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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

Even dietitians aren’t immune to being overwhelmed in the grocery aisle.

You know what I’m talking about—that overwhelming feeling of rounding the corner to the produce section to find an entire wall of lettuce varieties: spring mix, salad kits, baby spinach, garden blend. I could go on.

A quick search of a popular big box store’s website generates an even more jarring number of choices.

Got time to parse through 1,000 different oils and shortenings? How about 520 different sandwich breads? That’s not all breads, just the types you would consider pairing with any number of meat and cheese combos.

Even typing in a more specific search displays an almost laughable number of specialty items. Ever thought you needed 49 different cornbread muffin mixes to choose from? How about 23 raspberry flavored salad dressings?

Now, I’m not advocating for fewer foods or ingredients. Options are a wonderful thing.

But in a world where, according to some sources, adults make an average of 35,000 choices—both conscious and unconscious—every day, we could all use tools to ease grocery shopping and manage expectations.

Compare labels, within reason

Yes, comparing nutrition facts panels and ingredient lists will help you choose healthier products.

Selecting lower sodium versions of canned soups and vegetables is a win for your heart. And cereals with whole grains listed as the first ingredient will help you power through to lunch.

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But limit your comparisons to two or three similar products at a time. You’ll leave that cereal aisle knowing you’ve made a good decision without swimming in a sea of grams, milligrams, percentages and over 50 different ingredient names for added sugar.

Apply the basics, leave the rest

Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables you enjoy. This means incorporating those easy, and just as healthy, versions: frozen, canned vegetables with no added salt, fruits canned in their own juices and dried versions for on-the-go.

Keep your protein picks lean by eating poultry, fish and lean cuts of meat. This would mean choosing 93% lean beef over 70% lean beef whenever possible. The same applies to dairy products, in the sense that your best bet for health would be to stick with the low fat and fat-free varieties.

Make half your grains whole grains by looking at the ingredient list on packaged foods. An ingredient list starting with the words “Enriched wheat” indicates that product is not made from whole grains. But an ingredient list starting with the words “Whole wheat” shows you’re on the right track.

Trust yourself

If you’ve made it this far, you clearly have an interest in the food you eat and how it impacts your health. The choice you made to read this article is already a huge step in the right direction.

Trust that you know what’s right for yourself and your family each and every time you walk into that grocery store.

The rest is just unnecessary noise that’s best ignored.

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If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384, tara.dunker@unl.edu, or visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu.

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