Healthy grocery shopping tips
* Fewer ingredients are better.
* Choose mostly fruits and vegetables; fresh is better but canned and frozen are also good, more affordable, choices.
* Read labels.
* Avoid hydrogenated fats and sodium.
* Choose cereals from the top shelf; cereals placed at kids' eye level usually have more sugar and less fiber.
* Buy peanut butter with natural fats rather than trans fats.
* Pasta, cereal and bread should all be whole grain or whole wheat.
* Use moderation; eat foods with sugar, butter or processed flour but only as a special treat.
* Fish is a good choice, but avoid breaded items, which can add fat and calories.
Source: Dietitians with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department
First rule of grocery shopping -- choose foods with lots of color.
Cheetos don't count.
"You need natural colors, but if you do nothing else, add color to your plate," said Robin Darling, a registered dietitian with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. "Try things that are different -- experiment."
On Friday, Darling and dietitian Jennifer Scanlan de Salmeron led a grocery store tour at the Hixson Pike Bi-Lo to talk about the best food choices and how to read food labels.
Trying to buy affordable and healthy food can be difficult, especially with the confusing array of claims on packaged food. Darling and de Salmeron said the adage of shopping the edges of the grocery store is true -- that's where the produce, dairy, fish and other healthier foods usually are -- but there are also sections on the inside aisles that have healthy food.
Beans, frozen vegetables, nuts, canned salmon, high-fiber cereal, whole-grain pasta and whole-wheat bread are all great options coming from inner aisles of the grocery store.
They recommend choosing foods that are processed as little as possible and have only a few ingredients. Darling picked up a box of instant mashed potatoes -- which had 25 ingredients -- as an example. It may take a little more time, but making mashed potatoes from scratch is worth the effort, she said.
Reading food labels and watching portion sizes also are key, de Salmeron said. Even a healthy food can be bad if servings sizes are doubled or tripled.
A bag of microwave popcorn is a great example, she said. Most normal-sized bags have three servings, which means if you eat the entire bag it can add up to a lot of calories and fat.
Nuts are another example.
"A handful is great; but that doesn't make a jarful better," Darling said.
Buying individual-portion packs is one way to make sure you eat the correct serving or pour a serving size into small cup or bowl. Individual-portion sizes may be slightly more expensive but are worth it if it keeps you from eating more than you should, de Salmeron said.
And consumers shouldn't buy something based on claims made on the front of the box, because it often isn't relevant, they said.
Fruit-juice marketing often claims the product has "no fat" while popcorn is sold as "whole grain." Fruit juice never has contained fat and popcorn is always whole grain, they said.
Toaster pastries that say they contain "real fruit" often have less than a teaspoon of actual fruit and even that is highly processed, the pair said.
Another thing to watch for is foods with a high fiber content such as snack bars. Some contain up to 9 grams of fiber, but use "filler fiber" rather than the natural fiber found in vegetables or beans. "Filler fiber" isn't bad for you, but it's not better than a bar with 4 or 5 grams of natural fiber, de Salmeron said.
Nancy Wordlaw took the tour Friday morning to learn more about good food choices. The 64-year-old picked up a box of mixed nuts with individual servings to purchase and checked the label on a fruit drink to see how much sugar it contained.
Since she lives alone, she doesn't cook often, making it difficult to eat whole foods, Wordlaw said.
"I definitely learned a lot; I'll try to buy more vegetables," she said.
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...