By Holly R. Layer – Contributing Writer
If you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions are becoming things of the past. Perhaps your gym routine was a bit too ambitious, or you realized you really do hate kale. Before you grab a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and resign yourself to stay at your "winter weight" for another year, hear me out. First of all, it’s never too late to get back on track (it’s only February!), and second, you don’t have to eat kale. I promise.
One of the main reasons all those New Year’s resolutions fail is because of poor planning. In my last column, I encouraged readers to start thinking about healthy changes they could make in the New Year, such as joining a gym or meeting with a dietitian.
Now, I want to take you on a ‘virtual tour’ of the grocery store. Deciding to eat healthier in the New Year is a great idea, but what exactly does "healthy" mean, and how will that change your current shopping routine?
HEALTHY IS WIDELY DEFINED
That’s an understatement. For some people, Paleo is the only way to go; for others, it’s vegan. Still others avoid anything white and some people rely on smoothies and juices. The truth is, "healthy" can encompass many different eating patterns, but there are some basic guidelines to follow:
Avoid added sugars
They’re lurking in just about everything these days, from bacon to yogurt and dried fruit. Try to limit added sugars where you can by buying unsweetened applesauce, plain yogurt and cereals with fewer than 8 grams of sugar.
Eat your fruits and vegetables
Ideally, half your plate at each meal (including breakfast!) should be produce, and yes, you can eat veggies for breakfast. Replace high-calorie snacks like cookies or crackers with fruits and vegetables to lose weight.
Get enough protein (and fat!)
Most adults should get approximately 15 to 20 grams of protein per meal and 30 minutes after strenuous physical activity. Good examples of about that much protein are three eggs, 3 ounces chicken or one cup of Greek yogurt. Healthy fat is important too, find it in nuts, avocadoes, coconut and olive oils. Protein and fat help us feel fuller, longer.
Don’t drink your calories
Soda, juice, coffee drinks and alcohol are loaded with empty calories. Here are my subs: seltzer for soda, fruit itself or low-sodium vegetable juice for fruit juice, regular coffee with a little cream and sugar for those fru-fru coffee drinks and limit alcoholic drinks.
[RELATED STORY: These New Year's resolution tips still apply]
At the grocery store
The common suggestion is to shop the perimeter of the store, which inadvertently leaves out many healthy staple items, such as canned beans, grains and whole-grain baking ingredients. My advice is to frontload your cart with as much fresh produce as you’ll eat in a week, protein sources (meat, eggs) and then sprinkle in some dairy, grains and legumes to round out your meals.
If you’re still eating iceberg lettuce, now’s the time to quit. Spinach packs a big nutritional punch, so use it for salads and include a few handfuls into smoothies. I load up on bell peppers, carrots, citrus (in winter), sweet potatoes, avocadoes and bananas each time I shop, and then add a couple extras, such as papaya or fennel based on what looks good.
Canned beans (all kinds!) are excellent items to keep in your pantry to throw into soups and salads or to make chili. Choose plain oatmeal – sold in the large silo containers – so you can add less sugar, or – better yet – a mashed banana for sweetness. Rice, quinoa and other grains are smart choices as a side dish. Dried fruit – go easy, it’s high in natural and sometimes added sugars – and nuts make good snacks.
Choose free-range chicken and grass-fed beef when possible. Avoid processed meats (hot dogs, deli meats) or look for nitrate-free varieties. If items are on sale, it’s a great idea to stock up and freeze for later.
Here is where your label-reading skills come in handy. For every 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt, 8 of those grams of sugar are natural, as in, they came from the milk. Any more sugar is from the fruit and sugar that’s been added for flavor. I like Nancy’s and Siggi’s brands of yogurt as they tend to have the least amount of added sugars. Dairy can be a good source of protein, but it’s often over-consumed and a source of sugar; consider limiting it in your diet.
Thankfully, frozen produce has come a long way. I keep bags of frozen fruit for smoothies and love the stir-fry mix available in most stores. Be diligent label-reading here, too, as many boxed meals have a lot of added sugar or are high in sodium. Frozen veggies are an easy way to quickly pack your lunches for the week – cook enough meat for the week, portion into microwavable containers and add a cup of frozen veggies, top with your favorite sauce or dressing and re-heat at work.
The East Aurora Cooperative Market is working with local dietitians (myself included) and plans to offer registered dietitian-led tours of the store as early as this month. Additionally, private-practice dietitians often take clients on grocery store tours; contact a local RD today if you’d like help finding healthier options at your local store.
Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer. She works as a clinical dietitian at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and teaches fitness classes at the Southtowns Family Branch YMCA. She lives in East Aurora with her husband, Andrew, a village native. She blogs at thehealthypineapple.com and her work appears monthly in the online version of Refresh. Send her nutrition-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.