Confused by all the choices at the supermarket? I had the chance to speak with dietitian Mary Abbott Hess, author of The Pocket Supermarket Guide. Her savvy supermarket shopping tips will have you reaching for healthier choices during your next trip to the market, and saving money too.
Q. Your Pocket Supermarket Guide provides aisle-by-aisle tips on healthier shopping. How do you think consumers should educate themselves before hitting the supermarket in order to make the healthiest choices?
As a consumer, it is important to understand how to interpret a food label. First, look at the serving size. All nutrient values and calories are based on an amount of food which is frequently quite small. Next, look at key nutrients to see if it has good amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Also, look for reasonable amounts of fat, sugar and sodium. Lastly, check the ingredient list for whole grains and limit foods with various forms of corn syrup, saturated fats (including partially hydrogenated oils) or sodium sources.
Q. Is it possible to eat healthy on a budget? What are your top 3 budget saving tips?
There are many tips throughout the Pocket Supermarket Guide but 3 that yield big savings are:
- Check newspapers and flyers for sales and 2-for-1 specials and include those foods on your shopping list
- Find bargains on the top and bottom shelves because name brands (at higher prices) often are at eye level
- Clip coupons for foods you use and sign up for store discount shopping cards
Q. I’ve heard that you should shop the perimeter of the store in order to decrease the urge to buy processed foods. Would you recommend this? Why or why not?
Yes. Most stores have fresh produce, fresh meat, poultry, eggs and seafood, dairy products and baked goods including breads around the perimeter of the store. Processed, canned and packaged foods are typically located in the central aisles. Sure, you will need some items from the center of the store but shopping mostly at the perimeter generally keeps you in the territory of healthier food options.
Q. What are the most confusing “healthy” food items that really aren’t?
Food marketers create a “halo of health” for many foods that are not particularly healthful. Some of these are organic candy and snacks, which usually have as much sugar, fat and salt as those without organic ingredients; highly sweetened granola products; fat-free salad dressings that contain lots of sodium and/or sweeteners; wheat bread that does not have whole wheat as the first (main) ingredient; beverages “made with real juice” that have only a small amounts of real juice and lots of sugared water.
Q. What top 5 foods should be on a shopping list?
It’s hard to limit it to five since there are so many great healthful foods. The most basic foods in each of the food groups of MyPlate should be most of the shopping list. To start with, I’d recommend:
- Fresh or frozen (unbreaded) fish and seafood
- Fat free or low-fat milk or yogurt
- Whole grains including cereals and breads
- Plenty of deep green, orange and red fruits and vegetables
Q. What foods should consumers avoid when at the market?
Avoid or limit soda and other highly sugared beverages, anything fried (like chips, fried chicken, doughnuts), high-fat sausages and other foods that are high in saturated fat. In addition, steer clear of prepared mixes and packaged products that have very high amounts of sodium per serving. Check the percent daily value (%DV) and if it is over 33% (1/3 of the days recommended amount), think twice.
Mary Abbott Hess, LHD, MS, RD, LDN, FADA, a nationally recognized expert in food and nutrition communications, is president of Chicago-based Hess & Hunt, Inc., and a partner in Culinary Nutrition Associates. Mary is the award-winning author of nine books and more than 75 articles in professional journals and the popular press.She is a past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and former national chair of the American Institute of Wine & Food. You can purchase The Pocket Supermarket Guide at the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics online bookstore.