By Sarah Davis, Texas Woman's University Dietetic Intern
We are bombarded with choices everyday, from food, to clothes, to the next president of the United States. With the national election quickly approaching, we individually face a big choice to make about our country’s future when we vote for our next national leader. But don’t forget how important the food elections we make multiple times per day! With more and more products to choose from at the grocery store, it can easily get overwhelming and confusing about what foods to choose to keep your family eating healthy. Labels and health claims can get a bit fuzzy when it comes to looking for healthy products and quality ingredients. Here are some tips to help clear up your debate about which foods to buy:
-Look for breads that say 100% whole wheat as the first ingredient, with 3-5 gms of fiber per serving. Whole wheat is not the only whole grain though! Anything with 100% whole oat, corn, rye, barley, quinoa, or others count as a whole grain. Check out more about whole grains at the Whole Grains Council.
-Choose frozen vegetables that are not made in cream or cheese sauce. The ingredient list should only be the vegetable itself. Frozen produce is a great alternative to buying fresh because the nutrients is locked in when picked, blanched and frozen without spoiling as quick as fresh. If buying canned vegetables, you don’t have to pay more for the “low-sodium” cans, just rinse your vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking to wash away as much sodium as possible.
-Look for salad dressings that are lower in sodium and fat; a good goal would be less than 300 mg of sodium and less than 8 grams of fat per serving. Be careful- the fat free or lighter versions are often compromised by adding sodium or sugar for taste. If possible, try making your own dressing at home! Ranch can be made out of plain yogurt and/or buttermilk with Ranch seasoning packets or herbs. Vinaigrettes can be easily made with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar base, with different flavors such as Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, honey, lemon or lime juice, and herbs.
-Choose low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses for less saturated fat. Beware of fat-free products; other filler ingredients may be present to compromise for the absence of fat! A little bit of fat can be more satisfying and prevent you from over-eating.
-Skim milk has the same nutritional benefits as whole, with fewer calories and fat! If your family is not fond of skim, gradually switch to 2% first, then 1%, or mix skim with 2% or 1% to lower that fat content.
-If buying non-dairy products, try choosing the non-flavored, as this will cut back on sugar and calories. It also makes the milk more versatile for cooking!
-Nuts that are in the raw form, not roasted and salted, provide more nutritional benefits without the extra sodium, oils, and calories!
-Not everyone’s budget allows for organic foods. If buying organic is important to you but your budget is tight, consider buying organic produce that is a part of the “Dirty Dozen” and save your money for other good quality foods. Buying organic can get expensive, so try washing all non-organic fruits and vegetables thoroughly with a scrub brush to remove as much pesticide as possible. Make your own produce wash by mixing 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/4 cup of baking soda. Mix together and then spray on produce, massaging for 20 seconds and then rinsing with fresh running water.
-If you are looking for an alternative to white, bleached all-purpose flour, try buying white whole-wheat flour. This is albino whole-wheat flour that is more similar in consistency and texture to all-purpose but not as coarse as the brown whole wheat with similar nutritional benefits. White whole-wheat flour can often be substituted easily in recipes calling for all-purpose flour without much change in texture.
-Although there is nothing wrong with butter in moderation, if you are avoiding butter, look for margarines that do not contain “partially hydrogenated oils,” as this is another name for trans fat, which may or may not be included on the nutrition label. If 1 serving of margarine contains <0.5 g of trans fat, the FDA does not require the manufacturers to list the trans fat in the nutrition label.
-Similar to margarines, choose a peanut butter without “partially hydrogenated oils” as well. This includes the mainstream peanut butters. If a product is labeled, “Natural,” it may or may not include these oils. To choose the best quality peanut butters, limit the amount of sugar and added ingredients as much as possible.
With all the daily choices we face, tasty and nutritious food does not have to as tumultuous as the presidential debates. Be confident to elect the healthier options and saving splurges for rare occasions the easier it will be to form healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
About Me: As an intern, I have learned an invaluable amount of information about nutrition, but I also have my own personal experiences with food choices on a daily basis. I love sharing my knowledge and personal experiences with those who are looking for ways to eat healthier and feel better. Once I realized in high school how much better I felt when I started putting the right foods in my body, I was convinced nutrition was the career for me! But it is more than a (future) career; it is a lifestyle, and good habits start when we are young. I hope to one day work with parents to provide practical ways to teach their children how to grow positive, healthy habits that will lead to a lifetime of good health!