Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans obtain the food that nourishes their family at the supermarket, spending $100 every week and almost $5,000 annually. Last year, unwholesome heavily processed foods like salty snacks, frozen dinners and breakfast cereals were among the top 10 bestsellers, with carbonated beverages ringing in at #1, commanding a whopping $12 billion in sales.
The items tossed in your grocery cart play a huge role in the health and wellbeing of your family. Today’s supermarket shelves are stocked with tons of healthy and unhealthy foods. You need to make the right choices when walking the aisles, steering clear of foods that can have disastrous long-term health consequences for your household.
Here are 5 grocery items that should never make it through the checkout line.
1. Simple Sugars or Carbs and Unhealthy Fats
Skip foods laden with simple sugars, also called simple carbohydrates. Sugary breakfast cereals, donuts, pastries, cookies, ice cream, cakes and soda are loaded with them. Often referred to as “empty calories,” simple sugars are rapidly absorbed, spiking blood sugar levels for an initial energy high. This triggers an insulin reaction, driving levels back down and creating fatigue. You’ll feel hungrier and crave even more sugar. Plus those rapidly absorbed extra calories are stored as fat, putting you at risk for obesity.
Make smart choices by selecting fiber-rich complex carbohydrates, including 100% whole grain bread, brown rice or steel-cut oats. Select whole foods such as fresh vegetables and lean meats. These all provide slow, sustained releases of energy for long-lasting fuel. If you do crave something sweet, head for the produce aisle and pick out your favorite seasonal fruits such as pears, apples, or blueberries.
Processed sweets and goodies also contain saturated and trans fats that clog arteries and stunt weight loss. Instead purchase items rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, like avocados and nuts.
2. Meats High in Nitrates and Saturated Fats
Processed meats such as cold cuts, bacon, sausages and hot dogs contain nitrates, chemical additives that preserve freshness. Nitrates have been linked to stomach cancer and other degenerative diseases. These fatty meat products are also full of unhealthy saturated fat that can raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease and strokes.
Ditch preserved meats altogether or look for ones that are advertised as “nitrate-free.” Buy meats low in saturated fats such as chicken and turkey or eat more fish, like salmon or tilapia, rich in healthy omega-3 fats. If you must have red meat, choose lean cuts like sirloin or tenderloin.
3. Ingredients You Can’t Pronounce
Does ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate or partially hydrogenated soybean oil sound appetizing to you? Follow this rule of thumb: if a food product is made of stuff you need a course in chemistry to comprehend – or —if you can’t pronounce the first 5 ingredients, don’t let it near your cart.
Stay focused on buying whole foods comprised of only 1 ingredient. Instead of snacking on neon-orange cheese curls, slice up some carrots or celery sticks. Invest in an air popper and enjoy fiber-rich popcorn. Make homemade veggie chips: cut up kale, thinly slice beets, sweet potatoes or yams, sprinkle them with herbs and a little olive oil and bake in the oven.
4. Fake Health Foods
Fake health foods are those deceptive foods, billing themselves as “low in fat”, like certain cookies, salad dressings or yogurt brands. Look closely at their labels. To make up for flavor, these items are inevitably high in sugar or salt. Other tricky foods include packaged breads and crackers with labels stating “contains whole grains.” This often translates into considerably less fiber than 100% whole grain products.
Again, choose real foods as much as possible. If it’s a sweet tooth you need to satisfy, buy tasty dried fruits, such as apricots or mangos.
5. Canned Foods High in Sodium
Eighty percent of our sodium intake comes from processed and canned foods. In fact, many canned foods are so chockfull of salt, they contain half or more of your daily recommended intake. A diet high in sodium is dangerous since it can lead to high blood pressure.
To lower your overall sodium intake, try seasoning foods with more herbs, both dried and fresh. You’ll rely less on table salt for flavor.
Learn more about the relationship between nutrition and lifestyle choices from Holistic Nutritionist Gillian McKeith, host of the UK's You are What You Eat and a guest on The Dr. Oz Show.