The food that makes it from the store to your cart to your refrigerator or pantry forms the backbone of your weight-loss efforts. When healthful ingredients and snacks are readily available, you'll eat them instead of junk food. It's that simple.

To help you plot a thoughtful course, we scoured the supermarket, aisle by aisle, to identify what's healthy and slimming and what's not. You'll find general guidelines on what to look for as you shop, as well as the best and worst picks in each section.

CEREAL & BREAD SECTIONS

The nutritional key to the cereal and bread sections is to find products with enough fiber to fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied. Here's what to look for:

  • Bread that has at least 2 grams of fiber per slice. These breads will usually list whole-wheat flour as the first ingredient.
  • Cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. In addition to filling you up, high-fiber cereals can be good sources of antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium, as well as copper, zinc and vitamin B6.
  • Crackers that are not made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Seeing the words partially hydrogenated in the ingredient list signals that the product contains heart-unfriendly trans fats. Steer clear.

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    Oatmeal A heart-healthy breakfast choice: A half-cup of oatmeal, either old-fashioned or quick oats, provides 150 calories, 3 grams of fat (less than 1 gram saturated), 4 grams of fiber and almost no sugar. One packet of instant oatmeal, regular flavor (a bit less than 1/2 cup) contains 100 calories, 2 grams of fat (none saturated), 3 grams of fiber and no sugar. (Limit or avoid flavored oatmeal, though: Some of these products have almost twice as many calories -- owing to added sugar -- as unflavored oatmeal.)

    Healthy crackers make a great snack. Try Keebler Toasteds Savory Crisps, roasted garlic flavor. They have no trans fats, and 17 crackers provide a substantial serving, for just 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat (none saturated). Or check out Triscuit's new Baked Whole Grain Wheat Crackers, with 120 calories, 4.5 grams of fat (none saturated and no trans fats) and 3 grams of fiber per 16-cracker serving.

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    Cereal "candy" bars Some cereal-based bars are really just candy in disguise: A small 2-ounce bar can contain as many as 200 calories, 6 grams of fat (3.5 grams saturated) and 21 grams of sugar!

    Most granolas Granola is commonly thought of as a health food, and if you choose wisely, it can be, but read labels carefully: 1/2 cup of Quaker 100% Natural Granola Oats, Honey, & Raisins contains 250 calories, 9 grams of fat (2 grams saturated) and 15 grams of sugar.

    DAIRY SECTION
    The dairy section is also known as your calcium corner. Some pointers:
  • Choose products that provide at least 30 percent of your daily calcium needs per serving. Thirty percent is equivalent to 300 milligrams for women ages 19-50, who need 1,000 milligrams every day.
  • Stick with low- or nonfat dairy products as well as those with the lowest sugar content. Flavored milks and sweetened milk-based drinks can be tasty calcium sources, but beware of their higher calorie, fat and sugar stats.
  • Try heart-healthy soy milk. Just make sure the brand you choose is calcium- and vitamin D-fortified. (Eight ounces of vanilla soy milk contains 90 calories; 3 grams of fat, less than 1 gram saturated; 300 milligrams of calcium; and 25 percent of your recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for vitamin D.)

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    Shredded mozzarella made with 2 percent milk One-quarter cup (about 1 ounce) contains just 70 calories and 4 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated), yet provides 400 milligrams of calcium.

    Light yogurt One 8-ounce serving of a flavored nonfat yogurt provides about 120 calories, 15 grams of sugar and 35 percent (350 milligrams) of your RDA for calcium. Compare this with an 8-ounce container of blueberries-on-the-bottom, full-fat yogurt: 230 calories, 2 grams of fat (1 gram saturated), 300 milligrams of calcium and a frightening 42 grams of sugar.

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    Flavored milk Vanilla-flavored milk provides 70 percent of your daily calcium in one 14-ounce bottle, but at a cost: 640 calories, 14 grams of fat (9 grams saturated) and 88 grams of sugar!

    Pre-made smoothies Although many of these drinks are fat-free and contain a hefty amount of calcium and protein, some pre-made smoothies have more sugar -- 46 grams -- than a can of soda.

    PRODUCE SECTION
    It's hard to go wrong in the nutrition-rich produce section, but here are a few suggestions to make the most of it:
  • The more color, the more nutrients. Blue, green, orange and red fruits and veggies are rich in phytochemicals that may fight heart disease and cancer.
  • Use pre-washed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables. While these may cost a little more, the time you'll save on preparing them will encourage you to eat more.

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    Blueberries are an excellent source of anthocyanins, phytochemicals that protect the body from disease; 1 cup contains nearly 4 grams of fiber and just 56 calories.

    Red bell peppers boost both flavor and nutrients when added to salads: One cup contains one-third of your entire RDA for vitamin A and almost four times your RDA for vitamin C (twice as much as the same amount of green bell peppers).

    Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that can help prevent cancer.

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    Caesar salad kits One bag contains 3.5 servings, each of which provides 170 calories and 15 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated). And if you're ever tempted to eat the entire bag, thinking it's a "healthy" lunch, remember: One bag contains as much total fat as a McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese.

    Banana chips One-half cup contains 180 calories and 10 grams of fat (9 grams saturated) -- akin to eating a serving of fruit with a dollop of butter on top. Sugary fruit-juice drinks Sugar-laden, high-calorie fruit-juice drinks don't provide the same feeling of fullness that whole fruit does. So you're likely to end up eating just as many calories after you've downed a 15-ounce mango-flavored drink, which has about 300 calories and almost 60 grams of sugar, as if you'd had a zero-calorie glass of water or diet soda.

    MEAT, FISH & POULTRY
    Some of the best sources of protein are found at the meat and fish counters. Protein is digested slowly, so foods high in this macronutrient help to prolong feelings of fullness. The downside is that the same foods can be high in artery-clogging saturated fat. Here are some guidelines to help keep your recommended daily intake of saturated fat below 20 grams (on an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet) -- and to help you stay healthy:
  • Incorporate seafood into your diet a few times a week. Fish and shellfish are generally the leanest sources of protein -- and blood-building iron -- you can find. Avoid fish that contain high levels of toxins. Certain types of fish -- namely shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish -- should be limited or avoided entirely because they contain high levels of mercury (which can harm an unborn baby or a young child's developing nervous system, as well as your own). In addition, farmed salmon should be limited to no more than 1 serving per month because of the high levels of cancer-causing toxins it can contain. Your best choice is wild salmon, which has lower levels of these toxins and can be eaten more frequently.
  • Choose white-meat chicken over dark. Chicken breast is lower in calories and fat (including saturated fat) than is the dark meat found in thighs and legs. (In fact, a 3-ounce serving of skinless white meat has 100 fewer calories and 12 fewer fat grams than the same serving of dark meat with skin.)
  • Choose 95 percent lean ground beef. A 3-ounce serving contains 132 calories and 5 grams of fat (2 grams saturated), while the same amount of 80 percent lean beef will cost you 96 more calories and another 7 grams of fat (including 4 more grams of the saturated kind).

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    Pork tenderloin Unlike fattier cuts of "the other white meat," a 3-ounce serving of this fillet, taken from the rear two-thirds of the pig's loin section, contains 116 calories, 4.5 grams of fat (2 grams saturated) and 17 grams of protein.
    Soy bacon This meatless version of the perennial breakfast meat has a much healthier nutritional profile: Two slices typically contain 45 calories and 1.5 grams of fat (none saturated); compare these stats to two slices of real bacon, which have 80 calories and 6 grams of fat (2 grams saturated).
    Shrimp For a lowfat source of protein, shrimp is hard to beat: Three ounces (about 12 large shrimp) provides 90 calories and a modest 1.5 grams of fat (less than 1 gram saturated).

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    High-fat, high-sodium sausages Just one link of bratwurst, for example, contains 281 calories, 25 grams of fat (9 grams saturated) and a heart-stopping 719 milligrams of sodium. Better to avoid the temptation.
    Beef short ribs Three ounces -- the size of a deck of cards -- of this barbecue favorite has 330 calories and 31 grams of fat (13 grams saturated).

    CANNED-FOOD AISLE

    To stock your pantry with the healthiest choices on the canned-food shelves:
  • Be on sodium alert. Canned veggies and legumes make it easy and convenient to add fiber to your diet. But some canned foods, especially soups, can be high in sodium. To keep your daily sodium intake at or under the recommended 1,500-2,300 milligrams, look for reduced-sodium versions of soups, broths and other preserved foods.
  • Choose fruits canned in their own juice. One cup of canned peaches in heavy syrup has 84 more calories and 23 more sugar grams (almost 6 teaspoons!) than the same amount of juice-packed peaches.

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    Low-sodium soups Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy choices. Two to try: Nile Spice Red Beans & Rice Soup, which has 170 calories, 1 gram of fat (none saturated), 590 milligrams of sodium and an impressive 10 grams of fiber per 11/4-cup serving, or Healthy Choice Hearty Chicken Soup, with 140 calories, 2 grams of fat (1 gram saturated), 4 grams of fiber and 480 milligrams of sodium per cup.

    Lump crabmeat makes a nice change if you eat a lot of tuna. A 2-ounce serving of canned crab has just 35 calories, 1 gram of fat (none saturated), 300 milligrams of sodium and 8 grams of protein.

    Vegetarian baked beans (1/2 cup) have just 118 calories, 1 gram of fat, 6 grams of protein, 504 milligrams of sodium and an impressive 6 grams of filling fiber.

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    Canned meat Watch out for saturated fat and sodium. One cup of Hormel Foods Mary Kitchen Corned Beef Hash contains 390 calories, 24 grams of fat (11 grams saturated) and 1,000 milligrams of sodium!

    Soups with 800 or more milligrams of sodium Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup, Lime Shrimp flavor, has 930 milligrams of sodium per 1.5-ounce serving (half a package); Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder has 890 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounce serving; and even a cup of Campbell's ready-to-serve, chunky chicken noodle soup has 850 milligrams. (Note: Most people eat an entire can of soup or package of ramen, doubling the sodium amounts listed here and putting them at or over an entire day's allotment.)

    DELI COUNTER
    The deli counter, featuring prepared salads and meats, can be a minefield of calories and saturated fat:
  • Choose meats that are less processed. In other words, opt for roast turkey, beef and ham over heavily processed, high-fat, high-calorie meats like salami and bologna.
  • Avoid most side dishes. They may be tempting, but most are dripping with mayo and other high-fat dressings.

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    Flavored turkey breast With all the varieties, you could have a different-flavor turkey sandwich every day of the week. Three ounces of salsa-flavored turkey contains 90 calories, 1.5 grams of fat (less than 1 gram saturated) and 540 milligrams of sodium. Also try lemon-pepper or honey-roasted turkey -- both are healthful and delicious in sandwiches and wraps.

    Hummus This low-cal chickpea dish is yummy as a dip or a substitute for mayonnaise. You also can add it to soups. One tablespoon has 23 calories and 1 gram of fat (less than 1 gram saturated). Hummus is a calorie and fat bargain compared with mayonnaise, which has 103 calories and 12 grams of fat (2 grams saturated) per tablespoon.

    Rotisserie chicken This versatile bird is great eaten alone, shredded for tacos or cut up on top of a salad. Discard the skin, and 3 ounces of white meat will give you just 102 calories and 2 grams of fat (less than 1 gram saturated) for 20 grams of protein.

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    Tuna salad Just 1/2 cup of pre-made deli tuna salad contains 330 calories and 28 grams of fat (5 grams saturated). You'll save calories and fat by making your own: A homemade version prepared with 3 ounces of light tuna and 1 1/2 tablespoons of light mayo has only 164 calories and 8 grams of fat (less than 1 gram saturated). You save 166 calories!
    Pastrami Three ounces packs 293 calories, 25 grams of fat (9 grams saturated) and 1,031 milligrams of sodium. If you can't live without it, try turkey pastrami instead: Though containing 894 milligrams of sodium, a three-ounce serving has 121 calories and 5 grams of fat (2 grams saturated).
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