Statistics show that most of us make an average of two trips to the supermarket per week, spending about 45 minutes each trip.


Statistics show that most of us make an average of two trips to the supermarket per week, spending about 45 minutes each trip. With more than 48,000 foods available to buy in an average supermarket and new products introduced every day, shopping can become a daunting task. This is especially true if you are trying to eat healthier or have a special diet to follow. With a little help from these tips, soon you will be navigating the aisles with confidence that you are making the best choices.

Bread: The key to healthy bread is “whole grain.” You want those fiber rich whole grains in your diet to help maintain a healthy weight, lower cholesterol and a myriad of other benefits. But, how can you be sure you are buying whole grain bread? Don’t be fooled by the color of the bread — some refined breads have coloring added, and some of the white breads are now made with white whole wheat. Go straight to the ingredient list, and choose bread that lists 100 percent whole wheat or other whole grain as the first ingredient.  Remember that “enriched wheat flour” is just a fancier word for white, refined flour. Still not sure? Look for at least 2 grams of fiber per slice.

Canned Foods: In this aisle, watch out for sodium. A single can of soup can exceed the recommended 1,500 mg sodium limit for the day. Look for no-added-salt canned vegetables and lower sodium soups. Try to keep the sodium level at 300 mg or less per serving. Keep in mind that some serving sizes are ridiculously small, especially with canned soups, and you should multiply the sodium by how much you actually eat.

Meats: Zero in on lean choices to limit the calories and saturated fat for heart health. Beware of tricky wording. Meat labeled 80 percent lean sounds healthy, but keep in mind that means it is 20 percent fat, and that’s too much. Aim for no more than 10 percent fat (90 percent lean) for ground meats. Ground poultry isn’t always a healthier choice. You have to check the fat percentage to be sure you are getting lean meat. For the leanest cuts of meat, look for those that have “round” or “loin” in the name. White meat poultry is leaner than dark meat, but whichever you choose, take the skin off before eating to eliminate half the fat. Don’t forget to add fish to your meal rotations at least twice a week. Any kind of fish works, except the pre-breaded, processed kind.

Dairy: Milk and cheese can be loaded with saturated fat. Therefore, always pick fat-free or reduced-fat options. These products have just as much protein, calcium and vitamin D as the full-fat versions; the only thing missing is the fat. Choose fat-free yogurts, cheeses made with 2 percent milk or reduced fat, and skim or 1 percent milk.

Frozen Foods: This aisle can be full of healthy choices. It is also a landmine of high fat, high sodium convenience foods. If you routinely eat frozen meals, try to choose those that have less than 400 calories and no more than 600 mg sodium. It would be good if it included at least a couple grams of fiber, as well.  Pay attention to serving sizes on frozen pizzas. If it says it serves six, but you know it only feeds two, then be sure to multiply those calories and sodium amounts. Stock up on frozen vegetables (no sauces added), frozen fruit (no sugar added), frozen fish fillets (not breaded), and reduced-fat ice creams or nonfat frozen yogurts and sorbets.

Cereals: Most stores have an entire aisle devoted to cereals. And, cereals have some of the most deceptive health claims. To know what you are getting, you really have to ignore the statements on the front of the box and turn it over to look at the ingredients and nutrition label. Choose cereals with no more than 2 grams of fat, a limit of 9 grams of sugar, and at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. Check the serving size, as well. These are not standard and will vary with each cereal. Some might list ¼ cup, while others allow 1 ½ cups per serving. Check the ingredient list for a whole grain, like oats or whole wheat, and preferably some kind of sugar is NOT in the first five ingredients.

Navigating the supermarket doesn’t have to take hours. Just use these guidelines and you will have your pantry stocked in no time.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.