Nutrition Articles

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Stock Up on these Healthy Staples

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Produce: Start Here
Fresh fruits and veggies are the foundation of a healthy diet. Here are some of the best picks to help you reach your goals:
  • Apples are good to have on hand for a quick snack. They’re usually cheaper by the bag, and they last for a while, so don’t be afraid to stock up.
  • Bananas are another handy snack. This fruit is also an essential if you’re a fan of smoothies. Wait for them to ripen (with a few brown spots), then peel, slice, and freeze in an airtight container for a quick, frosty addition to your favorite smoothie combo.
  • Lettuce. Skip the iceberg (it's low in nutrients) and grab a head of Romaine (for salads and sandwiches) and some mixed baby greens (also great for salads).
  • Carrots are a simple snack (try dipping them in almond or peanut butter for a new twist) and a common ingredient in soup and stir-fry.
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables. If you buy just one produce item, this should be it. Greens are high in calcium, folate, and vitamin C, and delicious. There are lots of varieties of greens (broccoli, kale, chard, and spinach are popular examples).
  • Avocados, those mysterious egg-shaped fruits, are rich in good fats, and delicious additions to sandwiches, wraps, or salads. Buy them when they're green and allow them to ripen on your counter—they're ready to eat when soft. Homemade guacamole makes a flavorful addition to veggies, burritos and baked chips.
  • Other seasonal foods. Whatever is in-season in your region is usually most nutritious and flavorful. Check out this list of seasonal produce items to add to your cart throughout the year.
What to Avoid in the Produce Section: Fortunately, nothing in this section is bad for you, and each item offers some health benefit. You can’t go wrong if you aim for variety, filling your cart with a bounty of colorful fruits and vegetables during each grocery trip.

Bread & Cereal Aisles
Bread, cereals and other grain products can often be the most confusing to buy, and healthy sounding phrases on their packages (Health Nut, 12-Grain, and more) don't make it any easier. For the best bet, ignore the claims on the front of the box and go straight to the nutrition label.
  • Whole wheat bread. To make sure you're buying whole grain bread (which is superior in nutrition and arguably, flavor) make sure "whole" is the first word on the ingredient list. The same goes for buns, bagels, English muffins, pitas, and other bread products.
  • Sprouted grain bread (Ezekial is a common brand) is usually sold in the freezer case or natural foods section. It's made entirely of sprouted whole grains, which are more easily digestible for some people. This bread also boasts protein (and all essential amino acids) and fiber.
  • Whole grain pasta. Choose whole wheat pasta and couscous, or even brown rice pasta for variety.
  • Brown rice is a healthy addition to many meals. For quicker cooking, you can soak it on the counter for a few hours before boiling it, or buy pre-cooked brown rice in the freezer section that you can reheat in the microwave in minutes!
  • Healthy cereals are those made with whole grains and without added sugar. Here's Dietitian Becky's list of the top choices.
  • Oatmeal is a hearty breakfast staple that cooks in minutes. Buy (plain) instant or quick oats to save time. When cooking it on the stovetop, add a handful of frozen blueberries for a scrumptious breakfast truly fit for champions.
What to Avoid in the Bread & Cereal Aisles:
  • Snack cakes, doughnuts, muffins, Danishes and other pastries don't make healthy breakfast choices.
  • Sugary cereals, especially those marketed to kids
  • Limit "wheat flour" products. Don't let words like "wheat flour" or "wheat bread" fool you. Unless the ingredients list "whole wheat" as #1, these products are just posing as healthy.
  • Limit white flour products. Refined grains (white bread, rice and cereals) are missing the most nutritious parts of the grain.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • Some good info, but I could've lived without the patronizing tone. "Flavor of toaster pastries & TV dinners"? Really?
    It IS possible that your readers have encountered recipes, produce & whole grains before, but thanks for the info. - 5/25/2016 12:09:51 AM
  • Some researches show that skim milk and low fat milk can cause cancer. http://www.reuter
    6781420080102 - 3/23/2016 9:52:19 AM
  • I also am rather surprised at the amount of negativity. This is a guideline rather than a list that you absolutely must follow. I make my own bread because A) I love baking and B) I know exactly what went into it. I use 1/3 cup of honey instead of 1/2 cup white sugar that my recipe calls for, I use 2 cups white flour, 5 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup of ground rolled oats instead of 8 cups white flour and I use extra virgin olive oil rather than hydrogenated vegetable oil. The 2 cups white flour help give it a proper loaf shape as all whole wheat is very dense and not everyone will eat it. I actually found very little that I could change since I had already changed my grocery shopping style before starting the Realistic Resolutions challenge. I no longer visit the prepared food refrigerator cases but rather make my own and for what I paid for 4 servings prepared, I can make 16 servings for the same amount AND I know exactly what went into and can flavour to suit my palate. I don't have sugar cravings, my cravings are for salty substances. As far as low fat goes - I only drink skim milk and have done so for years. I hate 0 fat yogurt so I go for the Greek yogurt mid-fat range and full fat cheese - gotta get it some where! I hate greasy foods and that was part of my reason for leaving the prepared foods behind as most of them are greasy and lacking flavour. - 3/15/2016 10:01:36 AM
  • I'm surprised at how many negative comments are posted to this article. Looking at the positive (this information is provided to you free of charge) and realizing that dietary needs and opinions are varied would be my two cents to my fellow Sparkers. I for one am happy that SparkPeople doesn't jump on every new dietary fad. Use what you can to your advantage on this site and leave what you can't. - 1/19/2016 9:06:53 AM
  • Very misleading article with lots of outdated information. Low fat is NOT healthy. Some fruits and vegetables are loaded with pesticides. All grains can cause havoc in the gut and raise blood sugars. Un-fermented soy is very problematic.

    You need to be consulting with Registered Holistic Nutritionists, not dietitians. - 1/16/2016 11:22:08 AM
    At a certain point, the difference between 2% and 4% cottage cheese makes no no never mind to me!
    Milk, whether skim (yuk) or full cream (also yuk) BOTH contain 12g of sugar!!! Blue Diamond, unsweetened almond milk contains 0g sugar. Of course it's all a matter of taste, and we each choose what's best for us, for our palate, and/or for our families.

    So while articles like this may be somewhat useful to some, to others the generalized nature of it is a little off? - 8/10/2015 4:17:53 PM
  • I thought low fat dairy was going out of fashion. - 8/10/2015 1:24:58 PM
  • A must have staple for my kitchen has to be spices, and seasonings. No matter what I cook that's what make my recipes go from bland to yummo. - 8/10/2015 9:40:34 AM
  • People with medical issues have to be careful with buying certain foods. Anyone on a low potassium diet has to severely limit any high potassium foods. That includes potatoes, bananas, whole grains, dark leafy vegetables, even milk. So don't be so quick to say white bread, rice, pasta are bad, if you cannot eat whole wheat products. - 1/29/2015 11:25:59 AM
  • No matter how many articles you post saying it, I'm never giving up my whole milk.
    And the science seems to be growing against you, Spark. - 1/28/2015 10:36:29 AM
  • Fancy-pants "ancient grains", in addition to being more than just a little bit pretentious, are expensive. Stick to brown rice and barley.

    Also, quinoa tastes like pillbugs smell - ICK. - 1/28/2015 9:35:06 AM
  • I wonder why there is no mention of things like quinoa or kumat or other ancient grains? So much better than pasta or rice. I find them fun to try and it makes me have to think about my food so much more, because they are so unfamiliar to my past. - 1/16/2015 11:52:09 AM
  • I think the article is a good starting point. However, do your own research & decide what works best for your life. Avoiding high fructose corn syrup, reading labels, choosing low sugar, less processed foods are good for everyone though~ - 11/12/2014 6:06:57 AM
    This is a very useful article as a starting point. But I think it could have been padded out a bit more, although I understand that it is not intended to be an exhaustive list. It would have been helpful if it had flagged that 'healthy' products, like wholewheat bread, mentioned above often have a high sugar content and that 4g of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. It would also have been nice for alternatives to bread, like natural oatcakes, to have been suggested. They could have mentioned seeds as well, as these are supposed to be super foods. I'm also surprised that coconut oil hasn't been mentioned as a lower cholesterol alternative to olive oil for cooking. - 6/16/2014 6:25:32 PM
  • everything cold HAS to be towards the back/perimeter of the store. It's just logistics - the docks for unloading are where? At the back. So the refrigerated & frozen storage is as close to the unloading area as possible. - 5/6/2014 1:57:48 AM

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