Grocery Shopping: How to Stock a Healthy Fridge

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How to Stock a Healthy Fridge

Redo your refrigerator for maximum nutrition

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

You can learn a lot about someone by opening his or her refrigerator -- whether they're hardly ever home, eat takeout often, are a Miracle Whip or Best Foods fan, or live on frozen entrees. You also get a good idea of where they stand on nutrition and health.

If you peer into my fridge, you'll see my chilled staples: Egg Beaters and a brand of eggs that's higher in healthful omega-3 fatty acids; fat-free half-and-half; fat-free sour cream; reduced-fat cheese ... you get the picture. But you'll also see a stash of chocolate chips in the refrigerator door, and a pack of reduced fat-hot dogs in the deli bin.

But enough about my refrigerator! Let's talk about yours.

We've already given your pantry a nutritional makeover. And we can do the same to your refrigerator/freezer. It's probably even more important to redo the fridge, since most of us open it looking for something to eat, make, or bake several times each day.

In helping you choose better refrigerator fare, I had three goals in mind:

  • Minimizing empty-calorie foods, which deliver lots of calories without much nutrition. We'll weed out foods with extra sugar and other sweeteners, as well as those with extra fat.
  • Stocking up on great-tasting, more healthful alternatives for foods you know and love.
  • Creating a fridge that's almost free of saturated fats and trans fats.

Now, let's get to work.

The Dairy Shelf

Guess what? The more fat you take out of milk and milk products, the more saturated fat and cholesterol goes down -- and the more protein and calcium tend to go up!

The trick with lower-fat dairy products is knowing when you've gone too far for your taste. The other thing to keep in mind is that some products taste better than others.

For example, in my opinion, Naturally Yours does the best job at making fat-free sour cream. It actually tastes better than some light sour creams.

And fat-free cream cheese works well as a fat replacement in various cookie or cake recipes, but I wouldn't use it in a starring role on a bagel or in a cheesecake. Light cream cheese or Neufchatel works better in those cases.

Here are some lower-fat examples for your refrigerator:

  • Fat-free milk: 1 cup has 90 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, less than 5 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium, and 30% Daily Value for calcium.
  • 1 % milk: 1 cup has 130 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, and 40% Daily Value for calcium.
  • 2% milk: 1 cup has 140 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, and 35% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Reduced-fat buttermilk: 1 cup has 120 calories, 4 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, and 30% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Fat-free half-and-half: 2 tablespoons have 20 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium, and 4% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Fat-free sour cream: 2 tablespoons have 20 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, and 4% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Low-fat strawberry yogurt: 8 ounces has 240 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, and 35% Daily Value for calcium
  • Fat-free light strawberry yogurt: 8 ounces has 120 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, less than 5 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, and 30% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Low-fat cottage cheese: 1/2 cup has 90 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium, and 30% Daily Value for calcium.
  • 1/3 less fat cream cheese: 1 ounce has 70 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, 2% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Neufchatel cream cheese. 1 ounce has 70 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 2% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Fat-free cream cheese: 1 ounce has 30 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, and 15% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Silk brand soy milk, vanilla or plain: 1 cup has 100 calories, 3.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium, and 30% Daily Value for calcium.

And don't forget the orange juice! You can buy orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. One cup of fortified Tropicana contains 120% of your Daily Value of vitamin C, 35% Daily Value for calcium, 28% vitamin D, and 15% folate.

The Egg Tray

Various brands of eggs higher in omega-3s and vitamin E are available across the country. Producers have changed the eggs' nutrient content by feeding their hens a different diet. Here's the nutrient info for one type, Eggland's Best Eggs: 1 egg has 70 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 180 mg cholesterol, 65 mg sodium, 25% Daily Value for vitamin E, and 6% vitamin A.

You can also buy egg substitutes, made mostly from egg whites. I prefer Egg Beaters brand because it seems to perform better in recipes. In egg-based recipes, it usually works well to use half real eggs and half egg substitute. One-fourth cup of Egg Beaters has 30 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, and 115 mg sodium (along with 15% Daily Value for vitamin A and folic acid, 10% for vitamin D, and 4% for vitamin E).

Meat and Poultry

With beef and pork, the key is to buy leaner cuts, trim any visible fat before cooking, and cook with as little fat as possible (and use olive oil or canola oil when you do add a little fat).

What are the leaner cuts of meat? Better choices in most supermarkets include:

  • Beef and pork roasts
  • Stew meat
  • Round tip steak
  • Top round strips
  • London broil
  • Top sirloin
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Center-cut pork loin chops

And let your eyes guide you. With beef, the darker red the cut, the leaner it tends to be. (A lighter color means more fat and marbling.) The same rule does not apply to pork, but white fat and marbling is usually visible in the fattier cuts.

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Here's what some of the leaner options add up to:

  • Ground beef, 7% fat: 4 ounces raw has 160 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium.
  • London broil: 3 ounces broiled steak contains 176 calories, 8.5 g fat, 3.7 g saturated fat (3.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.3 g polyunsaturated fat), 57 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium.
  • Beef rump roast: 3 ounces of lean, braised roast has 167 calories, 5.7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat (2.6 g monounsaturated fat, 0.2 g polyunsaturated fat), 81 mg cholesterol, 43 mg sodium.
  • Pork tenderloin: 3 ounces roasted tenderloin has 140 calories, 4 g fat, 1.4 g saturated fat (1.6 g monounsaturated fat, 0.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 67 mg cholesterol, 47 mg sodium.

Poultry can be a lean choice, but not always. About half of the fat in chicken is in the skin, so take it off -- all off. Thigh meat has more fat and cholesterol than light meat, but it also has a little more iron, zinc, and vitamins E and B-2. Breast meat, though, has more vitamin B-3, vitamin B-6, and magnesium than thigh meat.

When buying ground turkey or chicken, check the label. Look for products with the same amount of fat or less than ground beef with 7% fat. Here are some comparisons:

  • Foster Farms ground turkey, lean: 4 ounces raw has 150 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, and 80 mg sodium.
  • Jennie-O ground turkey breast, extra lean: 4 ounces raw has 120 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium.
  • Chicken breast, without skin: 1 skinless, roasted breast (3 ounces) has 142 calories, 3.1 g fat, 0.9 g saturated fat (1.1 g monounsaturated fat, 0.7 g polyunsaturated fat), 73 mg cholesterol, 63 mg sodium.
  • Chicken thigh, without skin: 3 ounces skinless, roasted thigh has 180 calories, 9.4 g fat, 2.6 g saturated fat (3.6 g monounsaturated fat, 2.1 g polyunsaturated fat), 82 mg cholesterol, 76 mg sodium.

The Deli Drawer

The sodium is pretty high in processed meats, but there are leaner choices, like turkey and chicken breast and lean ham. For lunch meats, look for 97% fat free on the label. For higher-fat deli meats, like salami and pepperoni, you'll find some 50%-less fat (or more) choices.


"Just two words about fresh produce: Get some!"

A few examples:

  • Hillshire Farm Deli Select Honey Ham: 2 ounces has 60 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, and 500 mg sodium.
  • Gallo Light Salami 50% less fat: 5 slices (29 grams) has 60 calories, 4 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, and 520 mg sodium.
  • Hormel 70% less fat: 17 slices (30 grams) has 80 calories, 4 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, and 600 mg sodium.

Hot dogs and franks are also high in sodium. But look for products with less fat and saturated fat, as well as those with added antioxidants (vitamins C or E as ascorbic acid, ascorbate or tocopherol, or P-coumaricband chlorogenic acids). Antioxidants help stop the formation of nitrosamines, which are known to have carcinogenic activity. Nitrosamines are formed during the breakdown of nitrates and nitrites, which are added to some processed meats.

Here are a couple of light hot dog choices:

  • Oscar Mayer Louis Rich 1/3 Less Fat Turkey Franks: 1 frank (45 grams) has 100 calories, 8 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, and 510 mg sodium.
  • Ball Park Lite Franks: 1 frank (50 grams) has 100 calories, 7 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, and 460 mg sodium.

When buying sausage and links, find products that have cut the extra fat yet still look and taste like "sausage." You'll find quite a few selections, such as:

  • Hillshire Farms Turkey Polska Kielbasa: 2 ounce serving has 90 calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, and 540 mg sodium.
  • Butterball Lean Turkey Polska Kielbasa: 2 ounce serving contains 100 calories, 6 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, and 610 mg sodium.
  • Healthy Choice Polska Kielbasa or Lowfat Smoked Sausage: 2 ounce serving of either has 80 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, and 480 mg sodium.
  • Jimmy Dean 50% less fat pork sausage: A 70 gram serving has 170 calories, 13 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, and 450 mg sodium.
  • Jennie-O Turkey Breakfast Sausage Links: 2 links (56 grams) has 140 calories, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, and 360 mg sodium.
  • Jennie-O Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage:1 large link (109 grams) has 160 calories, 10 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, and 670 mg sodium.

Bacon, quite simply, is mostly pork fat. So if you want pork bacon, your only choice is center-cut bacon, which has 25%-30% less fat than typical bacon. Or try some of the better turkey bacons:

  • Louis Rich Turkey Bacon (65% less fat than USDA data for pork bacon): 1 slice (14 grams) has 35 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, and 180 mg sodium.
  • Oscar Mayer Center Cut Bacon (30% lower fat than USDA data for pork bacon): 2 slices (12 grams) has 50 calories, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, and 270 mg sodium.
  • Hormel Center Cut Bacon (25% lower fat than USDA data for pork bacon): 2 slices (14 grams) has 70 calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, and 300 mg sodium.

And what about cheese? I've got to admit, fat-free cheese doesn't do it for me personally. I prefer reduced fat-cheeses. Here are some examples.

  • Part-skim mozzarella: 1 ounce has 80 calories, 5 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, and 20% Daily Value of calcium.
  • Kraft 2% Milk Sharp Cheddar: 1 ounce has 80 calories, 6 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, and 40% Daily Value of calcium.
  • Kraft 2% Milk Colby and Monterey Jack: 1 ounce has 80 calories, 5 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, and 40% Daily Value of calcium.
  • Sargento Reduced Fat Mexican Blend: 1 ounce has 80 calories, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 25% Daily Value of calcium.

The Produce Bin

Just two words about fresh produce: Get some!

The Freezer Compartment

There are better choices to be had in the freezer section of your refrigerator, too. One of the best things you can do is to always have a few bags of your favorite frozen vegetables on hand. There'll be no excuse for not serving veggies with dinner, even if you're short on time or haven't been to the grocery store for a few days.

And let's face it; it's a good idea to have some convenience items in your freezer for times when you need to make something on the fly. Smarter choices are available, including:

  • Gardenburger. This vegetable/whole grain based burger comes in several different flavors and is low in fat but high in fiber and nutrition. It tastes great, as long as you aren't expecting a beef burger. The original flavor has 110 calories, 3 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, and 560 mg sodium per burger.
  • Boca Meatless Burgers come in several flavors. This soy protein-based burger look-alike is pretty good, especially if you serve it with condiments and garnishes like BBQ sauce or avocado slices, Ortega fire-roasted canned peppers, etc. The original flavor contains 80 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, and 320 mg sodium per burger.
  • Frozen grilled fish fillets come in two flavors, Lemon Pepper and Garlic Butter. One fillet of either has 100 calories, 3 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, and 350-380 mg sodium.

There are some foods we just like to have around even though we know they aren't great for us. Many of these favorite comfort foods come in lighter versions that still taste great. Here are some examples:

  • Some types of frozen hash browns and shredded potato patties come with zero fat. But read the label, because it's easy to mistake the ones with added fat for the ones with no fat. Buy the zero fat versions, then fry them up with a little canola oil or canola cooking spray. One patty (87 grams) of hash brown shredded potato patties with no added fat has 2 g fiber, 70 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, and 40 mg sodium.
  • You can buy frozen French fries with less fat added, then bake them until crispy. Ore Ida makes several types with less than 4 grams of fat per 3 ounce serving, including Ore Ida Steak Fries (3 ounces have 2 g fiber, 120 calories, 3 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 340 mg sodium).
  • Low-fat or light ice creams and frozen treats abound, thank goodness! Try low-fat vanilla ice cream (store brand), with 100 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 65 mg sodium, and 10% of the Daily Value for calcium in 1/2 cup. Have a Klondike Slim-a-Beat Vanilla or Chocolate sandwich, each (64 gram) bar with 130 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, and 10% Daily Value for calcium. An Eskimo Pie No Sugar Added Bar, meanwhile, has 120 calories, 8 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 40 mg sodium and 8% Daily Value for calcium.
  • Brown & Serve Lite Original sausage: 3 links (60 grams) have 120 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, and 410 mg sodium; 3 links of Brown & Serve Turkey (60 grams) sausage have 120 calories, 8 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, and 370 mg sodium.
  • 2 Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles (70 grams) have 3 g fiber, 170 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, and 420 mg sodium.
  • Cool Whip Lite: 2 tablespoons has 20 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, and 0 mg cholesterol and sodium.
  • Frozen pizza products are yummy, but can be high in fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Instead, try Lean Pockets (one Pepperoni Pizza pocket has 4 g fiber, 280 calories, 7 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 720 mg sodium, and 30% Daily Value for calcium) or Bagel Bites (4 pieces of the 3 Cheese variety has 2 g fiber, 200 calories, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium and 10% Daily Value for calcium).

Originally published May 14, 2004
Medically updated April 14, 2005


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Reviewed on 4/22/2005 7:09:18 PM

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