Shop, Eat, Be Healthy
We planned our assignation like two spies going undercover on a mission. She would recognize me by my black hair and a large leather purse, while I was on the lookout for a redhead with a beige purse. As I waited in front of the Kroger, I realized I felt nervous. After all, it’s not every day that you go shopping with a dietitian. What would she say about my food choices? What if I’ve been eating the wrong way for most of my adult life? And what if she scolded me about it in front of the whole store?
Happily, as Nicole Moore came bounding up to me with a smile and a outstretched hand, those anxieties melted away. As a registered dietitian with Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center, Moore has a plethora of knowledge about good nutrition, coupled with a serene demeanor and a quick laugh.
Food, after all, is very personal for many people. We embrace it as an emotional crutch in times of trouble, we have long-held beliefs about it that go back to childhood and, for some of us, there is no quality of life without ice cream/nachos/coffee or whatever food item it is that makes our world complete.
But oftentimes, that’s where we can get into trouble. As for my family, while we try to eat healthy, we do have our pitfalls. We eat out far too often, which means we have higher-calorie meals than we would if we cooked at home. My husband grew up eating sweets at every meal (including breakfast!) and I tend to happily go along with it. Cheese dip is my nemesis—I’ve been known to eat half a jar in one sitting. I also like deli meat, white bread, lots of olive oil and firmly believe in using real butter.
But as we strolled past the deli counter, I was glad to learn I was doing some things right. Moore pointed out the bright red American Heart Association signs next to some of the Boar’s Head deli selections—including my favorites, the low sodium ham (which to me tastes very similar to the Italian ham I enjoyed at buffet breakfasts in Rome) and roast beef. “They do a really nice job on labels and it’s right in the front,” says Moore.
We laughed a little as we passed tempting racks of cakes and cookies on our way to the produce section. “Produce can be really daunting,” says Moore, “and people can think it’s really expensive. The question about produce that you should ask yourself is are you looking for convenience or for less expensive?”
According to ChooseMyPlate.gov (which has replaced the food pyramid with a divided plate showing the recommended food groups), fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at every meal. So if you and your family are more likely to eat more fruits, salad greens and vegetables if they are precut and pre-prepped, just remember that it will likely cost a bit extra at the cash register and they typically don’t keep as long.
Rounding the corner to the meats display, Moore pointed out that the route we were taking around the perimeter of the store is what most dietitians recommend since that is where most fresh, unprocessed foods (and most of the food groups) are located. “[But] it depends on what you’re actually here for,” she advises. For example, Moore enjoys browsing the spice aisle for new (and low-fat) flavors she can add to foods, and staples such as detergents, personal care products and dog food are also in the center aisles. “If you do have a bit more shopping in the center, you might want to start with that just in terms of a food safety [issue]…to keep your [meats and other perishable items] at temperature.”
We turned into one of those center aisles to check out the bread selection. Whole grains should make up slightly more than a quarter of your plate at every meal—and the key is making sure you see those words “100% Whole Grain” or “100% Whole Wheat,” says Moore. And while I do try to buy whole wheat, I admitted to Moore a love of the supposed “whole grain” white varieties. Could they possibly be healthy too?
With a deft movement, Moore flipped the package over to scan the label (it was a movement I’d get used to during our tour of the store). While most whole grain breads—which mean that the grain and its associated vitamins, minerals and fiber are intact—weigh in at 2 to 3 grams of fiber per slice, the whole grain white was around 1.5 grams. “If there’s a new product and you’re kind of curious, just flip it over and see what’s there,” she says. “This is not bad, it’s better than completely white.”
Her remark reminded me of what I’d heard much of my adult life—that a good diet is about moderation and balance. And while often that turns into a focus on what not to do, today healthy eating is about what you can do. And for most of us, it’s about doing the best we can. Even discretionary calories—or snacks as we might call them—can be part of a healthy diet, says Moore, so long as you educate yourself and are aware of what you’re eating, how you’re eating and how much you’re eating.
Even real butter. Moore smiled when I reminded her of that. “You just want to use a small amount of it. And you understand that it’s not good for you to use it in large amounts.”
As we walked toward the front of the store, I also remembered something else Moore had said just as we started this adventure. “I’m not perfect either,” she says. “Some days I’m starving [when I go to the grocery store] and when I get home, I say, ‘What did I buy?’” And just like us, on those occasions, she
tries to spread out those higher calorie items so they become discretionary calories over the next week or two, instead of in just one or two big meals. (Bonus tip: Remember to grab a snack next time before going shopping.)
But her bottom line? “You have to balance it out,” she says. “Just check out your labels and compare some options…Moderation is key, [and] healthy eating should be a part of your lifestyle.” •
Many choose organically grown fruits and vegetables to avoid pesticide use and food additives, and also to support environmentally friendly farming. And some say organic foods also simply taste better. However, organics also come at a higher price than conventionally grown foods. Is it worth it?
A recent study at Stanford University actually found little difference between organically and conventionally grown produce in terms of food safety and nutrition. However, choosing organic produce does limit pesticide exposure, which some studies have found to be risky in young children.
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that works to protect public health, offers the Dirty Dozen, a list of the top foods that are highest in pesticides (and that you may want to buy in the organics section). The Clean 15 is a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticides and may be purchased conventionally.
Dirty Dozen Plus
Sweet bell peppers
If you’ve ever heard of dietary recommendations for six small meals a day and thought, “There’s no way I could do that,” you’re not alone. Says Moore, “Everyone has to find a plan that’s going to work for them.” For many, three meals a day with a healthy snack or two is the way to go. Just remember that snacks, or discretionary calories, should be around 100 to 150 calories at most—and remember to check your serving sizes. A ¼ cup of nuts and a ½ cup of ice cream are recommended servings—smaller than you might realize.
It can be easy to forget that drinks such as beer and wine carry some calories along with that buzz. An average 4-ounce pour of red wine is about 100 calories, while 12 ounces of beer averages around 100 to 150 calories. The USDA recommends up to one drink per day for men or women.
Milk can be a great source of protein and calcium. But what kind? Not all milk is created equal. Most dietitians recommend 1% milk (full-fat milk is 4% butterfat) for protein and calcium without the fat. Those who are lactose intolerant or who are vegetarian may opt for fortified soy milk, which is high in soy protein and low in fat; fortified almond milk, a low calorie drink, but low in protein; or fortified rice milk, which is higher in carbohydrates than cow’s milk, low in protein but has no cholesterol. One new option is kefir milk, a fermented, flavored milk that tastes fizzy and has more probiotics than yogurt.