Make your daily staples as healthy as you can. Small changes in the foods you buy in the grocery store and eat every day can add up to big rewards.
If eating better is something you plan to do this year, now is the time to think about how you’re going to go about it––before you slip back into your old eating habits. Rather than adopting a complete dietary overhaul (a complete “out with the old, in with the new” approach rarely works), your best bet is to begin by working on several small steps you can take to improve your everyday eating habits. And your first steps should take you directly to the grocery store, since that’s where healthy eating really begins.
There are different personality types when it comes to grocery shopping. Some shoppers take the ‘business as usual’ approach, by buying and preparing the same foods week after week. Others plan all their meals in advance and shop only from a detailed shopping list, while ‘frequent fliers’ are in the store almost every day. No matter what your shopping patterns are, a few small steps can deliver big nutrition rewards.
The Nutrition Facts label on packages is one of the best tools you have for selecting nutritious foods and for making comparisons among products. You can compare things like calories, fat, protein and sugar content across brands, which helps you make smarter choices.
Most of the time when there are reduced fat options of foods you eat frequently––like salad dressings, spreads, dairy products, even desserts––switching to the lower fat version can save you a lot of calories. A cup of whole milk has 150 calories and about 7 grams of fat; nonfat milk has 90 calories and no fat. A switch from regular ground beef to ground turkey breast can cut about 10 grams of fat and 100 calories per 3-ounce serving. You’ll eat fewer calories and a lot less sugar if you buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit and sweetener instead of the pre-sweetened variety. Replace refined starches with whole grain: try brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread and crackers, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, and oatmeal instead of cream of wheat.
When it comes to produce, the current season’s fruit and veg options are usually fresher, often retain more nutrients, and are often less expensive than items that are out of season. If you have a farmer’s market nearby, the produce might be fresher than what you find in the supermarkets, which means vegetables won’t wilt as quickly and the foods retain their nutritional value. You’re also more likely to find new varieties of fruits and vegetables to try, which will help you with the next tip.
If you’re not ready to tackle a whole new food item, you can start slow with a different variety or relative of a familiar food. All fruits and vegetables are unique in terms of the healthy phytonutrients they provide, so variety is really important to your good health. If your salad is always made with iceberg lettuce, switch to deep green romaine or baby spinach instead. Try a new variety of cabbage or apple, or cook some purple cauliflower instead of the usual white.
Canned tuna and salmon that are wild caught are good sources of omega-3, and they’re also convenient and affordable. Add canned tuna to your pasta sauce instead of ground beef, or toss some canned salmon into a salad for a quick, healthy and light main dish. Once you’re well stocked with healthy ingredients at home, you can start to think about changes that you can make when you cook.