With the amount of conflicting information about diet and nutrition out there, it is easy to feel confused and overwhelmed about which advice to take. We invite Ms Wong Hui Xin, an accredited dietitian with more than 10 years of experience, to share her top tips for healthy grocery shopping at the supermarket.
Tip #1: Food labels are your best friend.
“The food labels give you an idea of the nutritional value of the food item and if it can help you meet your nutritional requirements,” says Hui Xin. While the food label is packed with a lot of information, there are certain things you can keep an eye out for. “Look out for products with lower saturated fat, trans fat and sodium content, while having a higher fibre content. You can compare between products by looking at the 100g/ml nutrition information.”
“Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight on the product ingredient list,” says Hui Xin. “The first ingredient is present in the highest amount, followed by the second, and so on.”
Additionally, the names of some ingredients may differ across ingredient lists! For example:
- Common names for fat: vegetable oil, dripping, animal oil, coconut oil, palm oil, shortening, copha, lard, tallow, milk solids, monoglycerides, diglycerides, ‘creamed’ or ‘toasted’ ingredients
- Common names for sugar: sucrose, molasses, golden syrup, malt/malt extract, corn syrup, honey, glucose, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, fructose, dextrose
You may also want to be mindful of common additives that are included in food products. These include:
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Used as a flavour enhancer, it’s typically safe for most people when used in moderation. “However, more sensitive individuals may complain of headaches or sweating if they consume a large amount.”
- Artificial food colouring: Certain food dyes have been associated with allergic reactions in individuals. “It’s best to choose products without any artificial food colouring.”
- Sodium nitrite: Often added to processed meat to prevent the growth of bacteria, sodium nitrite can turn into a compound harmful to our health in certain cooking conditions. “We should also try to stay away from processed meat as research has shown that high consumption increases the risk of colorectal cancer.”
It may be challenging to understand everything on the label the first few times you start paying attention to what’s been listed down. Don’t rush yourself. Take some time to go through the information, with our tips in mind, so that you can make an informed purchase while shopping.
Tip #2: Think twice about products labelled ‘low-fat’ or ‘sugar-free’.
“Some products labelled ‘low-fat’ and ‘sugar-free’ may not necessarily be healthier,” cautions Hui Xin. “For example, low-fat peanut butter may contain less fat but has added sugars. It also has a similar caloric content as natural peanut butter.”
This is when learning to read food labels and comparing between products comes in useful, as you can see if a low-fat or sugar-free product is really healthier than an alternative. “In the case of peanut butter, it’s usually better to buy natural peanut butter which is made from nuts. Opt for unsalted peanut butter to avoid excessive sodium intake.”
Similarly for sugar-free products, do look at what’s listed on the labels. One thing to make note of is the calorie count. “For example, some sugar-free sodas use artificial sweeteners which do not provide any calories. This makes it a good alternative for people with diabetes or are looking to lose weight.”
Of course, no matter what the product is labelled, remember to consume everything in moderation!
Tip #3: Avoid temptations by making a grocery list before heading into the supermarket.
The supermarket is designed to lure us into buying more than we need. To avoid falling into their “trap”, make a clear list of what you need before you go grocery shopping. “Additionally, try not to shop when you’re hungry,” adds Hui Xin. “This could lead to impulse purchases that you may regret later.”
“You should also head to the fresh foods section first,” says Hui Xin. Having items in your basket lessens the temptation to buy anything extra – so filling it with fresh produce and healthy ingredients is a good way to start your grocery shopping trip.
Tip #4: Frozen fruits and vegetables are also good sources of nutrients.
Contrary to what we may think, there is nothing wrong with buying frozen fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are typically picked and then frozen when they are most ripe. As such, they’re still healthy and tasty. “Freezing helps to preserve the nutrient value of the produce,” clarifies Hui Xin.
“Additionally, evidence suggests that frozen fruits and vegetables retain a comparable vitamin, mineral and phytochemical content to their fresh counterparts.”
As such, there’s no need to shy away from the frozen produce aisle. You may even find a new healthy ingredient to add to your diet!
Eating healthily nor doing healthy grocery shopping doesn’t have to be difficult. Fundamentally, healthy eating is about having a balanced diet and eating in moderation. However, we know that sometimes, a little professional support can help tremendously!
Speak to a trained dietitian over the DA app for personalised advice on planning a healthy diet so that you can achieve your health goals.
Written in collaboration with Ms Wong Hui Xin