ISU extension nutrition guru offers a walk-through guide
Coupons, comparing prices and making sure to get enough food to feed the many mouths in the family are all major concerns of those who enter one of the local grocery stores on a regular basis.
However, a nutrition expert from Iowa State University Extension says grocery shoppers should also be concerned about the nutritional content of the items they buy, and said people can make wise choices in regards to items such as fruits, dairy products and bread.
Nancy Clark, a registered dietician and nutrition and health field specialist with ISU Extension for nine years, serves seven counties in northwest Iowa, and told the Pilot-Tribune one of the most important aspects of shopping for nutrition takes place without ever setting foot in a store: making a plan.
"Making a plan is really helpful because nutrition planning really starts before you go to the store," Clark said. "Making a grocery list and planning meals out are not only good for nutrition for people, because they can plan what they need to eat each day, but they can also save money because people can then buy only what is made out on their list."
Clark said shoppers also need to make sure they have included the right amount of items and serving sizes from each group on the food pyramid on their list, and said making an active effort to shop for nutrition can have a long-lasting effect for everyone in the family.
"One of the biggest things I would look at is to make sure to get a wide variety of foods from all five main food groups," Clark said. "The food pyramid is something that is good for people to follow, because you can see what items you need to get to meet all of the nutritional needs for your family.
"An average family of four eats 2.5 tons of food a year, so the food you purchase can really affect the quality of life for you and your family."
Clark said buying enough and the right kind of items in the bread and cereal group is one of the most important choices for consumers to make, as breads have been linked to the prevention of chronic diseases such as different types of cancers. She said buying whole-grain products is the key to nutritious bread.
"When you're looking at bread, buy whole grain, because that contains more fiber," Clark said. "The package needs to list whole wheat or whole wheat flour as one of the first ingredients on the nutrition label. The color isn't as important, because bread can have a brown color but not have the whole wheat flour listed as one of its primary ingredients."
Fruits and Vegetables
Another area for people to look over carefully is in the area of fruits and vegetables. Clark recommends buying fresh items that are in-season as much as possible, as canned fruits and vegetables contain more sodium from the juices used to preserve them in the can. However, she said the most important thing is to include any kind of fruits and vegetables in daily meals.
"Whether you get canned, fresh or frozen items, make sure to get fruits and vegetables in your diet," Clark said. "They're extremely important because they contain so many good nutrients that help in many different areas."
Clark said dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are also important to include in diets, particularly for the calcium they provide, and she said people need at least two cups of milk per day to meet their dairy needs.
"Many of us don't get enough calcium in our diet, so we have to look at buying more milk, cheese and yogurt and products like that," Clark said. "With milk in particular there are all levels of fat that we can look at, but skim milk has no fat, so that is a good choice for people over two years of age. Children under two years need more fat in their diet though, so a regular milk would be healthy for them."
There are also many lactose-intolerant products on the shelves of stores for people with a lactose-intolerant condition.
The Extension expert said products that are fruit juices are more nutritious than fruit drinks, as many types of fruit-juice products contain large amounts of vitamins such as C and E. She also said items such as orange juice could be purchased in either frozen or non-frozen quantities.
"Either way (frozen or non-frozen) for orange juice is fine," Clark said. "The nutrition is generally the same, but you may have a little better nutrition with frozen juice."
Sweets and Sugars
For those looking to cut a few calories and sugars out of their diets, Clark recommends looking at products such as sodas and pops, which include large amounts of sugar and so-called "empty calories."
"It's doubtful that many people read the nutrition labels on pop, but they would be surprised if they did," Clark said. "We've found that there are about 10 teaspoons of sugar in one can of pop, and that equates to about 50 pounds of sugar in one year if you only drink one can a week. That's an amazing amount if you think about it."
Timing of Shopping
Clark said it was important for people to pay attention to when they head to the store to buy items. Research has found that those who shop while hungry do more impulse buying than those who shop after meals, which can lead to many more non-nutritious items in the carts.
"It is a good idea to go when you're not hungry," Clark said. "Not only will you have more nutritious items in your cart, but it will probably be a less expensive trip too, because you won't have as much buying of items you don't really need."