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Stock Up on these Healthy Staples

Meat & Other Proteins
Meat is often more expensive than plant-based proteins, but you can buy meat on sale and freeze what you can't use within a few days. Keep in mind that a healthy diet will include a variety of protein sources, so don't be afraid of going meatless and opting for beans or the occasional tofu—both of which make healthy additions to any meal.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are an ultra-simple and healthy source of protein. Go for hormone-free chicken when possible.
  • Canned chunk-light tuna in water is healthy and convenient when making sandwiches and topping salads. Avoid tuna packed in oil, and watch for added sodium. Try canned salmon for variety.
  • Fish is a heart-healthy protein source thanks its omega-3 fatty acids. Choose fresh if it fits your budget and lifestyle, or frozen. Cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, trout, wild salmon and tuna are the best choices.
  • Beans are good sources of protein, fiber and other nutrients. You can buy them canned, but for superior flavor (and price), buy dried beans. Some staple varieties include black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and kidney beans. Add them to soups or salads, or over some brown rice, with grated cheese and salsa for a simple and satisfying supper.
  • Tofu is a healthy source of plant protein that's also cholesterol-free. Look for extra firm varieties in the refrigerator section to add to stirfry, or "silken" varieties to add a protein boost to smoothies. Get more tofu tips here.
  • Lean beef isn't that hard to find. Look for USDA Select or Choice grades of beef that are trimmed of fat or marked as "lean," such as round, sirloin, flank steak and 95% lean ground beef.
What to Avoid in the Protein Department:
  • Processed meat products, such as hot dogs and salami
  • Processed deli meats, such as bologna
  • High fat pork products (spareribs, ground pork, pork sausage and bacon)
  • High-fat sausages (bratwurst, Italian sausage, knockwurst, Polish smoked sausage)
  • Salad dressing. Read labels to find ingredients that you recognize. When you find one you really like, you'll likely eat more salad, which is a good thing!
  • Olive oil. Buy extra virgin for the best flavor.
  • Herbs and spices—stock up! These add flavor to any dish without adding fat or calories. Some basics are cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, oregano, and basil. They can be expensive when you buy them all at once, so buy them as you need them for recipes, and check out the prices on the bag-and-weigh spices at your natural-foods grocery store, which are much lower in cost.
What to avoid: Be on the lookout for foods that contain the ingredients below. When they do, put them back on the shelf. With a few good recipes and some creativity, the flavors of the toaster pastries and TV dinners of your past will fade faster than the green flesh of a freshly cut avocado. You'll see! Now get shopping!
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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

  • 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
    sorry guys, there are few imprecisions in the article. if margarine is blended with water, weight per weight it will not have the same energy content as original butter. meanwhile: what is wrong with little saturated fat? i am a nutritionist but the author of the article is not and i see the difference. i assure you, once you started eating healthily and exercising, butter or full-fat milk is not your enemy anymore. in fact, that little extra fat increases satiety, and actually helps to absorb and utilize the calcium with thecontains naturally occurring vitamin D3 (instead of vitamin D2 in fortified products, having a lower bioactivity than D3). once you take fat from the milk, vitamin D3 goes with it, too. at least, semi-skimmed is a good compromise and it tastes much better. skimmed milk is just a by-product of dairy production that would otherwise be drained away. now they found the way to sell it to you for the same price as a real milk.
    also: why scared of HFCS but not of sugar? dont you have sugar in the USA? i know that its per capita availability has slightly increased while the HFCS was on the decline in the past several years. and they are virtually the same nutritionally and metabolically, if there is not the HFCS-90.

    why do you not let nutritionist write the articles about nutrition? i mean the qualified nutritionists. i am not going to apply for a job here, i have just pointed out how misleading these articles can be. - 3/2/2014 4:14:59 PM
  • I try to buy a lot more vegetables. I find it odd I am even saying that as even as a kid I did not mind them. I find I am trying to eat less and less junk food. Its as though I am developing an aversion to it. - 3/1/2014 9:09:21 PM
    More and more research is coming out presenting evidence that the natural fats in dairy products are NOT bad for us, and, rather, are quite GOOD for us. It makes sense as nature knows what it is doing. - 3/1/2014 1:31:02 AM

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