Grocery Store Full of Nutritional Landmines (cont.)
Talk to the butcher or meat counter person at the grocery store. They're often happy to trim excess fat or recommend cuts with the most marbling.
Fish such as salmon, tuna, and sea bass are tops picks, says Platzman. They're filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that men who ate fish at least once per month had less incidence of strokes caused by clogged arteries than those who ate fish less often. Research shows a twice-a-week fish meal may decrease your heart disease risk and lower bad cholesterol.
But since dangerous mercury levels have been detected in large specimens at the top of the food chain, limit shark, swordfish, and king mackerel to no more than one serving per week.
Go for reduced-fat or skim milk, and the fat-free version of any flavored coffee creamers to cut calories and fat. Low-fat yogurts or those made with non-caloric sweeteners, such as saccharin or NutraSweet, are the best bets at the grocery store.
Research shows that eating three servings of milk, cheese, or yogurt each day might help you burn more fat. If you're buying into enhanced or "smart" yogurts designed for women or children because they provide extra calcium, folic acid, or other supplements, weigh the additional cost involved. You're likely getting those minerals in other areas of your diet, says Moore. It may not be necessary to spend extra -- unless you simply prefer the taste.
Buying bottled water at the grocery store is fine, but spending money on "enhanced," highly purified, or flavored water is not necessary. "When exercising, especially heavy cardio, or if it's extremely hot outside, the specialty waters are worth something as they provide electrolytes. But under normal conditions, most people do not need the extra ingredients, and in fact, many add unnecessary calories," says Platzman. As for "molecularly purified water," there's no evidence yet that these waters hydrate better or have any affect on athletic performance. If you simply don't like plain water and prefer it infused with flavors, such as raspberry or citrus, it's fine to drink flavored water. Just check that you're not downing hidden calories, since water should be a zero-calorie drink.
Frozen Convenience Foods
Frozen convenience items in the grocery store often have skyrocketing sodium counts. "Avoid products with more than 700 milligrams of sodium per serving and 20 grams of fat per serving," says Moore. Look for meals packaged as healthy, low-fat, or for the weight conscious -- they often tout higher fiber and less sodium, fat, and calorie counts, plus come in every variety from meatloaf to pasta primavera. Go for plain cheese or veggie-topped frozen pizzas rather than high-fat meat versions. Graze the nutrition label to be sure you're getting the healthiest choice.
The latest marketing ploy in the chip aisle is "smart" stickers on select baked varieties. But they can be misleading. While baked is better than fried when it comes to most things -- even snacks -- that doesn't necessarily mean baked chips are a nutritional windfall. They still contain calories, and portion control still matters. Don't let the stickers give you a false sense of being virtuous. This is, after all, the junk-food aisle. Check the label for specifics and compare brands at the grocery store.
Another nutritional trap in the snack aisle: granola bars. Look for a bar with less than 3 grams of fat and less than 10 grams of sugar per serving, Platzman tells WebMD. Scan ingredients and look for whole grains, fruits, and nuts at the top of the list rather than enriched white flour, fructose syrup, candy, chocolate, or peanuts, which can turn these bars into glorified candy.
Finally, resist temptation. Often, people make healthy choices throughout the grocery store only to be confronted with rows of candy bars and mini chip bags at the checkout counter. If you're tempted by those high-calorie treats, look for a candy-free lane, or pick up a magazine and flip through it while you're waiting.
SOURCES: Zemel, M. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002; vol 288: pp 3130. Obesity Research, 2004; vol 12: pp 582-590. "Calcium and Dairy Acceleration of Weight and Fat Loss during Energy Restriction in Obese Adults," Circulation, 2003; vol 108: pp 820. Andrea Platzman, RD, American Dietetic Association, New York City. Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director, nutrition therapy, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation; and spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.
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