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Rule the Grocery Store: Your Healthy Shopping List
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Flax seeds normally garner the biggest buzz, but NYC-based RD Jaclyn London says chia seeds deserve special mention for their health benefits and easy ways to eat them. Chia is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower inflammation and decrease the risk of heart disease and many other chronic diseases. Expect to get major antioxidant benefits from this seed, too — vitamins A, C, and E are all abundant, as well as the bone-building minerals iron and calcium. Chia is also high in fiber, which will keep you fuller longer to help you prevent weight gain. And here's why they trump flax: "They are less expensive and eliminate the work associated with grinding up flax," says London. "They can be consumed whole, whereas flax needs to be ground. They are also stable at room temperature and can literally sit on your shelf for four or five years."
Unsalted Nut Butter
There's peanut butter, almond butter, macadamia butter, cashew butter, and hazelnut butter, to name just a few nut-butter options, but the choice is ultimately yours. As long as it's unsalted you'll get tons of health perks, because they're all packed with good fats like omega-3s as well as vitamin E to keep your brain and memory functioning smoothly. The fiber and unsaturated fat will also help protect your heart. Last thing: Make sure to read the label before purchasing. Look for nut butters that do not have partially hydrogenated oils, and that say "dry, roasted [insert nut here]," says London.
The benefits of berries are endless. They're higher in vitamin C than oranges, which will keep your skin glowing no matter what season it is, plus they're filled with other antioxidants that fight aging, boost your immunity, and protect against heart disease. The B vitamins rev metabolism and have been linked to a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Plus with an average of 8g of fiber per cup, they'll keep you full without puffing out your stomach. And don't worry about what's in season, says London. "Berry season is summer, but frozen berries pack the same benefits."
Kale has been a smash hit among health-conscious buyers in recent years, but Swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens, and spinach are other options that pack the same perks. In addition to being a cancer-fighting food, they help reduce risk of hypertension since they're so high in calcium and potassium. Leafy greens are also iron-rich — a must-have for athletes and pregnant women. You'll find them at their peak season in late summer and early fall, but use them all year round in omelets, salads, soups, and more to eat you way to a smaller size. "Counter the bitterness of chard or mustard with sweet potatoes and cranberries," suggests London. "Saltier and tangier flavors tend to enhance the flavor of these greens, so think about making your own dressings like olive oil, lemon juice, or cayenne pepper.
Just like kale, Brussels sprouts are all the rage lately — and if you're a fan, stock up in its peak season, early fall. Don't forget the other healthy cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and radishes. They contain glucosinolates, which scientists' think may stop carcinogens in their tracks inside the body. Noshing on these veggies will up your intake of vitamins and minerals like folate, potassium, vitamin C, and the antioxidant selenium. "Roast cauliflower with turmeric, salt and pepper, and olive oil," she says. Turmeric, another must-buy at the supermarket, contains curcumin, which is associated with lower risk of chronic disease, and is being heavily researched for its preventative role in Alzheimer's, London says.
Fresh garlic should make its way into your shopping cart every time you hit the supermarket, because according to London it pulls double duty in the kitchen as both a medicine and a spice. On top of using it to cook almost anything, especially when roasting or sauteing, it can help with everything from reducing pain to curing athlete's foot. "A multitude of research links garlic to heart disease prevention and having modest benefits on blood pressure," says London. It has also been linked with slowing the progression of atherosclerosis, which is caused by plaque building up within artery walls and which can eventually lead to stroke or heart attack, she says.
Whether it's fresh or canned, you should be eating two servings of fatty fish per week. Anchovies, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon all have been shown to reduce inflammation, improve memory function, and lower the risk of both heart disease and of developing a neurological disorder. "Buy fresh salmon and tuna steaks where your trust the source," says London, who recommends Whole Foods. "This is the place to splurge." Canned fish is fine too, especially since it's versatile and cheap. And if you've heard whispers about worries surrounding fish consumption, don't fret. "It's important to note that the mercury risk is only an issue if you are taking in more than the recommended serving size of 3.5 ounces, twice per week," London says.
These tasty orange spuds are rich in vitamin A, which helps improve vision and immune function, contain an ample dose of fiber, and are high in beta-carotene to help soothe inflamed skin. Another reason you should always have them on hand? They keep for ages. "You can buy frozen versions in bulk for baking or making into sweet potato fries," London says. "Keep them in the fridge for boiling into soups, but generally they can last a whole month at room temperature, so they're an easy, budget-friendly purchase."
London says legumes always get overlooked. So when you hit the store don't forget to scan those lower shelves! Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, edamame, and kidney beans have tons of filling fiber, vitamins, and minerals like folate and magnesium and can sub as a great, non-animal protein source. Check out the profile on a quarter cup of lentils, for instance: 170 calories, 15 grams of fiber, 12 grams of protein, and just 0.5 grams of total fat — and all from the heart-healthy kind.
Didn't think chocolate would ever become an expert-suggested mainstay on your shopping list? Think again. London says research is starting to suggest regular consumption leads to lower BMI and better weight control over time. "Rich, delicious, decadent chocolate is also rich in a type of flavonoids associated with anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and chemo-protective benefits," says London. And if you lay down money for any one item, make it chocolate. "Splurge and buy the best — something you know you'll love," says London. "Savor and enjoy the flavor, sticking to a one-ounce portion for dessert." The richness of flavor and quality will satisfy your sweet tooth so you don't binge later.
Stay-Slim Shopping Tips
London suggests keeping these tips in mind when you make your shopping trips:
- When it comes to products, the shorter and simpler the ingredient list, the better. If you can't pronounce something, skip it.
- When shopping grains, the first word should always be whole: whole-grain brown rice, whole oats, whole wheat, and so on.
- If you have a farmer's market nearby, stock up on fresh and seasonal produce, as well as local products like honey, preserves, baking goods, and spices.
- When buying in bulk from a store like Costco or Whole Foods, skip the oversized box of cookies and go for cooking oils (i.e., olive), salt, pepper, spices, and condiments, which are typically more expensive at the supermarket.
- Go organic for the stuff that is most likely to carry pesticide residue. This includes peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce grapes, carrots, and pears.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, September 2013.