Nutrition Articles

Your Good-Better-Best Guide to the Grocery

Step-by-Step Guidelines for the Best Food Choices

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BREAD

Good Better Best
Whole grain 100% whole wheat Light 100% whole wheat
Bread "made with whole grains" usually contains a mix of refined flour and whole grain flour. It has a lighter texture and taste than whole wheat, making it a good choice for people who are transitioning from white bread to 100% whole-wheat bread. While it's lower in fiber, it is usually enriched with vitamins and minerals. Bread made with 100% whole wheat doesn't contain any refined or enriched flour. It's less processed and higher in fiber than white bread and whole-grain breads. Make sure "whole wheat flour" is the first ingredient on the label or else it's an imposter! This combines 100% whole wheat with calorie control. Some of the whole-wheat varieties can pack up to 100 calories per slice. Light whole-wheat bread can help you cut up to 130 calories from your sandwich if you're watching your weight. Here's how to pick the best bread.

CEREAL

Good Better Best
Cereal without marshmallows, bright colors or clusters Whole-grain cereal Whole-grain cereal that's low in sugar
If you're going to eat cereal, avoid those made like desserts (with marshmallows, clusters, chocolate flavors and bright colors). Cereals that meet these criteria are enriched with vitamins and minerals (better than nothing), but they are highly processed, full of sugar--sometimes up to two tablespoons per serving--and seriously lacking in fiber. A cereal made with whole grains is a better choice, but don't believe anything you read on the front of the box. Look for whole grains to be the #1 ingredient on the nutrition label and make sure there is at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Kashi Cinnamon Harvest and Kashi Autumn Wheat are good options that contain 6 grams of fiber per serving. The best cereal is made from whole grains and very little sugar (5 or fewer grams per serving). Grape Nuts and Total are good examples. If you’re used to cereal with more sweetness, add fresh berries or sliced fruit to help you get your 5-a-day. Get SparkPeople's top cereal picks here.

PASTA

Good Better Best
Durum wheat pasta Whole-wheat pasta Omega-3 enriched whole-wheat pasta
Standard spaghetti noodles, made from durum wheat, aren't inherently unhealthy. They're slightly less processed than semolina pasta and contain some protein and plenty of carbohydrates for energy. But durum wheat flour is refined and stripped of important nutrients like fiber. Whole-wheat noodles contain more fiber and protein per serving, while providing energy-giving carbohydrates. Load them up with vegetables and low-fat tomato sauce for a nutritious meal. Get more nutrition per bite with whole-wheat noodles that are enriched with omega-3’s. Commonplace in most supermarkets, they provide all of the goodness of whole-wheat pasta with an added dose of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

DELI MEAT

Good Better Best
Chicken or turkey slices Low-sodium lean meats Whole cuts of meat (preferably homemade)
Buying lean deli meat cuts like chicken or turkey is better than bologna, salami and processed meats, which are higher in fat and sodium and contain nitrates, which are believed to be carcinogenic. Low-sodium lean meats are better choices for your sandwiches. Look for a low-sodium version of your favorite lean lunch meat (such as turkey or chicken). Purchasing your own skinless chicken or turkey breast to grill or bake, then slice is the best way to go. It's lower in salt, less expensive, and won't contain any of the additives of processed or packaged meat slices--and you can cook it yourself to reduce the fat and calories, depending on your method.

With all the options in the grocery store, it’s easy to find items to feel good about buying. But remember: Healthy eating isn't about perfection. All foods do have some merits and even if you can't eat ideally all the time, that's OK. By striving to make the best choices from what is available to you, you'll make a real difference in your health!

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople resident expert Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
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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

  • 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
  • I agree with previous posts. I was disappointed with the focus on fat free and processed foods in the article. Especially when Spark has so many articles lamenting the end of the "fat free myth". - 10/26/2012 7:05:37 AM

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