Choose a variety to get the widest range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The brighter, the better: Deeply colored fruits and vegetables like berries, spinach, kale, red bell peppers and carrots have the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants and nutrients. If fresh produce is hard to come by, head to the freezer section; frozen fruits and veggies retain as many nutrients as fresh, if not more. Go organic when you’re buying the following: apples, bell peppers, blueberries, celery, cherries, imported grapes, kale, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach and strawberries. Experts call these the “dirty dozen” because they’re higher in pesticide residue than other fruits and vegetables.
Stick with fat-free (skim) or 1% milk, and nonfat or lowfat yogurt and cottage cheese. Go for lowfat cheese (2% reduced fat), and have no more than an ounce or two daily. No need to buy fat-free cheese-a little fat goes a long way in terms of flavor and texture.
Nonfat Greek yogurt (plain and flavored); Cracker Barrel 2% reduced-fat sharp Cheddar; Sargento shredded 2% reduced-fat cheese; Laughing Cow Light cheese wedges.
FATS AND OILS
Olive oil and canola oil are the healthiest options for cooking, marinades, sauces and salad dressings. I also keep a bottle of toasted sesame oil on hand-a small drop in a stir-fry adds volumes of flavor. If you can’t live without real butter and cream cheese, buy the “whipped” versions of each, as more air means less fat. Skip stick margarine, which has trans fats, and use reduced-fat, trans fat-free spreads in tubs.
Smart Balance Light; Promise Light; I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Light.
MEAT, FISH, POULTRY
Fish is my top choice for lean protein. Look for fatty types such as salmon and sardines, which have the highest levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid high-mercury fish like sword-fish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish, and eat tuna no more than once a week (light canned is the lowest in mercury).
Skinless chicken and turkey are second on my list-and that includes the dark meat, which is only a bit more caloric than white. Ground turkey and chicken (at least 90% lean) are also good choices. If you like red meat and pork, go with top or bottom round, sirloin, ground sirloin (at least 90% lean) and pork tenderloin.
BREAD, WRAPS, TORTILLAS, CRACKERS
Look for 100% whole-grain or whole-wheat breads, wraps, tortillas, English muffins and pitas with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. Also go with 100% whole-grain or whole-wheat crackers with at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 180 grams of sodium per 130-calorie (or less) serving.
Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Sara Lee, Nature’s Own or Martin’s whole-wheat sliced bread.
Make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain (such as whole wheat, whole corn, oats or brown rice) or bran-oat bran, corn bran or wheat bran. Each 1-cup serving should have at least 3 grams of fiber, and no more than 150 calories and 8 grams of sugar. Go easy on granola, as it’s typically loaded with calories and sugar. Try mixing it with a low-sugar cereal.
Barbara’s Shredded Spoonfuls; Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Crunch; Kashi Heart to Heart, Honey Sunshine; Plain and Multigrain Cheerios; Wheaties.
Go for 100% whole-grain, and all the grains/flours in the ingredients list should start with whole (Brown rice and quinoa flours are automatically whole-grain.) If you can’t get used to the 100% whole-grain types, try a whole-grain/refined flour combo or one of the new specialty blends. Many contain lentils and beans (for extra protein and fiber) as well as flaxseed, and are a step up healthwise from white pasta.
Whole-grain: DeCecco; Hodgson Mill; Heartland. Whole-wheat/white combo: Ronzoni Healthy Harvest; Barilla Whole Grain. Speciality blends: Barilla Plus, Heartland Plus.
It’s always better to make your own, but if you’re going with jarred, it should have no more than 6 grams of sugar and 400 mg of sodium per serving.
Ragu Light (no sugar added); Francesco Rinaldi To Be Healthy; Classico: Cabernet with Herbs, Fire-Roasted Tomato & Garlic, Mushroom & Ripe Olives, Roasted Garlic, Spicy Red Pepper, Tomato & Basil, Triple Mushroom; Whole Foods 365 Classic Marinara, Mix Cucina Marinara.
The main danger here is salt. Skip canned veggies (frozen or fresh is better), but stock up on beans. Buy low-sodium ones if you can, or just rinse before cooking to remove excess salt. Always choose low-sodium soups, broth and chili.
Amy’s Light in Sodium chili and soup; Progresso Reduced Sodium soups; Campbell’s low-sodium line; Healthy Valley 40%-less-sodium line; Eden Organic Canned Beans and Chili; Goya low-sodium beans.
Try to pick snacks that contain no more than 200 calories per serving and some nutritional value. For example, popcorn has fiber and nuts have protein.
Light popcorn; granola bars (Nature Valley, Kashi TLC, Kind, Luna); graham crackers; unsalted nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds); soy crisps (Genisoy, Glenny’s); Sun Chips (original flavor); Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Chips; Triscuit “Hint of Salt”; Goldfish Cheddar “Made with Whole Grain.”
Pick ones with the shortest ingredients list to avoid excess additives, including salt. Choose entrees that have no more than 600 mg sodium and 4.5 grams of saturated fat.
Dr. Praeger’s or Amy’s veggie burgers; Applegate Farms Organic turkey burgers, breakfast sausages (chicken and sage); Kashi frozen entrées; Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Pockets; Amy’s Brown Rice & Vegetable Bowl, Mexican Casserole Bowl or Shepherd’s Pie; Amy’s burritos; Kashi Thin Crust or South Beach Living frozen pizza; Breyers Smooth & Dreamy ice cream; Whole Fruit strawberry sorbet.