When we walk into the grocery store and see all the choices available, it can be an overwhelming experience. With over 12,000 new processed food choices introduced each year into the United States, no wonder we are overwhelmed! When I walk by that fruit roll-up section, I realize how food choices have expanded and how many choices are marketed to children. Here I present a few principles of how to shop smart for the family.
- Focus on lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Look for new fruits and vegetables to try, even things that you as a parent may not enjoy that much. Artichokes, edamame (soy beans that are cooked) are a couple of vegetables that you would not necessarily consider “kids foods,” but many children like them.
- Buy organic when possible. Because of concerns with environmental exposures that children receive through their lifetime, organic choices may be something you will want to consider when buying for your children. To learn the problems with pesticides in our foods, see the Pesticide section. If your child is eating primarily grapes for their fruit, consider buying organic grapes. Also, check out the list of foods you will want to buy organic from theEnvironmental Working Group.
- Avoid processed foods with “partially hydrogenated oils.” These are also known as “trans fats” and are the unhealthiest fats. In clinical studies, trans fatty acids or hydrogenated fats tend to raise total blood cholesterol levels, but less than more saturated fatty acids. Trans fatty acids tend to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Trans Fats are now listed on the Nutrition Facts Label, making it easier to identify. However, if a food has < 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, they can still be listed as having Zero trans fats on the label. You would need to read the ingredient list to discover this and look for the words: “partially hydrogenated…” type of oil (like soybean or vegetable oil) or the word “shortening” are considered trans fats.
- Add peas, beans, and nuts to your shopping list. These items are generally low in cost and pack a punch when it comes to vitamins, protein and fiber. Add beans to whatever items you can think of: chili, salsa, rice dishes, mash and add to burger mix or tacos. Add peas to rice or pasta dishes. Use nut butters without the hydrogenated fats and added sugar.
- Look for whole grain foods. Check out food labels to help you choose more whole grain foods each day. Look at both the Ingredient List and the Nutrition Facts panel and try to choose foods that list a whole grain as the first ingredient. Ingredients to look for on the label include: whole wheat, 100 percent whole wheat, whole barley, whole oats, cracked wheat, graham flour, whole cornmeal. Also look for a “whole grain” claim on the package labels. The government has approved a health claim that recognizes the health benefits associated with diets rich in whole grains. The health claim reads: “Diets rich in whole grain foods, and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.” See Fiber Up! section for more information. See http://www.choosemyplate.gov to learn more about the new Food Guide Pyramid and how we need to be getting half of the grains in our diet as “whole grains.”
- Look for “100 percent whole wheat” or “whole wheat” on bread labels. Most wheat breads are made with “wheat flour” which is refined from white flour (75 percent) and wheat flour (25 percent). The outer nutritional layer of the wheat seed is not present, nor is the benefits of fiber and nutrients. Breads that list “whole wheat” or “100 percent whole wheat” contains the outer bran layer of the wheat kernel which is rich in fiber, and the inner germ of the wheat kernel, which contains vitamin B-6, vitamin E, copper, folate, magnesium, and zinc.
- Use canola oil or olive oil as your primary oil in the kitchen. These types of oils are more desirable oils to add to your family’s diet. Canola oil contains both monosaturated fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) which are both heart healthier choices. Olive oil is a monosaturated fat and contains a cholesterol-lowering substance called “squalene.”
- Shop the health food section or your local health food store. Support and get to know the products in your local health food store. Many regular grocery stores will have a health food section and may even carry organic produce, milk and other products. Although price for some products may be an issue, if more people support organic produce and healthier food choices, we should see prices respond over time and lower.
- Don’t buy sodas and junk food for the home. OK, so an occasional purchase of these items may be fine, more families seem to have these in their homes all the time and some allow their children unlimited access to these foods. Since most families eat out a significant amount of time, these foods become available regularly at restaurants or schools (for the older children in middle and high school). Most of us will have access to these foods outside the home, so we should limit the access around the home. Any little bit helps in preventing the trend to increasing rates of childhood obesity.