sodium or less per serving.
Americans are snacking more than ever. Nearly a quarter of the calories in our diet—about 504 per day—are eaten between meals, which aren't getting any smaller. Snacking is a good way to boost energy and avoid overeating, but healthy choices are crucial. Pack a healthy snack that contains protein and fiber and has 100-200 calories.
One can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar. This is well over the 25-gram daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association. Excess sugar can cause weight gain, increased blood pressure, and inflammation—all risk factors for heart disease. It's OK to treat yourself once in a while, but a daily dose of soda will wreak serious havoc on your health. Instead, try seltzer water or unsweetened iced tea with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice, a twist of citrus, or muddled mint.
Cholesterol woes shouldn't stop you from eating protein-rich eggs. "The cholesterol you consume in food has a relatively small effect on the cholesterol in your bloodstream," says Stephen B. Kritchevsky, Ph.D. If you need further convincing, a medium egg has only 1 gram of saturated fat, one cause of high cholesterol. That is well under the American Heart Association's recommended 16-gram daily limit. Eggs also contain the hard-to-find nutrients lutein and choline. As long as you enjoy them in moderation, eggs are a healthy addition to your diet.
Today's microwave meals can be nutritious, not to mention convenient. But not all frozen meals are built alike. Many are full of empty calories and sodium. Look for meals with colorful vegetables and whole grains, and check the nutrition label for fiber and vitamins, and somewhere in the 400- to 600-calorie range. "Each serving should also have no more than 500 mg of sodium and 15 grams of fat," says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D.
Red meat is a good source of protein, iron, and B vitamins. If you're going to indulge in a steak or burger, you just need to watch your portion size. Red meat is high in calories and saturated fat, so stick to a serving that's 2-3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards.