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Healthy Grocery Shopping 101

From Kathy Smith
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Food shopping. It's something we all have to do - even those of us who don't consider ourselves cooks and prefer to dine out. When you're trying to control your weight, going to the market can be intimidating and a bit baffling. That bright, abundant space suddenly becomes a place full of forbidden goodies and unhealthy choices. No need to be nervous. Follow my strategy for painless shopping and you'll see food shopping can actually be easy, healthy, and fun!

The first step to enjoyable and effective shopping should be done at home. Decide what you need before you shop. When making your shopping list, think about your upcoming week and how much food you'll need to buy. Plan healthy meals and snacks in the amounts that your diet guidelines require. Be realistic as you add items to your list—really look at how many meals are on your plan each day. And remember, if you have good food in your kitchen, that's what you'll eat.

1. Know the lay of the land. Most markets have a similar layout. Meat, produce, and dairy are found around the perimeter, with processed foods (those junk "goodies" and other items almost devoid of nutritional value) in the center. When you stick to the perimeter, you're sticking "close to the earth," buying foods closest to their natural state and avoiding "convenience foods" full of unnecessary fats, sugars, carbs, and salt.

2. Select beautiful produce. A popular misconception is that packaged foods are quicker and easier to prepare. Not so! Most vegetables take only a few minutes to cook, and a proper portion of protein takes only minutes as well. Cook them at the same time, and you've got really fast food. Look for produce that's in season. It will be bursting with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and flavor. Truly fresh produce doesn't need much effort. Just slice, chop, or peel it, toss it in a healthy salad, add a bit of tuna, and presto - a satisfying and super-healthy meal in minutes! Or slice your veggies, put a bit of water in a pan, bring it to a quick boil, drop in your veggies briefly, and you've got a healthy steamed side dish. Add a dash of low-sodium soy sauce and some thinly sliced cooked chicken, and you've got a delicious Asian feast.

Cooking with fresh food eliminates ripping open boxes, tearing open "flavor packets" that contain enormous amounts of sodium (and heaven knows what else), juggling can openers, etc. Fresh food has crunch! Fresh food has personality! Fresh food has color! Fresh food has zest! And speaking of color . . . mix it up! It's not only nicer to look at, but foods of different colors have different benefits in terms of nutrients. Select a bit of deep red, a little bunch of vibrant green, a handful of yellow, a few white items, and you've got a party on a plate.

Still craving bold flavor? Snap up a nice plump head of garlic, a sassy shallot, a plume of chives, and a tiny bouquet of mint or basil. They're big flavors that can take your quick dishes to a new level of satisfying flavor without adding any fat or preservatives.

And don't forget the fruit! It's great for snacks, desserts, smoothies, grilling, or as a special addition to salads. Blueberries and kiwifruit are actually classified as "super foods," and nothing perks up a salad like little chunks of pear or apple. Lemon zest and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime are good to have on hand.

No time to clean and chop? Then take advantage of packaged precut produce, or visit the salad bar to buy an excellent array of produce by the pound. Also consider frozen vegetables - they're easy to prepare, and because they're frozen immediately after harvest, the nutritional values are about the same as for fresh produce. Canned goodslike beans, legumes, and tomatoes are also nutritionally sound alternatives to perishable fresh produce, but watch the sodium content, and always go for fresh produce first.

3. Get to the meat of the meal. From the produce section, head over to the meat and fish sections of the market. Talk to your butcher and ask what's best today. Fresh, fresh, fresh! If you get a beautiful fresh cut of steak, you won't have to fuss with too much seasoning. A shake of salt and pepper, and some of that garlic you already have in your cart, and you're minutes away from dinner again. The same goes for fish. If they've just received some beautiful trout filets, you can brush them with a bit of olive oil and lay them on a grill pan. If you add sliced veggies to the grill pan, again, you guessed it, you can have dinner in no time!

If you find cooking with raw proteins intimidating, most markets have a service deli with wonderful prepared foods you can enjoy (like whole roasted chickens or poached fish). Just be sure to avoid fatty sauces and preparations. Canned proteins, like tuna or salmon packed in water, are also good to have on hand for quick salads and sandwiches (make sure to drain them well).

4. Quick dairy tip. In the dairy section, look for low-fat choices, which contain less saturated fat, such as 2% cottage cheese or low-fat or nonfat milk. Hard cheeses are also available in several good-tasting low-fat varieties.

Kathy Smith is one of the most admired fitness and wellness leaders in America, with 16 million workout titles sold worldwide. Her latest creation is Project: YOU.

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