It happens every week: You push your cart through the local supermarket on autopilot, reaching for the same items again and again. But are the foods you’re buying as healthful as you think? Here is what you should be buying on every aisle.
Aisle 1: Produce
Reach for: Brightly hued fruits and veggies such as carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and oranges
The payoff: Colorful produce is chock-full of phytonutrients, which may ward off certain cancers as well as heart disease. Fruits and vegetables are also a source of plant sterols, a natural ingredient that can help to lower cholesterol levels.
Reach for: Romaine lettuce, spinach or arugula
The payoff: Leafy greens have plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help you avoid heart disease and possibly certain cancers.
Aisle 2: Cereal
Reach for: Brands with fewer than 150 calories per cup, at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 10 grams of sugar per serving.
The payoff: By cutting back on sugar, you’ll avoid a mid-morning energy crash. Plus, a diet rich in fiber can keep you full and may decrease your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
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Aisle 3: Snacks
Reach for: Walnuts
The payoff: These nuts are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Eating nuts at least five times per week could lower your risk of diabetes by almost 30 percent, according to Harvard University research.
Reach for: Low-fat popcorn
The payoff: Munch on this salty snack for whole grains and fiber. (Craving a sweet treat? Choose low-fat kettle corn, which has a sugary taste but is still low in calories.)
Aisle 4: Staples
Reach for: Olive oil or canola oil
The payoff: Use these in your cooking for a dose of good-for-you mono-unsaturated fats. Plus, making these oils part of your diet gives you more omega-3s that help keep your ticker happy.
Reach for: Cinnamon, oregano, thyme and cloves
The payoff: Oils and extracts from these herbs and spices are antimicrobial. They might be helpful in keeping E. coli and other pesky bugs away from your family’s food, USDA experts say.
Aisle 5: Canned goods
Reach for: A can of kidney, cannellini or pinto beans
The payoff: Beans are full of protein and fiber. Toss them on top of a salad or use them in place of meat when making a pasta dish.
Aisle 6: Bakery
Reach for: Whole-wheat bread, rolls or tortillas
The payoff: Refined carbs found in white bread cause blood sugar to spike then plummet, leaving you hungry. Carbs that come from whole grains stick with you, so you’re less tempted to snack.
Aisle 7: Meat and fish
Reach for: Ground chicken or turkey breast (100 percent white meat) or lean ground beef (at least 90 percent lean)
The payoff: You’ll eliminate unnecessary fat.
Reach for: Mackerel, salmon and herring
The payoff: Eating 3 ounces of these fish at least twice a week, can help ensure that you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Aisle 8: Freezer
Reach for: Edamame
The payoff: Munch on soybeans instead of chips. A ½ cup of edamame has 100 calories, 4 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. One 1-oz. serving of chips, on the other hand, has 150 calories, 10 grams of fat and just 2 grams of protein.
Reach for: Fudgsicles, frozen 100 percent fruit-juice bars or light ice-cream sandwiches
The payoff: These single-serving treats can help you avoid the temptation of going overboard on ice cream.
Aisle 9: Dairy
Reach for: Low-fat (or skim) milk
The payoff: Switch from whole to 2 percent and you'll cut the saturated fat from 23 percent of your daily allotment to 15 percent for a one-cup serving. By going from 2 percent to 1 percent you'll slash the saturated fat from 15 percent to 7 percent. One cup of fat-free has just 2 percent of your saturated fat for the day.