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Nutrition series: Tips for shopping for healthier packaged foods at the grocery store

Posted Sep 29 2009 10:39pm

Everyone must admit that these days it is quite tricky getting your hands on fresh foods and so, for convenience sake, you end up getting packaged foods that have a longer shelf life.  What is one to do when most of these packaged foods are also, in general, more processed and the ones you really want to minimize eating?

Following are recommendations provided by Dr. Ida Laquatra,  Heinz's Global Director of Nutrition, regarding tips for shopping for healthier packaged foods... 

"To determine the freshness of a fruit or vegetable, a person might squeeze, smell or even sneak a taste at the grocery store.  However, when it comes to packaged foods, many Americans find it difficult to evaluate the quality and nutritional value of food items sold in cans, plastic containers and paper boxes.

Seventy-eight percent of Americans want clearer to read nutritional information and ingredient lists on the back of food products, according to a recent survey conducted on behalf of Heinz.  To ensure that you're a savvier shopper when selecting products that fit your personal nutrition goals, follow these simple steps.

Know what's on the package -- The nutrition facts label, which gives the serving size, calories and nutrients per serving, is typically found on the side or back of a package.  the Daily Value percentages on the nutrition facts label are compared to nutrition recommendations for someone eating 2,000 calories per day.  For example: a product listing fiber at 10% Daily Value means the product contains 10% of the amount of fiber needed by a person who consumes 2,000 calories.  When reviewing a nutrition label, consider whether your nutrition needs are greater or less than someone who eats 2,000 calories per day.

  • Seek out nutritious source s: Claims like "high fiber", "rich in calcium" or "excellent source of vitamin C" mean one serving provides at least 20% or more of the recommended daily amount of the specified nutrient.  "Good source of" means an item contains 10-19% of the recommended daily amount per serving.
  • Minimizing the bad stuff: "Reduce" or "less" means that the item has 25% less of a nutrient, such as sugar or fat, than the usual product that doesn't carry this claim.
  • Tally the fat content: "Fat free" products must have less than half a gram of fat per serving.  Products advertising that they are "low" in fat must have three grams or less of fat per serving.
  • Look for allergens: Carefully read product labels on a continual basis to ensure that your favorite products remain free of allergens.  Heinz has a commitment to using pure ingredient lists in its brands which can help you to eat healthier without worrying about allergic reactions.  For instance,  a list of  Heinz gluten-free options  are available.  
  • Serving size suggestions: Be sure to serve meals in single servings on individual plates instead of letting family members help themselves.  To help with portion control, place servings on smaller dishes.  Also, it's best to not only consider the serving size of a food, but the nutritional value of a food.  Parents or kids can portion out their won servings using individual containers.  A balanced  lunch may include some items such as multi-grain chips, crackers or pretzels; low-fat string cheese; turkey vegetable soup; vegetable sticks; dried fruit; and an oatmeal raisin cookie.  Parents should remember to keep hot foods hot and cold food cold!"

General serving size rules: *

  • Fruit and veggies the size of your fist
  • Pasta the size of a scoop of ice cream
  • meat and poultry the size of a deck of cards
  • Snack like pretzels and chips the size of a cupped handful
  • A potato the size of a computer mouse
  • A bagel the size of a hockey puck
  • A pancake the size of a compact disc
  • Cheese the size of a pair of dice or the size of your thumb

* Courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

Picture by Mat Hayward, PhotoXpress

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