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Tips for choosing healthy foods

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Ingredients of a healthy diet

Following a healthy and natural lifestyle includes smart food choices, regular physical activity, an environment that promotes mind and body balance, and effectively managing your daily stress. However, making smart food choices can cause overwhelming confusion, especially with the growing array of food products touting "all-natural" overshadowed by the media's many contradicting stories on good foods and bad foods. To help you navigate the supermarket for truly good for you foods, here are healthy food shopping guidelines and a grocery list.


The healthy food shopping basics

Despite the complicated food rituals of fad-diets and extreme health nut meal plans, eating healthy is actually easy, balanced and uncomplicated. There are definitely better food choices than others, but in general, here are the basics.

  • Buy whole, natural and unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods as the foundation of your diet. Organic vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, beans, grassfed meats and dairy, wild (not farmed) seafood, and healthy cooking oils are top choices.
  • Choose foods that are locally grown and in season, as often as possible.
  • Read labels and ingredient lists on packaged foods and bottled drinks to determine the healthier choices.
  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned.
  • Purchase packaged foods with real food ingredients as opposed to preservatives, additives and dyes. This also means choosing foods with the least amount of sodium and choosing foods with ingredients you can actually pronounce.
  • Opt for whole grains and whole grain products with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving as opposed to processed white-flour goods that have less than 1 gram.
  • Avoid products with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat or trans fat - they are not natural and they are not heart-healthy.
  • Avoid products high in sodium, which can cause high blood pressure, putting you at risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney problems. Opt for fresh, all natural foods and products with the least sodium.
  • Avoid products with artificial ingredients, such as food coloring, preservatives and artificial sweeteners. Though these ingredients have been "generally recognized as safe," they are controversial - and not natural.

Healthy, natural foods


1. Fruits and vegetables. The produce aisle is the most health promoting area of any grocery store. You can't make a poor fruit or vegetable choice – they all contain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – but some are considered superfoods because of their high antioxidant levels. Berries, cherries, apples, artichoke hearts, beans and even potatoes are chock full of cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory, free-radical fighting antioxidants. And keep in mind that fresh and dried herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants and considered superfoods.

2. Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Versatile and teeming with unsaturated good for you fats, nuts and seeds can be eaten as snacks, mixed with fruit, tossed into salads, used in sweet or savory fillings, and ground into meal to replace flour in baked goods. Fresh nut butters can be used as sandwich spreads or used in sauces and dips. Beans and legumes are high in fiber as well as antioxidants and other phytonutrients – toss into grain salads, pasta dishes, and soups or puree with herbs and spices and use as dips or spreads. If buying canned beans, rinse them with water to reduce the sodium.

3. Grassfed meats and dairy and wild fish. Grassfed meats may be more expensive than commercially-produced beef, lamb or poultry, but they are free of antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals. They are also more naturally flavorful because they aren't fattened up before processing. Organic dairy and dairy products and eggs from free-range chickens are also free of drug and pesticide residue. Wild fish is less likely to be injected with dyes or chemicals and often tastes better than farmed fish.

4. Healthy cooking oils. Olive oil is the most recognized oil for its heart health benefits and superior amount of monounsaturated fat. However, sesame, flax, safflower and even coconut are healthy oils to include in your meals. (Read The healthiest cooking oils for your family to learn which oils are best for sautéing, baking and salad dressing.

5. Whole grains and whole grain products. Steer clear of instant white rice, white bread, and cereal, and baked goods with low or no fiber. Instead, opt for the wide range of delicious and healthy whole grains and products made with whole grains. Whole grain foods are less processed than white-flour based goods and are far more beneficial to your healthy and natural lifestyle. Give quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, seven grain pilaf, wheat berries, brown rice and whole wheat cous cous or pasta a try. When buying cereal and breakfast foods, breads, tortillas, baked goods, and snack foods, choose high-fiber items made with whole grains.

Take these guidelines and list with you on your next shopping trip to take the confusion out of buying foods that will best promote your desire to live a healthy and natural life.

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