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Navigating the Modern Grocery Store

Rose Green-Flores
Lake Regional Health System

Grocery stores have always been brimming with delicious temptations. And now, with so many new food options marketed as healthy, consumers have a harder time than ever knowing what is a smart purchase.

“Reading labels has never been more important –– even with foods that claim to be healthy, organic or better for you,” said Kasi DiBello, R.D., L.D., a registered dietitian at Lake Regional. “Some of these products provide little nutritional value for the calories spent. Always look at the ingredient list and nutritional content, and select healthier options whenever possible.”  

Below are some common food items shoppers now find in their grocery stores. But are they really any better for you?

Gluten-free products can be found throughout the grocery store. For people avoiding gluten or with a gluten intolerance, these options can be appealing, but they are not all equal. Some of these products contain highly processed refined grains and offer little to no nutrients.

“Gluten-free does not always mean healthier –– these products can contain added salt, sugar and fats to enhance palatability and flavor,” DiBello said. “Look for options that are free of additives and chemicals, high in protein and fiber, and low in sodium and sugar. Also, look for options that are naturally gluten-free.”

Non-dairy milk, cheese, yogurt and butter options are expanding as more people follow vegetarian or vegan diets or need non-dairy alternatives due to allergies or intolerances.

“Non-dairy items can certainly play a role as part of a healthy diet,” DiBello said. “But they may be lacking important nutrients, such as protein, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins and essential fatty acids. If that is the case, use other food selections to provide those missing nutrients. For milks and yogurts, be wary of added sugar –– try to select unsweetened over flavored options.”  

“Healthy” sodas are marketed as no-sugar or low-sugar alternatives to soda. Like their traditional counterpart, they are a carbonated beverage that can come in a variety of flavors.

“Sparkling waters and flavored seltzers are certainly a healthier substitute for soda and other sweetened drinks,” DiBello said. “But not all can be considered healthy. The best choices are those that contain sparkling water and natural flavors, with no added sugars.”

Organic foods must be grown without bioengineering, hormones, irradiation or pesticides. And organic animal products must be free of growth hormones and antibiotics.

“Organic foods are appealing because of their lower levels of pesticide residue and lack of hormones and antibiotics,” DiBello said. “But a review of 12 major studies spanning decades found no evidence that eating organic food brings any additional nutrition benefits.”

Vegetable-based pastas vary widely when it comes to sodium, calories, fiber and especially the amount of vegetables they contain.  

“It might take several servings of vegetable-based pasta to equal a full serving of vegetables,” DiBello said. “Find a product that tastes good to you, be aware of the portion size, and serve it with extra vegetables to help meet your recommended daily servings of produce. Spiralized vegetables can also serve as a nutritious pasta substitute.

“All in all, don’t take a brand’s word for it that their product is good for you,” DiBello continued. “Before putting an item in your basket, read the nutrition label. Check the ingredients, and make sure it isn’t loaded with added sugar, sodium, trans fats and additives.”    

Get more tips for healthy living, including recipes, online at lakeregional.com/healthlibrary.

Tips From a Dietitian  

“Many of the tried-and-true tricks for navigating the grocery store still apply,” said Kasi DiBello, R.D., L.D., a registered dietitian at Lake Regional. “These simple tips will help you.”

1. Plan ahead, and make a list.

2. Don’t shop hungry.

3. Look for food items with simple ingredient lists.

4. Limit added sugar in all its forms.

5. Select vibrant colors of produce.

6. Choose whole grain products with the most fiber per serving.

7. Eat more fruits and veggies.

Rose Green-Flores is the Public Relations specialist at Lake Regional Health System.