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Healthy eating starts with healthy shopping

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Tiffany Brunton, 21st Medical Group health promotion dietician, compares labels on two popular brands in the Peterson Air Force Base Commissary. Examining labels on condiments makes healthy selections throughout the store simple. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Tiffany Brunton, 21st Medical Group health promotion dietician, compares labels on two popular brands in the Peterson Air Force Base Commissary. Examining labels on condiments makes healthy selections throughout the store simple. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Tiffany Brunton, 21st Medical Group health promotion dietician, looks for yogurt with less sugar. Brunton recommends lower sugar varieties or purchasing plain yogurt and adding your own fresh fruit for a healthier choice. Examining food labels makes healthy selections throughout the store simple. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Tiffany Brunton, 21st Medical Group health promotion dietician, looks for yogurt with less sugar. Brunton recommends lower sugar varieties or purchasing plain yogurt and adding your own fresh fruit for a healthier choice. Examining food labels makes healthy selections throughout the store simple. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It started with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. In just a few weeks it escalated to cookies, fudge and other sweets topped off with a traditional Christmas dinner. Next came munching leftovers and snacking through to the New Year.

Each year it is the same: that stuffed feeling and the idea that it will never be like this again, starting now. After all, it is a new year and a great time to take on new challenges and to make lifestyle changes.

The annual declaration to be healthier, get into shape and eat right is ready to be made. Often those resolutions are never realized, but one of them - eating right - may be easier than it sounds if some preparations are made in advance.

The key to healthy eating is healthy shopping, and following a few tips can make a huge difference in what goes into the body.

The best place to start is in changing your approach to shopping. Though the regular trip to the commissary or grocery store can be a mundane task, a different approach can make it more like an adventure.

"Knowing what you put into your body is for nutrients. Thinking of food as a fuel source is a good way to come at healthy shopping," said Tiffany Brunton, 21st Medical Group health promotion dietician. "Food should have a purpose. We know a candy bar is not good for us and if we know it doesn't do anything for us that will help."

Challenges facing families trying to make a move toward healthier eating are cost and flavor. Healthier types of foods cost more than the processed alternatives and many people do not like the flavors of healthier foods. However, there are ways around these issues. There are a number of seasonings that make foods more pleasing to the palette.

Brunton suggests spices, vinegar, mustard and lemon juice to name a few.

Using healthier fats can make a difference as well, switching to guacamole or different oils like avocado or nut oils.

To reduce the impact of higher prices she suggests buying in bulk and buying fruits and vegetables in season. Buying meat in bulk and grinding it or having it ground can actually save money. The best way to take advantage of these tips and others is to make a menu before heading to the store.

Brunton said a simple menu for one week's worth of meals is a good start.

In the article "10 Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping" found at WebMD.com, dietician Kathleen Zelman acknowledges planning ahead takes time, but is well worth the effort. Creating a list to shop from not only helps assure the healthiest items are not overlooked, but prevents running back and forth to the store for missed items.

"People say they don't have time to cook and plan so they have things on hand, but if they get things like minute rice and tuna within about 10 minutes they can pull together a nice, easy meal," Brunton said.

A meal plan should include produce, a protein and a healthy, unsaturated fat. Healthy fats typically are squeezed from the source, like olives.

The best place to start shopping is the produce section of your store. Starting here also sets up the healthiest route around the market: shopping the perimeter where fresh food is typically located. The bulk of items in the shopping basket should come from this section.

The USDA website www.choosemyplate.gov recommends half your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables.

"After you finish this area half the cart should be full," Brunton said. "Just like half your plate should be fruits and vegetables. And it should be colorful. Darker, deeper colors mean more nutrition, so choose a green pepper over celery."

Organic apples, berries and dark leafy vegetables are beneficial. Organic products can be better, but if the skins are not consumed it doesn't matter as much. 

Frozen fruits and vegetables can be a good choice in some situations since they are flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness and usually cheaper than fresh versions. Frozen fruit and vegetables last longer as well.

"That's a big one," Brunton noted, "people buy fresh and they go bad because they don't use them." 

Making healthy selections throughout the rest of the store is not too difficult if a couple of tips are used on the trip. The simplest is looking at labels.

"Choosing (healthier foods) is easy. If you don't recognize the ingredients on the label, put it back," Brunton advised. "If it doesn't look like where it came from, put it back. A chicken breast should look like a chicken breast."

Healthy eating doesn't have to mean bland, boring meals. There are alternatives to commonly used, less healthy ingredients that are easy to find and incorporate into recipes.

For example, fresh fruit provides sweetness in things like shakes with less sugar, which leads to energy crashes. Brunton said the best sugar substitute is Stevia, but brown sugar and black strap molasses are good alternatives.

One tip that makes a big difference may be a surprise to some.

"Don't dink your calories," Brunton said. "Like sports drinks or too much alcohol. Sports drinks (and similar items) have calories your body does not need unless you are doing intense exercise for more than an hour."

As former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work." Eating healthier will take some planning and preparation but following some of these tips will make for a good start. Other resources, including recipes and guidelines can be found at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ and http://livewellcolorado.org.

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