You’re at the supermarket, you want to pick healthy options but most packaged foods claim to be healthy. There are also many brands of the same product which confuses you on which to pick.
You opt for fruits and vegetables, but you don’t know which ones are the best either.
Confused? Follow these tips for each food group to make sure you’re eating healthy and getting the most out of your foods.
In an ideal world, we should be eating only natural sources of carbs like whole grains (bulgur, quinoa, brown rice), potatoes, lentils, beans and chickpeas. Processed carbs like cereals, bread and pasta are less nutritious but fine to consume occasionally.
Most cereals are high in sugar. Having sugary products in the morning will spike your blood sugar levels leading to a sugar crash that primes you for a mid-morning energy dip. Switch to oats instead. They’re natural sources of carbs and higher in fibers- keeping you full and energized for longer.
Skip white bread. It’s made from white flour which doesn’t bring your body any nutrients, just sugar. Brown bread is not any better. It’s made of white flour with added colorants to make it brown, which means little health benefits. Instead, go for whole meal or wheat bread. Check the ingredient list and get the one with the least amount of ingredients to avoid sugar, vegetable oils and additives.
Get whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. All pastas have more or less the same calories. Difference is in fiber content. Whole wheat pasta or quinoa pasta have more fiber making you feel full for longer.
Limit your dairy intakes in general. These are supplementary foods that can be added in limited amounts to your meals to give variety, flexibility and satisfaction. Don’t focus on these to get your protein intakes. And not all dairy is created equal, below are healthier options.
Go for Greek yogurt instead of normal yogurt. Greek yogurt has less carbs, more protein and B-Vitamins.
Avoid low fat fruit yogurts. These have 20 to 25g of sugar, equivalent to 4 to 5 teaspoons.
Avoid yellow cheese. Instead, go for white cheese like feta, halloumi and cottage cheese. These are less processed. Choose lower salted options.
Oils & Fats
Stay away from canola oil and margarine. Even better, avoid any vegetable oil. These go through a lot of processing and some of them are treated with chemicals. They’re not only high in trans fat, associated with many health problems like heart disease and cancer, but also high in omega-6. Our body needs an omega-3 and omega-6 ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Having a ratio higher contributes to inflammation and oxidation, leading to a host of critical diseases.
For the same reason, stay away from packaged desserts and snacks: high in trans fat and omega-6. Instead, buy natural fat sources like avocados, olives, extra virgin olive oil, and plain nuts like almonds or walnuts. You can also buy nut butters like peanut butter. Go for organic brands that don’t contain sugar and palm oil. Usually these have two layers: oil layer on top that separates from the nut butter.
Dark chocolate (>70%) is also an option. Have this instead of milk chocolate. One square has 50 calories, equivalent to 1 portion of fat. Dark chocolate was shown to reduce blood pressure and LDL, the bad cholesterol due to their flavanoids content, compounds that act as antioxidants. A small daily dose of dark chocolate (6g) can provide these beneficial effects.
Fruits and Vegetables
Go for fruits that are in season. These are grown naturally, meaning more vitamins and minerals and therefore better for you. Get oranges, grapefruit, kiwi and pears in winter. Go for oranges, mangos, pineapple and strawberries in spring. Get pineapple, pomegranate, grapes and pears in fall. Go for berries (cherries, strawberries, blackberries), grapefruit and grapes during summertime. You can get apples and bananas anytime as these are usually grown all year round.
Pick darker colored items when choosing your fruits or vegetables. The darker the color, the more vitamins and minerals it has.
For example romaine lettuce has around 17 times more vitamin A and 4 times more vitamin K than iceberg lettuce that has 95% water and contains only small amounts of vitamins and fibers. Always keep dark green vegetables in your fridge like kale, broccoli and spinach. These have the most antioxidant power.
Skip cold cuts. Smoked turkey, salami, bolognaise, mortadella, sausages and hotdogs are all processed meat. Regular consumption of these has been linked to cancer, more specifically colorectal, colon and rectal cancer. Focus on getting your protein intakes from chicken, meat, fish and eggs.
Make sure you get hormone-free chicken and grass-fed meat instead of grain fed. Grass fed is more nutritious, it provides higher amounts of omega-3, zinc and iron.
For fish, white fish like hammour and cod are very lean protein sources. Always buy fresh fish. Pick wild salmon instead of farmed salmon. Farmed salmon has more omega-6, saturated fat and up to 46% more calories than wild salmon. If you want to get canned tuna, go for light over white tuna. Light has less mercury. Pick the ones canned in olive oil instead of sunflower oil or any other vegetable oil. If you want lower calorie options, go for canned in water.
Buy eggs. Always keep eggs in your fridge. Eggwhites are among best protein sources. They contain all 9 essential amino acids that our body cannot make itself. When shopping for eggs, egg shell color that is brown or white doesn’t matter. Egg shell is just representative of the breed of hen that produces.
Packaged Food Products
If you’re hesitant between 2 or 3 brands that sell the same food product, check ingredients and pick the one that has the least amount of ingredients. This rule applies for whatever you’re buying. Today, most packaged foods have additives and preservatives. The larger the ingredient list of a product, the more processed it is. If you can’t read it, don’t buy it.
Also, check sugar content. Go to the nutrition facts label and find sugar under carbs. Every 4g of sugar are equivalent to 1 teaspoon. For example, if a product has 20g of sugar, it means that it has 4-5 teaspoons! Make sure whatever you pick has less than 7g.
Stay away from low fat products. Just because the food product states it’s “low in fat” or “fat free” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Most of these contain on average 20% more sugar than full fat equivalents.