Smart Food Shopping

We're going to take an aisle-by-aisle tour of the grocery store to help you the next time you do your shopping. First, when shopping, keep in mind these general shopping tips:

  • Your best bet is to concentrate your shopping time around the periphery of the store - the produce, meat, dairy and bakery sections. But don't stop there. You'll find nutritious foods like beans, whole grains and cereal in the middle aisles.
  • Read labels carefully and look for foods that are minimally processed. Choose 100% fruit juice over a fruit juice blend; plain frozen vegetables over those with butter sauces; fresh poultry or meat over those already seasoned; whole fresh potatoes over prepared French fries or scalloped potatoes.
  • Dairy products are an exception to the minimally processed rule. It's better to buy versions where naturally occurring fat has been removed, such as fat-free milk or low-fat cheese.

Let's take a virtual tour of a typical store and find some tips for shopping wisely.

In the Produce Aisle

  • Color counts - bring home an entire rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Save time by purchasing refrigerated jars of mango citrus salad, grapefruit, tropical salad, pears and other fruit. Or select pre-cut fruit like pineapple, watermelons or honeydew melons.
  • Other time-savers include freshly cut vegetables like baby carrots, celery and bagged salads.
  • Buy small. Smaller sized fruits are often sweeter and more tender than larger, more mature pieces.
  • Choose dark green salad items like romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, spinach, curly endive or radicchio. A little iceberg's OK for crunch.

In the Cereal Aisle

  • Think whole grains! You can find whole grain in hot as well as cold cereal. Examples of whole-grain hot cereal include Wheatena, oatmeal and oat bran. Some whole-grain cold cereals include Wheaties, shredded wheat, Frosted Mini-Wheats and Grape Nuts. Read Nutrition Facts labels to find cereals that contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Check front labels for claims such as "whole grain" or "rich in whole grain."
  • Cereals such as grits, cream of wheat and cream of rice are highly refined and offer little fiber.

Bread, Waffles, Crackers, Tortillas

  • Look for the word "whole" as the first ingredient on the ingredient list.
  • Don't count on terms like "multigrain," "12-" and "cracked wheat" - they can be deceiving. They're mostly refined flour with a touch of whole-grain flour.
  • Some examples of whole-grain crackers include Rye Krisp and Triscuits.

Pasta, Rice and Other Grains

  • Regular or quick-cooking brown rice makes a delicious side dish. The quick-cooking type retains all the health benefits of regular.
  • Whole-wheat pasta takes some getting used to with its nutty texture. Try to substitute it for plain every other time or make your pasta half and half.
  • Whole-wheat couscous is available in health-conscious stores. Use it (or regular) in salads and as a rice substitute.
  • Barley can be used in soups and stews and also works in hearty salads, pilafs and casseroles. It's considered a whole grain.
  • Most rice and pasta mixes are too high in fat and sodium to be considered healthful. You may be able to experiment with the preparation to reduce the amount of either or both.


  • Rice cakes and popcorn cakes satisfy that craving for salty or sweet snacks.
  • Popping your own kernels at home produces fresh, flavorful popcorn without a lot of fat calories (if you hold the butter!) Lower fat microwaved popcorn is your next bet. Steer clear of new versions that advertise extreme amounts of "butter" topping.
  • Single servings of potato and corn chips put a limit on portion sizes.
  • Other lower fat choices include pretzels, baked corn or tortilla chips, baked potato chips and reduced fat potato chips. Some fat free chips contain the fat substitute, olestra, which may cause side effects.


  • Across the aisle from snack foods are soft drinks, dubbed "liquid candy" by one consumer group. Each 12-ounce can contains 150 calories and ten teaspoons of sugar.
  • Select only 100% fruit juice over fruit beverage, cocktail, drink and punch, which have added sugars and little actual fruit juice.
  • Traditional coffees and teas are calorie free and may even offer health benefits, especially brewed tea. Beware flavored coffee drinks, which contain added sugars and hydrogenated oils.
  • Bottled waters, both still and carbonated, are gaining shelf space. Watch for flavored waters, which often have added sugars you didn't bargain for.
  • "Energy" and "smart" drinks are often enhanced with ingredients such as gingko biloba or ginseng. Manufacturers are not required to state the amount.


  • Olive, canola, and peanut oils contain healthful monounsaturated fats.
  • Small amounts of flavored oils, like sesame and garlic, can provide intense flavor.
  • Non-stick cooking sprays are primarily canola or soy oil. When used in the recommended amounts, they provide just a few calories. Prolonged spray time can hike up fat calories.
  • Mayonnaise now comes in regular, light (1/2 the fat), low fat (94% fat free) and fat free versions. Experiment to see how low you can go.


  • Besides the usual whole, reduced fat, low fat and fat free milk, new products include soy milk, lactose reduced milk, organic milk and acidophilus milk.
  • Choices among soy products abound, including vanilla or chocolate-flavored soymilk, soy yogurt and soy cheese.
  • Fat free nondairy creamer and half-and-half, both plain and flavored, are now available to lighten and flavor your morning cup of joe.
  • Buttermilk contains no butter at all, but is cultured from fat free or low fat milk. It's a great choice for fluffy pancakes and waffles.
  • Yogurt is usually low fat, but varies widely in sugar content. Light yogurt contains artificial sweeteners. Look for brands containing active cultures. There's even a portable yogurt for kids.
  • Look for lowfat versions of cottage cheese, including 2%, 1% and even fat free. Ditto for the ricotta cheese you add to lasagna and other Italian dishes.
  • Butter vs. margarine - Most nutritionists recommend a liquid or tub margarine over either stick margarine (trans fats) or butter (saturated fats).

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