Nutrition Articles

Your Good-Better-Best Guide to the Grocery

Step-by-Step Guidelines for the Best Food Choices

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One of the best things about supermarkets can also be the most confusing: all the choices! When walking from aisle to aisle, it can be overwhelming to look at all the products in each section. Just think of all the choices when you’re looking at the entire wall of cereal or a large cooler packed with tiny yogurt cups! Trying to find the best item—especially when you're trying to eat healthier or watch your intake of calories, fat or sodium—is not always a walk in the park.

Within each section of the grocery store, you'll find plenty of healthful foods that can help you reach your goals. But sometimes you have to make a food choice based on budget constraints, availability or taste preferences that isn't ideal. Not to worry. This "Good, Better, Best" guide will help you make the best possible choices on your next trip to the store. If you're new to eating healthy, start at the bottom and work your way up to the top of the lists over time. Even if all you can afford is in the "good" category, you're still doing pretty well. If you prefer the taste and texture of the "better" item to the "best" choice, that's OK, too. Or maybe you're facing a hotel breakfast buffet or trying to find something healthy to eat at a party and all you'll find is the "good" choice. No matter what your situation, you'll still be able to make the best possible choices by using this simple guide.

MILK

Good Better Best
2% milk 1% milk Skim milk
It has 3 fewer grams of fat than whole milk, yet still offers calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and protein for your body. It's a useful stepping-stone as whole- and vitamin D-milk drinkers make the healthy transition to low-fat dairy. With a mere 2 grams of fat per cup, it slashes the fat found in 2% milk by more than half. This lower-fat version of milk still has 30% of the daily dose of calcium, as well as vitamin D. It's fat-free, yet provides about the same amount of calcium and protein as higher-fat options. This is the best choice, especially for heavy milk drinkers. Skim milk may take some getting used to because it’s thinner, but it has lower amount of saturated fat and your heart will love that.

YOGURT

Good Better Best
Low-fat Low-fat + fortified Plain nonfat Greek
Low-fat yogurt is made with skim or low-fat milk, which cuts calories and fat but still provides calcium and protein. Beware of added sugar (plain yogurt, flavored with fruit or topped with whole-grain cereal is your best bet). A great up-and-coming trend in the yogurt aisle is supplementing yogurts with vitamin D. There aren’t many food sources of vitamin D, which helps in immunity and cancer prevention, so this is a great way to get an extra dose. This plain, thick, smooth yogurt has 21 fewer grams of sugar and 60 fewer calories than it's fat-free, flavored counterparts but still leaves in a great amount of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Get our expert recommendations for the best yogurts.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • FOXGLOVE999
    I'm a little confused by the pasta. Durum wheat flour is semolina. - 9/6/2014 5:52:01 PM
  • I don't drink milk often. I have fallen in love with Greek yogurt, but I think I may be returning to my activia with an occasional treat for the Greek yogurt. - 2/19/2014 9:19:37 AM
  • Glad I read this because I love whole wheat bread. Now I know what to be looking for. Alot of good info. - 10/16/2013 8:58:38 AM
  • this was very useful for me - 6/17/2013 7:51:48 PM
  • AMANDA_YVONNE
    FAT IS NOT THE ENEMY, PEOPLE! ARGGHHHH!!!! - 4/24/2013 12:56:05 PM
  • non-fat dairy and whole wheat/whole grain options are still being recommended here? Smart people who aren't brainwashed by today's propaganda of the food and the diet industries should know that those options are bad for you. But, I guess everyone is living in la-la land... Ciao! - 10/26/2012 10:48:13 PM
  • I found this very interesting the bread is confusing as there are so many whole grains. I buy Multigrain bread but only because it contains more seeds

    - 10/26/2012 6:19:34 PM
  • i was actually able to add to my weekly grocery list things i dont usually get. i cant afford to get the really good whole wheat stuff but i can at least get whole wheat. ive always drank fat free milk too. my whole life. i never like 1% or 2%. my mom always gave me fat free. i still get it and i had to get my boyfriend to adjust to it since hes always had 1% haha. - 10/26/2012 12:58:35 PM
  • Good info except that I am celiac and no gluten allowed but I am learning to translate whole wheat to whole grain in my miind as I read articles...Forget the processed and "Light stuff and eat real food! - 10/26/2012 11:38:46 AM
  • I'm not sure what whole meat, preferably homemade means. Buy and kill the animal ourselves? - 10/26/2012 10:46:11 AM
  • So I came here thinking this would be a garbage article about choosing the fat-free varieties of salad dressings and choosing turkey bacon over regular, but these are actually very good lists!

    I always love having a sandwich with lettuce/tomato/ch
    eese and an apple as a preworkout snack, but the sodium content in the lunchmeat has always bothered me a bit. The idea to grill some chicken breast thins to use as my meat is a great one. Once I finish my current lunchmeat I'll be doing that! - 10/26/2012 9:56:08 AM
  • While I understand much of what the article is trying to convey, my brain sort of shut off at "light" products being the best option. Hmm. That doesn't seem right to me. I'd rather enjoy one slice of minimally processed whole wheat bread with limited ingredients than two that are calorie-controlle
    d. - 10/26/2012 8:39:20 AM
  • I, too, like the idea of eating more natural, real foods that have very little processing and additives but I think the majority of comments are overreactions to this article.

    I suspect, a vast number of Spark users and those trying to lose weight are eating bread, cereal, milk etc. And they are lost amidst the onslaught of labelling, and the tug-of-war of ads and articles which fight over what is better for us -- low fat/low sugar vs unprocessed foods, pricey Organic vs non-organic, not to mention the debate over Free Range, Natural, GMO to add nutrients etc. Let's face it, we have all been "swayed" in many directions over the years.

    This article is saying yes, low fat is better if you eat too much fats however, try Greek Yoghurt which is naturally better" "Deli meats are ok, and light deli meats are better for you in some ways but you're best option is to cook your own chicken breast and slice it for sandwiches yourself"

    For those who can take away valuable information in this article, great. For others who have committed to alternate lifestyles or food choices, don't bash the article for trying to help people who have no idea what to believe. This article does help new dieters and uninformed readers. - 10/26/2012 7:50:36 AM
  • Great information, thanks! - 10/26/2012 7:34:53 AM
  • I found the explanations helpful. Perhaps there would be fewer complaints and pronouncements from the experts in the comments if the judgement of good, better, best had been left off.

    I agree about avoiding the over processed stuff as much as possible and try to eat natural. However, I also remember those "good old days" of everybody eating natural. People died of heart disease, diabetes etc back then too - also in great numbers. That was the thinking of social security at 65 or 62. We didn't expect to live much longer than that. Now we do and informed choices help.

    Yes, I'm aware of the effect of advancements in medicine, sanitation etc. I take all pronouncements with a "grain of salt" so to speak. In the end I have to make my own decision. - 10/26/2012 7:09:14 AM

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