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How Stock a Healthy Pantry

May 12, 2019

How Stock a Healthy Pantry

Eating healthy begins in the aisles of the grocery store, where you can select items for a healthy pantry. Below are some tips provided by Alicia Buterbaugh, registered dietitian with Kettering Health Network.

Opt for fiber. Adequate fiber is not only important for digestive and heart health, it can also help you reach weight loss goals by making you feel fuller. Choose items such as whole-grain crackers, pasta, and breads. For breakfast, choose low-sugar cereals that have at least two-and-a-half grams of fiber per serving. In general, men should strive for 38 grams of fiber per day, while women should strive for 25 grams of fiber per day.

Reduce sodium. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day—that’s equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt. Adults with hypertension and prehypertension should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day. Much of our sodium intake comes from processed foods such as canned soups and entrees, salted snacks, and deli meats.

Look at labels. When reading a label, Alicia recommends you start with the serving size. “Nutrition information on the label is for the listed serving size. Your typical portion size may or may not be what they list as a serving. If you eat twice the serving size, you need to double all the information on the label including calories, fat, and sodium,” explains Alicia. Be wary of labels promoting natural ingredients. For example, sugar is natural, but you still want to limit how much sugar you consume.

Limit added sugar. One key area to look for on a label is added sugars. By January 2020, food labels must contain the amount of added sugar in each serving. The American Heart Association recommends men to not exceed 36 grams of added sugar, while women and children shouldn’t exceed 25 grams of added sugar per day. You can decrease added sugar by avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages and limiting desserts and sugary cereals. Instead, sweeten drinks with fresh fruit like cut-up lemons, strawberries, and limes to create a refreshing beverage.

Consider calorie density. Some foods are more calorie dense than others. Calorie density is determined by the calorie content compared to the food’s volume or weight. Dried fruit makes a great snack but should be enjoyed in moderation as it tends to be calorie dense. For example, a half cup of seedless grapes has 55 calories, while a half cup of raisins has 217 calories. Remember your pantry items extend to the refrigerator, so stock up on a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Calculate daily values. “Shoppers can use the percentage of daily value to quickly determine if an item may be a healthy choice,” says Alicia. “If an item has 20% daily value of a nutrient, it is considered ‘high’ in that nutrient, while 5% or lower is considered ‘low.’ Look for higher daily values for nutrients you want more of, like fiber, and lower daily values for nutrients like sodium.” She warns that daily value is based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day, which is typically more than what most women need.

Alicia recommends downloading smartphone apps that can help you make better choices for your healthy pantry. There are apps for food tracking and meal planning, and some apps can provide a scanner to grade or rate the nutritional value of your selected items.

To find recipes created by Kettering Health Network registered dietitians, visit