By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian, for SparkPeople.com
You’ve probably heard this advice before: For a healthy grocery trip, shop the perimeter of the store. But if you stick to this advice completely you’ll be missing out on some of the nutritious items that do come in packages. These packaged foods—not to be confused with “processed” foods—can give you some great nutrients and make meal planning easier, saving you precious time.
Here’s a list of the healthiest convenience foods you can buy from the center aisles of the grocery store.
1. Canned Beans
Though dried beans are cheaper than canned, they can take a lot of time to cook. Canned beans pack an impressive amount of fiber and protein and can be a quick addition to many meals. Pinto, kidney, cannellini (white kidney), black, Great Northern—name any bean, they’re all great sources of nutrition for your body. When you’re choosing your beans, look for ones without added salt or seasoning. Before using your beans, drain and rinse them in a colander when you’re ready to cook. This will help wash added sodium down the drain–40% of the sodium to be exact.
2. Oats and Flaxseed
Prepare to have a heart-healthy breakfast by combining old-fashioned oats and ground flaxseed, both found packaged in either cartons or bags. One cup of cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed will give you 8 grams of much needed fiber, as well as a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which each protect the heart. Choose old-fashioned oats over quick oats or instant oatmeal to ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of fiber without added salt and sugar.
3. Brown Rice
For a boxed fare that is both versatile and nutrient packed, pick up brown rice on your next grocery trip. This fiber-rich grain is a great side for nearly any meat, bean, and vegetable–or combination of all three! Try it with kidney beans, diced tomatoes and cilantro, or top it with shrimp, streamed carrots and broccoli with your favorite low-sodium sauce.
4. Tuna Fish Packed in Water
When it comes to getting a bang for your buck out of canned food, this is almost as good as it gets. This convenient food is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and also gives you a good amount of vitamins D and B-12, too. Top a bed of greens with tuna, veggies, fruit and nuts or scoop it onto whole wheat pita, crackers or bread for a healthy combo on-the-go.
5. Frozen Berries
When it comes to meeting your daily fruit requirement, you can’t beat frozen. Many frozen berries do not have added sugar, but some do. Double check that the ingredients list contains berries to make sure you’re not getting extra calories from refined sugars. Then, add them to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or make a smoothie.
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By Maggie Badore for DietsInReview.com
Granola has become synonymous with healthy eating, so many granola bars and cereal bars enjoy this same health halo. However, it doesn’t take a lot of label reading to uncover the fact that many cereal bars are too high in sugar to be considered a nutritious choice.
But are all cereal bars out when it comes to grabbing a quick breakfast or snack? This round of Food Fight compares some of the most popular products and some general guidelines for what to look for in a bar.
“It’s important to read the ingredients list to see that a whole grain like oats is listed first,” says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips. She recommends avoiding cereal bars that have sugar listed in the top three or four ingredients. “You may have to consider the granola bar as a little bit of a treat, since it likely provides at least a few grams of added sugar as well. Aliases for added sugar include corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose, and/or syrup.”
As a general rule of thumb, Zied says you should look for bars that have 100 to 150 calories, fewer than 10 grams of sugar, fewer than two grams of saturated fat, no trans fat and at least three grams of fiber.
Cereal Bar Breakdowns:
- Example Flavor: Honey Nut
- Per Bar: 90 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, 6 grams sugar, 1 gram protein, 3 grams fiber
- Example Flavor: Oats & Chocolate
- Per Bar: 140 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, 10 grams sugar, 2 grams protein, 9 grams fiber
Health Valley Organic
- Example Flavor: Apple Cobbler
- Per Bar: 130 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, 16 grams sugar, 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber
Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal Fiber & Omega-3
- Example Flavor: Dark Chocolate Chunk
- Per Bar: 150 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, 7 grams sugar, 2 grams protein, 9 grams fiber
- Example Flavor: Strawberry
- Per Bar: 120 calories, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 11 grams sugar, 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber
Winner: Special K
The Special K cereal bars win out for being the lowest in sugar and also in calories, and they also contain as much protein as the other competitors compared here.
Runner Up: Fiber One
You would think that fiber would be a major nutrient in a cereal bar, however Fiber One is the only bar that really has a serious serving. Keep in mind that the American Dietetic Association recommends that you eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that cereal bars and granola bars are a highly processed food with additives you should avoid. For meal-replacement diets, like Nutrisystem, they are a staple. They may be a good source of quick energy when you’re going on a long hike or running long distances, but someone who’s looking to lose weight may do better to snack on fresh fruit or veggies for a biggest dose of nutrients and more filling fiber.
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This week’s fit links from around the web:
- Pedal power! Helpful hints to dust off your biking skills (and muscles). — FitSugar
- Now that Dancing With the Stars has wrapped, it’s time to cook with them! Or is it? — Yahoo! Shine
- Meet The Biggest Loser‘s newest trainer who will soon put contestants through the paces alongside Bob and Anna Kournikova. — Diets In Review
- One of our favorite bloggers is fundraising and completing a triathlon in honor of a courageous neighbor. — Healthy Tipping Point
- MyPlate is turning heads this week, but a soon-to-be-opened exhibit offers a historical look at government nutrition recommendations. Find a sneak peek online or see it in person in D.C.! — National Archives
- Bugged by mosquitos? Find out what may be making you an easier target. — BodyOdd
Written by Alexa Cortese, web intern
Move over food pyramid! The United States Department of Agriculture has just recently introduced “MyPlate,” a completely redesigned version of the nutritional guide that has been promoted for the past 19 years. The USDA felt that the pyramid, though it had been updated and modified few times over the years (most recently as MyPyramid), was too complicated and confusing for the typical busy American lifestyle.
Enter the new icon: MyPlate is literally a picture of a plate separated into four different colored sections. The red and green pieces, which together take up half the plate, represent fruits and vegetables respectively. There is a larger orange section for grains, and a smaller purple portion for protein. A blue circle outside of the plate, a “glass”, designates a serving of dairy. Pretty simple!
So what’s the difference between this and the pyramid? The sweets, fats and oils category has been completely removed. And the “meats and beans” category is now just “protein,” which also includes legumes, nuts, fish and poultry.
MyPlate puts food consumption in proportion. In other words, half of the food you eat each day should be fruits and vegetables, while dairy and protein should make up a smaller part of your diet. The USDA also recommends that the majority of the carbohydrates you eat be whole grains.
While MyPlate is the new guideline for the country’s eating habits, the USDA noted that everyone’s body is different, and each person has different nutritional needs. MyPlate aims to be a flexible tool to help Americans make better choices when they sit down to eat.
Now tell us: What do you think of the new eating icon/guidelines?