The Food Shopping Counter

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From busy professionals who shop by car-phone to parents looking for value without sacrificing nutrition, this fully revised and updated reference is an indispensable guide for today's shopper.
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Overview

From busy professionals who shop by car-phone to parents looking for value without sacrificing nutrition, this fully revised and updated reference is an indispensable guide for today's shopper.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671004521
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Pages: 752
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.40 (d)

First Chapter

INTRODUCTION

It's hard to believe, but the average supermarket carries 30,000 separate items and more than half of these are foods. No wonder grocery shopping takes so long. And when you try to compare the nutrients in different products to ensure the healthiest menu, it takes even longer. Recent surveys show that over 90% of Americans are concerned about the nutritional value in the foods they eat. Fat is the greatest concern, followed by salt, cholesterol, and sugar. You want to make good choices but you may not have enough time to compare the labels of five or more pasta sauces, rice mixes, or frozen dinners. That's where The Food Shopping Counter lends a hand. Now you have a chance to compare these products before you get near the food store.

The Food Shopping Counter will show you how to navigate the food market to find the best choices in each section as you push your cart up and down the aisles. You'll also learn how to interpret the nutrition facts on labels, use cents-off coupons, make use of storage tips to preserve the nutrients in the foods you buy, and stock your kitchen so you will always have a quick something to eat.

TRAVELING THROUGH THE FOOD MARKET

The first step to efficient healthy shopping is getting to know the layout of the food market where you shop. Grocery stores tend to have similar layouts, and there are a few tricks to getting the most out of your shopping time. Wheel your cart around the outside aisles first. You'll pass the fresh dairy products, fruits, vegetables, breads, and meat, fish, and poultry. These foods are the ones that are emphasized in the Food Guide Pyramid. Fill your basket withthese.

Navigating the Food Market Aisles

Food markets are set up to encourage shoppers to buy more. For instance, milk, which is usually bought on every shopping trip, is placed in the rear of the store to encourage spontaneous shopping on the way to the dairy case. Marketers know we expect to find sale items at the end of the aisle. Placing not-on-sale items here or at the checkout counter results in increased sales. Salad dressings placed near the lettuce in the produce section are more likely to be bought than others shelved separately, as are items placed at eye level on store shelves. Studies show that placing a product at eye level can increase sales by 50%. Being aware of these practices can start you on the road to savvy shopping.

TRENDS: What's New in Food Shopping

  • Large food markets now offer shoppers many amenities, including fitness centers, cooking schools, and services such as driver's license renewals and baby-sitting.
  • Sales of organic foods have increased, totaling $872 million in 1996.
  • The vegetarian market is booming, with sales close to $300 million. Vegetarians are getting younger and now include about 15% of college students.
  • More specialty foods are available by mail order, and all kinds of nonperishable foods are available via the Internet.

Food Shopping on the Internet

If you'd rather not wait in line at a food store, why not try online shopping instead? NetGrocer (www.netgrocer.com) allows consumers to shop for food by computer. Just point and click your mouse through a menu of nonperishable grocery items and they'll be delivered by FedEx within two to four business days. There is a shipping charge, but items cost less than at food stores. This can be a wonderful time-saver. Experts believe that in less than ten years, 15% of groceries will be sold through the Internet.

Shopping Strategies

Shop with a list whenever you can. Surveys show that 55% of shoppers make a list before going grocery shopping. They tend to buy twice as many items as are on their list, but the list reminds them of needed items and helps to direct purchases.

Larger sizes are usually, but not always, a better value. A half gallon of milk costs less than two one-quart containers, but it's a bargain only if you'll use it up before it spoils.

Prices on store brands may be as much as 50% less than the least expensive brand-name competitor. Check this out by comparing the unit cost (price per ounce or per pound) of the store brand to that of your favorite brand. Also check out the quality of store brands. You may find them improved over the last time you used them.

Watch out for sale items, especially in the case of produce. You may not be able to use them before they spoil. Sale Items with freshness dates may be near the end of their shelf life.

Get familiar with the layout of the store you shop in most often. Grocery shoppers spend an average of $1.33 for every minute they remain in the store. Up to a point, the more time you spend looking for an item, the more money you spend.

It pays to stoop down to lower shelves when grocery shopping. The high-profit items are at eye level; you'll find the lower markup products down below.

Cents-off coupons can save you money if they don't encourage you to buy items you wouldn't ordinarily use. Manufacturers offer cents-off coupons to promote their products. If you use them when the food market doubles the coupons' value or when an item is on sale, you can save even more. You will be seeing more and more point of purchase coupons. Look for them in shelf dispensers or at the checkout counter. Preferred-customer cards, available from some supermarket chains, offer additional savings.

Remember that you pay for convenience. Unsliced Italian bread costs less than bread that is sliced and has a garlic flavored spread. You may be willing to pay for preparation time saved, or you may prefer to slice and flavor the bread yourself and save money.

Convenience foods like canned vegetables, frozen juice concentrates, and packaged mixes for muffins and cakes can be real time-savers. They also make it unnecessary to keep supplies of ingredients that you rarely use.

FOOD LABELING

In May 1994 the current food labeling law took effect, but Americans have always been label conscious. According to a survey done by the Calorie Control Council, 62% of adults said they always try to check nutrition labels of foods to determine the fat content. Almost as many check for calorie content. In 1996 Trends: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket, a survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, half of all food market shoppers said they always read the nutrition label when they buy a food for the first time. About 90% of shoppers found the information on the nutrition labels useful.

A "Nutrition Facts" label is found on almost all packaged foods. These labels are designed to show how a food fits into the daily diet. They also make it easier to compare one food with another. The number of calories in a serving

(serving size closely reflects the amounts people actually eat) and the calories from fat are given in numbers. Total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, and dietary fiber are given both as numbers and as percentages of Daily Value (DV).

Daily Values are the label reference numbers. These numbers are set by the government and are based on current nutrition recommendations. The percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet; values can also be given for an optional 2,500 calorie diet. While these calorie levels cover the average intake of most people, they do not cover everybody. The nutrients listed on the label are the ones that are important for good health; too much of some and too little of others may lead to increased risk for certain diseases. It really isn't necessary to worry about nutrition values for each food you eat or even each meal you eat. What you should aim for most of the time is those foods that give you more carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals and less sodium, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

The Daily Values for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium set upper limits on the amount to eat each day to stay healthy. Other DVs help you identify the best levels to aim for each day. This applies to total carbohydrate, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Loopholes in the Labels

Although the labels can help guide consumers in making better food choices, they are not perfect. Many issues were involved in formulating labels that accurately represent the nutritional value of different foods, but even with the concerted effort of experts, there remain some gray areas:

  1. Two percent milk may no longer be called "lowfat." The approved term now is "reduced fat." A glass of 2% milk contains up to 5 grams of fat, which is more than the Food and Drug Administration's definition of "lowfat" -- 3 grams of fat in a serving.
  2. Trans fatty acids are formed when liquid oils are hardened (hydrogenated) to form solid shortenings. These trans fatty acids are found in margarine, chips, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods. Trans fats are included in the "total fat" category on nutrition labels. Under the labeling law, the manufacturer must list the amount of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in a food, but not the amount of trans fat. Recent research suggests that trans fat could be responsible for 30,000 deaths from heart disease each year in the United States because it raises blood cholesterol the same way saturated fats do. Some experts, however, believe that more studies are needed to clarify the dangers of trans fatty acids.
  3. Fruits and vegetables and fresh meats and poultry are not required to have individual nutrition labels. However, the meat industry is participating in a voluntary program in which food markets will display posters showing nutrition information on the most popular cuts. In 1996 some 78% of raw fruits and vegetables were labeled, as was 74% of raw fish.
  4. Rules about the use of the word "healthy" on food labels went into effect in 1996. To be labeled "healthy," foods will have to contain low levels of fat and saturated fat, limited amounts of sodium and cholesterol, and at least some amount of a beneficial nutrient, like vitamin C.
  5. Businesses that produce 600,000 or fewer units of food a year are exempt from nutrition labeling rules. These are generally local businesses like a cider mill or small regional bakery. That number will drop to 100,000 units in a few years.
  6. Foods in small packages, like Lifesavers and snack-size candies, don't need nutrition labels but must list a telephone number or address where consumers can get the required information. Also exempt are food products like coffee, tea, some spices, and flavorings that contain no significant amounts of any nutrient. Takeout foods and ready-to-eat foods prepared on site at a deli or bakery also do not need labeling.

Health Claims

In the past you may have seen health claims on labels suggesting that a product could help prevent a specific disease. Today health claims on food labels are regulated. A food must meet certain nutrient levels to make a health claim. At this time, only the following health claims are allowed, and they may be made only when research supports a link between the nutrient and the disease.

HEALTH CLAIMS ALLOWED ON LABELS

Calcium and osteoporosis (adult bone loss)

Sodium and high blood pressure (hypertension)

Dietary fat and cancer

Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease

Fruits and vegetables and cancer

Fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables and cancer

Fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber and risk of coronary heart disease

Adequate folate and reduced risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect

A label may not make a health claim for a specific nutrient in a food if the food also contains other nutrients that would lessen the health benefits. So that while a container of fat free milk can make a health claim for its calcium content, a container of whole milk cannot, because even though it contains calcium, it also has a lot of fat, which increases the risk for other diseases. Foods that have more than 13 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, or 480 milligrams of sodium per serving and have a nutrient claim for a different nutrient must carry the following statement: "See [appropriate panel] for information about [nutrient requiring disclosure] and other nutrients." Because of the complex rules governing these health claims, experts believe will not be widely used.

Summing Up: While the new food labels may not be perfect, they are beneficial. Many foods will now be required to display them, and serving sizes are now standardized to make comparisons easier. Rather than trying to interpret every fact, concentrate on what is important. The values for carbohydrate, fiber, Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron should be high, while the values for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium should be low.

FOOD MARKET SECTIONS

The Bread Box

Experts urge us to eat whole grains. They have all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber originally found in grain. Many of these important nutrients are lost when the grains are refined. Some nutrients -- vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, folic acid, and the mineral iron -- are added to refined grains, which are then called "enriched." Refined, enriched wheat is the kind usually used to make white bread.

You can't always tell by the color whether or not bread is made with whole grains. Some wheat breads look toasty brown, but the color is not from whole wheat flour. Caramel (browned sugar), molasses, or raisin juice can add rich brown color. The ingredient list on the label will tell you which grains are in the bread. The one listed first is the major grain in the bread, cereal, or cracker.

Bread labeled "100% whole wheat" contains only whole wheat flour. But even a bread that is not 100% whole wheat can be nutritious. Wheat germ, cracked wheat, oatmeal, sprouted wheat, bran breads, and enriched breads are also good sources of nutrients. You may enjoy the flavor of pumpernickel and rye breads, which are mixtures of white flour and smaller amounts of whole grains.

Cereals

Cereals can be hot -- cooked in a pan or in the microwave -- or cold and ready to eat. They are rich in nutrients, fill you up, and are usually low in fat too. It your favorite has a lot of added sugar (you can tell when you see sugar listed as one of the first ingredients), mix it with a cereal that contains less sugar, or use it as a snack instead of cookies.

Note: Some cereals that contain fruit or fruit juice and have more than 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar in a serving may still be good choices. They may look like they're high in sugar, but the sugar in the dried fruit or juice is included on the label, with the added sugar.

Crackers

The cracker shelf is one of the largest and most varied in the supermarket. For a healthy snack, try some of the new reduced fat and fat free varieties, like cracked pepper, which are flavorful without fat. Rice cakes (the chocolate ones are great), bagel chips, breadsticks, saltines, and soda crackers are usually good lowfat choices, but don't forget old-fashioned graham crackers for a sweet treat.

Other Grains

Many delicious grains are now available. Besides regular enriched white rice, you'll find long grain, short grain, wild rice (not really rice at all), barley, buckwheat (kasha), bulgar, cracked wheat, millet, cornmeal, and quinoa, to name some of the more common grains available. Package labels give cooking directions.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid, the USDA guide for choosing a good diet recommends eating six to eleven servings from the Bread and Cereal Group each day. In 1996 only 12% of Americans ate the recommended six servings. The average intake of grains is three to four servings a day; only 5% eat the minimum six grain servings. A serving is 1 slice of bread, 4 crackers, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of hot cereal, pasta, rice, bulgur, or other grains.

The Dairy Case

Choose fat free, nonfat (skim), or reduced fat milk. Sales of fat free milk have tripled in the last ten years. It has all the vitamins and minerals you get in whole milk minus the fat. Whole milk is best for children under two or three. The same holds true for yogurt, with lowfat or fat free versions best for everyday use. Yogurt is still more popular in Europe, but it's estimated that four out of ten Americans now eat it regularly.

Milk is 93% water, so it is easy for bacteria, yeasts, and molds to grow in it. That's why milk should be kept cold at all times. Keep the milk container or bottle in the refrigerator. Ultrapasteurized milk is treated at an ultrahigh temperature to kill off the bacteria that cause spoilage, and therefore it lasts longer. Shelf-stable milk is now available so that you can always have a supply on hand.

Also in the dairy case is a large selection of reduced fat cheeses. Try them to see which ones you like best as an alternative to regular cheese, which is high in fat and should be used, in smaller amounts.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid recommends two to three servings from the Milk, Yogurt & Cheese Group. Teens, young adults, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need three servings. The average American has only one serving a day. A serving is 1 cup of milk, buttermilk, or yogurt; 1 1/2 cups reduced fat ice cream; 1 1/2 ounces hard cheese; or 2 ounces processed cheese. It takes 2 cups of cottage cheese to equal the calcium in 1 cup of milk, so it's not an equal milk replacement.

Fruits and Vegetables

Even though fresh fruits and vegetables account for only about 10% of grocery sales, surveys show that customers often decide where to shop based on the quality of the produce section. Twenty years ago food markets stocked 30 to 40 produce items; now there are 350 to 400 items. Fruits and vegetables are no longer seasonal. Now, you can buy almost any kind year-round. At any one time your food market may stock apples from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, melons from Israel, and mangoes from Peru.

But remember, buying fruits and vegetables in season means lower prices and better quality. Medium-size fruits are a better buy than larger fruits, and you pay a premium price for jumbo because they are scarce.

Prepared produce -- like cut-up melons, washed salad ingredients, and celery and carrot sticks -- costs much more. A pound of whole carrots may cost as little as 35 cents. The price of carrot sticks climbs to almost $2.00 a pound, but the time saved may be worth the cost.

Note: The Nutrition Facts Panel on dried fruit may lead you to believe that prunes, for example, contain a lot of added sugar. In fact, there is no added sugar. The 11 grams of sugar (almost 3 teaspoons) in 6 prunes is all natural sugar. The nutrition label does not distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar. Read the ingredient listing to see if there is any sugar added. When no sugar is listed, all the sugar is natural to the food.

Fruit and vegetable juices are good sources of vitamins and minerals, but they do not contain all the fiber in the original fruit. They are available as frozen concentrates, ready to use from the dairy case, and in shelf-stable containers (box drinks). Don't confuse pure juice with juice drinks. They are not the same. Pure juice is 100% fruit juice, while juice drinks can contain as little as 10 to 30% real juice. In addition, these drinks contain water and added sugar.

The federal labeling law requires that the percentage of actual fruit juice or vegetable juice in a drink, punch, ade, or cocktail be shown on the label. You will find it on the side nutrition panel of juice packages. Because it is not on the front and it may be in small print, you may have to look carefully to find it, but don't let that stop you. Higher percentages of fruit and vegetable juices mean a healthier beverage that is richer in vitamins and minerals and has less water and usually fewer sweeteners. Many juice drinks cost the same as or even more than pure (100%) juice even though sugar and water cost less.

Note: Some 100% juice drinks contain a large percentage of apple or grape juice in addition to more exotic juices like guava or papaya that lend their names to the beverage.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid recommends five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Some surveys suggest that many Americans do not eat even one. Only 25% of Americans eat the recommended five or more servings a day, and even this may be an overestimate. The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association found that people frequently overestimate the amount eaten by 33%. Men eat fewer fruits and vegetables than women. It is much easier to meet this guideline if you stock up on ready-to-use fruits and vegetables when you shop.

A serving of fruit is 1/2 grapefruit; 1 medium apple, banana, or orange; 1 peach or pear, 2 plums, 12 cherries; 2 raw figs; 1/2 cup cooked or canned fruit; 1/2 cup berries, pineapple, or melon chunks; 1/4 cup dried fruit; or 3/4 cup fruit juice.

A serving of vegetables is 1 small potato, 1/2 cup cooked vegetables, 1 small ear of corn, 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, or 3/4 cup vegetable juice.

Variety in the Salad Bowl

Food markets now stock a variety of salad greens. Washed greens are available in bags and in salad bars, and heads of lettuce are sold in the produce department. Iceberg lettuce has always been popular because of its crispness, but if you want greener, leafier, or tastier choices that are more nutrient rich, try arugula, Belgian endive, butterhead, radicchio, romaine, chicory, escarole, spinach, or watercress.

Arugula: slender green leaves with a peppery flavor, younger, smaller leaves are milder.

Belgian endive: not really a green, since bullet-shaped heads are yellow; crisp, mildly sharp, and flavorful.

Butterhead: includes Boston and Bibb; soft, buttery texture with a mild, sweet flavor.

Radicchio: colorful red leaves that look like little red cabbages; not as crisp as endive, which it stars with in tricolored salads.

Chicory: also called curly endive. Its thin, curly leaves are fairly bitter; can be used raw or cooked.

Escarole: leaves are wider and flatter than chicory; slightly bitter, but the inner leaves tend to be milder; popular in soups; can be used raw.

Romaine: very nutritious green often used in Caesar salads.

Watercress: small, dark green leaves with a sharp, peppery flavor, used in salads and sandwiches, and as a garnish.

Meat Case (and Beans Too)

The meat group in the Food Guide Pyramid includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. Protein is found in all the foods in this group, as are iron and other minerals and vitamins. Animal protein foods also supply vitamin B12, while beans are a good source of fiber.

Four ounces of lean, boneless meat, fish, or poultry will give three ounces cooked, about the size of a deck of cards. That's plenty, even though it's less than you usually get in a restaurant.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid recommends two to three servings from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs & Nuts Group. The average American eats more than two servings a day from the meat group. A serving is equal to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, fish, or poultry. One-half cup cooked beans or lentils, 2 ounces tofu, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1/3 cup nuts, or 1 egg can fill in for 1 ounce of meat.

Snacks

Many snacks fall into the Fats & Sweets Group, which includes oils. This group makes up the tip, the smallest part of the Food Guide Pyramid. Instead of a recommended number of servings, the advice given is to use these foods sparingly. Most of us enjoy high sugar, high fat snacks like soda, chips, cookies, cake, ice cream, and candy. Considered fun foods, they are often used as a treat or reward, as a cure for boredom, or as a quick way to satisfy hunger. Americans are such eager snackers that over three hundred new snack items are introduced every year!

Eating these foods is not the issue; the amount you eat is. Have a snack-size candy bar, not a regular size. Try an ice cream bar or a small cup instead of a soup bowl full of ice cream. Reach for an individual bag of chips rather than the giant economy size. Eat a cupcake instead of a large slice of cake.

Chips and pretzels are popular snack foods. In 1994, Americans ate, on average, 22 pounds of salty snacks like potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, and tortilla chips. Pretzels usually are lower in fat than regular chips and are also available lightly salted or unsalted, but Americans prefer chips, eating three times as many potato chips and twice as many tortilla chips as pretzels.

Choose cookies that snap instead of bend or fruit bars for lowfat choices; buy air-popped corn or pretzels rather than chips. Lower fat and no fat versions of your favorite chips are becoming available, so look for them.

Americans love candy. We each eat an average of 24 pounds a year! Try some licorice, jelly beans, candy corn, or marshmallows. These are all sweet lowfat treats. Hard candies and lollipops provide long-lasting, lowfat, sweet snacking.

Ice cream should be a "sometimes" food. While it does contain some calcium, it also has lots of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Look for lower fat or fat free varieties. Or look for lower fat frozen desserts like sorbet, ices, or frozen yogurt.

Pastries such as pies, Danish pastries, croissants, and doughnuts can be very high in fat. They're all "once in a while" snacks. Even muffins, often thought of as a healthy substitute for pastries, can be high in fat. Look for muffins that are labeled lowfat, or have a bagel with jelly instead.

Americans drink a lot of soda -- nearly 9 ounces of carbonated soft drinks a day. One ounce of soda contains about 1 teaspoon of sugar, so the usual 12-ounce can contains 12 teaspoons. Colas, the most popular soda, and some fruit-flavored sodas often contain caffeine too. Instead of soda, try plain sparkling water (mixed half and half with fruit juice), mineral water, or iced tea for a change.

Deep Freeze

Frozen fruits and vegetables are a quick and convenient way to add vitamins and minerals to meals. Most of the time, stay away from those that are sauced, buffered, or sugared. You can add your own flavorings and toppings, as little or as much as you like, suiting your taste and saving money at the same time. Frozen potatoes are popular, but label reading is important, because many are high in fat and should be reserved for occasional use.

Instead of complete dinners, use frozen entrées -- pasta dishes, pizza, tacos, chicken, fish, pancakes, or waffles -- convenience foods you can use as the base for a quick meal. Simply add a salad or fresh fruit, some bread, and a beverage.

SO THAT THERE'S ALWAYS S0METHING TO EAT

Sometimes you just may be too tired to eat out or even order in. Even though there are no leftovers from yesterday, you can easily put together a quick, satisfying meal when you keep your refrigerator and cabinets stocked with foods we used to call staples.

Use the following list for a start, adding your own special favorites. You'll never have to complain again about there being nothing to eat.

Freezer

Bread: sliced loaf, tortillas, pita

Made in minutes: bagel pizza, salad pita, grilled cheese

Vegetables: green peas, mixed vegetables, corn

Made in minutes: peas and pasta

Fruit: strawberries, raspberries

Made in minutes: fruit cup, topping for angel food cake

Frozen juice and juice drinks

Frozen lowfat or fat free yogurt

Meat and poultry: hamburger or turkey patties, chicken pieces, boneless chicken breast

Made in minutes: creamed chicken (use canned cream soup)

Refrigerator

Cheese: your favorite hard cheese, grated cheese

Eggs

Butter or other spread

Vegetables: onions, carrots

Cupboard

Canned tomatoes: crushed, stewed, sauce

Pasta, rice

Canned beans: chickpeas, black beans, blackeye peas, baked beans

Oil: olive oil and another vegetable oil, like corn or canola

Vinegar: try flavored

Ketchup

Soy sauce

Salsa

Anchovy or sun-dried tomato paste

Bread crumbs

Dried fruit: raisins, prunes, apricots

Nuts: walnuts or your favorites

Milk: shelf-stable or evaporated

Dried mushrooms

Spices: cinnamon, ginger, oregano, paprika, curry powder, dried garlic, seasoned pepper

Bouillon cubes or powder

Canned soup: chicken broth, cream soup

Cereal: Oatmeal and ready-to-eat

Jam or jelly

Sugar

Popcorn, unpopped

Tea

Coffee

HANDLING FOOD SAFELY

To keep food at its best in flavor and nutrition and to avoid food poisoning, you must handle and store it carefully. When you're loading your cart in the supermarket it's a good idea to pick up cold and frozen foods last. Cold foods should feel cold, and frozen foods should be solid. Pack them together in one double bag so they have less chance to thaw out on the way home. And go home quickly. Canned foods should be free of dents, rust, cracks, and bulges, which can indicate food spoilage. Look for the use-by date on packaged foods, and don't buy any that you can't use by the time listed.

Be sure that your refrigerator and freezer are kept cold enough. Refrigerators should be at 40°F, as cold as possible without freezing milk or vegetables. The freezer should be at 0°F, keeping the contents frozen hard. Unpack and refrigerate or freeze your food as soon as you get home. If you can't use meat, poultry or fish within two days, freeze it.

There is a time limit for storage of all foods. Even canned foods that look as if they will last forever are best when used within one year. Rotate canned and frozen foods so that the older ones are used up first. You may have noticed that more packaged foods now show a date on their label. Sometimes only a date appears, as on milk and juice containers; other times the statement "Best when purchased by (date)" or "Sell by (date)" is on condiments, salad dressings, and baked goods. "Use by" is on box drinks, jellies and cereals. Some products have expiration dates that indicate the end of their shelf life. Fewer than 5% of shoppers pay attention to these dates. Depending on the product there is a reasonable time to use it after the sell date, before it gets stale or spoils. Of course, the way the food has been handled before it is sold in the store will affect the length of time it remains usable. It's always best to buy food in a store that has a rapid turnover of products.

A good food rule is, "When in doubt, throw it out." When you see mold on soft cheese, sour cream, yogurt, bread, cake, or cooked beans, toss them. Small moldy spots can be cut away from hard cheese or firm fruits and vegetables. Cut at least one inch around and below the spot of mold. Store the food in a

clean container and use it as soon as you can. You can also scoop out tiny spots of mold from jellies. Be careful to scoop out a larger amount around the mold. Pure maple syrup that has become moldy can simply be boiled and used.

The high temperatures of cooking will kill most of the bacteria that cause food-borne illness. While steaks can be served very pink in the center (medium rare), all poultry and ground meat should be thoroughly cooked. Ground meat must be cooked until it is gray, not pink, in the middle, particularly if children, elderly persons, or people with compromised immune systems will be eating the meat. Several deaths of children have been reported recently due to eating undercooked ground meat from cattle carrying a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria. Thorough cooking of the ground meat will kill the bacteria.

Once cooked, keep the food hot (above 140°F until it is served. Put cooked meat and poultry on a clean platter, not the raw meat platter. Don't keep cooked foods at room temperature for longer than two hours. Don't allow leftovers to cool on the kitchen counter before refrigerating. Thaw perishable foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not at room temperature.

Do not eat raw seafood unless it is prepared by a trained sushi chef. Fish and shellfish need special handling, as they deteriorate quickly. Fresh fish should be frozen immediately if it will not be used in a day or two. During some times of the year, eating oysters may pose a problem for people with suppressed immune systems. Viruses that can cause fever, nausea, and occasionally death may be found even in oysters that have been steamed for thirty minutes. These viruses will not harm most healthy adults.

Always wash fruit before eating it, even when you will peel it. Use clean running water and no soap. Soap can leave a residue.

Here's how you can keep your kitchen sponge or dishcloth free of harmful bacteria: simply rinse it, wring it out, put it in the microwave, and zap It at full power for thirty seconds. This will make it virtually sterile.

If you have specific questions about safe food handling, you can call these numbers:

  • USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-800-535-4555 (10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, weekdays)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food-borne Illness Line: 1-404-332-4597 (twenty-four-hour recorded information)
  • Your local health department

    Extension home economists or department of public health (listed in phone book)

Safe Handling Instructions for Fresh Meat and Poultry

The Department of Agriculture requires fresh meat and poultry to be labeled with safe-handling instructions. The safe-handling instruction label was developed to help consumers prevent food-borne illness at home. It covers four safety guidelines: safety, cross-contamination, cooking, and handling leftovers.

USING YOUR FOOD SHOPPING COUNTER

Shoppers average just over two trips a week to the food market. It doesn't matter whether you shop at Safeway, Kroger, A&P, Publix, Associated, Winn-Dixie, Wild Oats, Grand Union, or Balducci's in New York, this book lists the calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber of most of the 20,000 foods you'll find there. For the first time, information about these nutrient values is at our fingertips. Now you will find it easy to follow a healthy diet. Before The Food Shopping Counter, it was impossible to compare so many foods at one time. For example, when you want to select bread, look up the bread category on page 53. You will find over 430 different breads listed, so you can see which one is the best source of carbohydrate and fiber.

The Food Shopping Counter lists the calories, fat, carbohydrate, sodium, and fiber values. These are key nutrients for good health. Fat and sodium should be limited, while carbohydrate and fiber should be increased. The food labeling act established guidelines for nutrient intake. It recommends that a diet of 2,000 calories a day include at least 300 grams of carbohydrate and 25 grams of dietary fiber and less than 65 grams of total fat and 2,400 milligrams of sodium.

In The Food Shopping Counter foods are listed alphabetically. For each group, you will find nonbranded (generic) foods listed first in alphabetical order, followed by an alphabetical listing of brand-name food. The nonbranded listings will help you determine nutrition values for foods when you do not find your favorite brand listed. They also help you evaluate unbranded and store brands. Large categories are divided into subcategories such as canned, fresh, frozen, and ready-to-eat to make it easier for you to find what you are looking for. Many categories have take-out subcategories. Look there for foods you buy at the supermarket that have been prepared there and do not have a nutrition label. One out of eight shoppers (12%) buys take-out foods. The Food Shopping Counter has over four hundred takeout items for you to choose from to make it easier for you to evaluate these foods.

Most foods are listed alphabetically, but some are grouped by category. For example, pasta dinners, like spaghetti and meat balls, lasagna, and manicotti, are all found under the category "Pasta Dishes." Other group categories include the following:

ASIAN FOOD

Includes all Asian-type foods

BABY FOOD

DELI MEATS AND COLD CUTS

Includes all sandwich meats except chicken, ham, and turkey

DINNER

Includes all frozen dinners listed by brand name

ICE CREAM AND FROZEN DESSERTS

Includes all dairy and nondairy ice cream and frozen novelties

LIQUOR AND LIQUEUR

Includes all alcoholic beverages except wine and beer

NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS

Includes all meal replacers, diet bars, and diet drinks

SPANISH FOOD

Includes all Spanish-type and Mexican foods

Copyright © 1995, 1999 by Jo-Ann Heslin and Annette Natow

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Introduction

INTRODUCTION

It's hard to believe, but the average supermarket carries 30,000 separate items and more than half of these are foods. No wonder grocery shopping takes so long. And when you try to compare the nutrients in different products to ensure the healthiest menu, it takes even longer. Recent surveys show that over 90% of Americans are concerned about the nutritional value in the foods they eat. Fat is the greatest concern, followed by salt, cholesterol, and sugar. You want to make good choices but you may not have enough time to compare the labels of five or more pasta sauces, rice mixes, or frozen dinners. That's where The Food Shopping Counter lends a hand. Now you have a chance to compare these products before you get near the food store.

The Food Shopping Counter will show you how to navigate the food market to find the best choices in each section as you push your cart up and down the aisles. You'll also learn how to interpret the nutrition facts on labels, use cents-off coupons, make use of storage tips to preserve the nutrients in the foods you buy, and stock your kitchen so you will always have a quick something to eat.


TRAVELING THROUGH THE FOOD MARKET

The first step to efficient healthy shopping is getting to know the layout of the food market where you shop. Grocery stores tend to have similar layouts, and there are a few tricks to getting the most out of your shopping time. Wheel your cart around the outside aisles first. You'll pass the fresh dairy products, fruits, vegetables, breads, and meat, fish, and poultry. These foods are the ones that are emphasized in the Food Guide Pyramid. Fill your basket with these.


Shopping Strategies

Shop with a list whenever you can. Surveys show that 55% of shoppers make a list before going grocery shopping. They tend to buy twice as many items as are on their list, but the list reminds them of needed items and helps to direct purchases.

Larger sizes are usually, but not always, a better value. A half gallon of milk costs less than two one-quart containers, but it's a bargain only if you'll use it up before it spoils.

Prices on store brands may be as much as 50% less than the least expensive brand-name competitor. Check this out by comparing the unit cost (price per ounce or per pound) of the store brand to that of your favorite brand. Also check out the quality of store brands. You may find them improved over the last time you used them.

Watch out for sale items, especially in the case of produce. You may not be able to use them before they spoil. Sale Items with freshness dates may be near the end of their shelf life.

Get familiar with the layout of the store you shop in most often. Grocery shoppers spend an average of $1.33 for every minute they remain in the store. Up to a point, the more time you spend looking for an item, the more money you spend.

It pays to stoop down to lower shelves when grocery shopping. The high-profit items are at eye level; you'll find the lower markup products down below.

Cents-off coupons can save you money if they don't encourage you to buy items you wouldn't ordinarily use. Manufacturers offer cents-off coupons to promote their products. If you use them when the food market doubles the coupons' value or when an item is on sale, you can save even more. You will be seeing more and more point of purchase coupons. Look for them in shelf dispensers or at the checkout counter. Preferred-customer cards, available from some supermarket chains, offer additional savings.

Remember that you pay for convenience. Unsliced Italian bread costs less than bread that is sliced and has a garlic flavored spread. You may be willing to pay for preparation time saved, or you may prefer to slice and flavor the bread yourself and save money.

Convenience foods like canned vegetables, frozen juice concentrates, and packaged mixes for muffins and cakes can be real time-savers. They also make it unnecessary to keep supplies of ingredients that you rarely use.


FOOD LABELING

In May 1994 the current food labeling law took effect, but Americans have always been label conscious. According to a survey done by the Calorie Control Council, 62% of adults said they always try to check nutrition labels of foods to determine the fat content. Almost as many check for calorie content. In 1996 Trends: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket, a survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, half of all food market shoppers said they always read the nutrition label when they buy a food for the first time. About 90% of shoppers found the information on the nutrition labels useful.

A "Nutrition Facts" label is found on almost all packaged foods. These labels are designed to show how a food fits into the daily diet. They also make it easier to compare one food with another. The number of calories in a serving( serving size closely reflects the amounts people actually eat) and the calories from fat are given in numbers. Total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, and dietary fiber are given both as numbers and as percentages of Daily Value (DV).

Daily Values are the label reference numbers. These numbers are set by the government and are based on current nutrition recommendations. The percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet; values can also be given for an optional 2,500 calorie diet. While these calorie levels cover the average intake of most people, they do not cover everybody. The nutrients listed on the label are the ones that are important for good health; too much of some and too little of others may lead to increased risk for certain diseases. It really isn't necessary to worry about nutrition values for each food you eat or even each meal you eat. What you should aim for most of the time is those foods that give you more carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals and less sodium, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

The Daily Values for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium set upper limits on the amount to eat each day to stay healthy. Other DVs help you identify the best levels to aim for each day. This applies to total carbohydrate, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Loopholes in the Labels

Although the labels can help guide consumers in making better food choices, they are not perfect. Many issues were involved in formulating labels that accurately represent the nutritional value of different foods, but even with the concerted effort of experts, there remain some gray areas:

  1. Two percent milk may no longer be called "lowfat." T he approved term now is "reduced fat." A glass of 2% milk contains up to 5 grams of fat, which is more than the Food and Drug Administration's definition of "lowfat" -- 3 grams of fat in a serving.

  2. Trans fatty acids are formed when liquid oils are hardened (hydrogenated) to form solid shortenings. These trans fatty acids are found in margarine, chips, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods. Trans fats are included in the "total fat" category on nutrition labels. Under the labeling law, the manufacturer must list the amount of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in a food, but not the amount of trans fat. Recent research suggests that trans fat could be responsible for 30,000 deaths from heart disease each year in the United States because it raises blood cholesterol the same way saturated fats do. Some experts, however, believe that more studies are needed to clarify the dangers of trans fatty acids.

  3. Fruits and vegetables and fresh meats and poultry are not required to have individual nutrition labels. However, the meat industry is participating in a voluntary program in which food markets will display posters showing nutrition information on the most popular cuts. In 1996 some 78% of raw fruits and vegetables were labeled, as was 74% of raw fish.

  4. Rules about the use of the word "healthy" on food labels went into effect in 1996. To be labeled "healthy," foods will have to contain low levels of fat and saturated fat, limited amounts of sodium and cholesterol, and at least some amount of a beneficial nutrient, like vitamin C.

  5. Businesses that produce 600,000 or fewer units of food a year are exempt from nutrition labeling rules. These are generally local businesses l ike a cider mill or small regional bakery. That number will drop to 100,000 units in a few years.

  6. Foods in small packages, like Lifesavers and snack-size candies, don't need nutrition labels but must list a telephone number or address where consumers can get the required information. Also exempt are food products like coffee, tea, some spices, and flavorings that contain no significant amounts of any nutrient. Takeout foods and ready-to-eat foods prepared on site at a deli or bakery also do not need labeling.

Health Claims

In the past you may have seen health claims on labels suggesting that a product could help prevent a specific disease. Today health claims on food labels are regulated. A food must meet certain nutrient levels to make a health claim. At this time, only the following health claims are allowed, and they may be made only when research supports a link between the nutrient and the disease.


HEALTH CLAIMS ALLOWED ON LABELS

Calcium and osteoporosis (adult bone loss)
Sodium and high blood pressure (hypertension)
Dietary fat and cancer
Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease
Fruits and vegetables and cancer
Fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables and cancer
Fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber and risk of coronary heart disease
Adequate folate and reduced risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect

A label may not make a health claim for a specific nutrient in a food if the food also contains other nutrients that would lessen the health benefits. So that while a container of fat free milk can make a health claim for its calcium content, a container o f whole milk cannot, because even though it contains calcium, it also has a lot of fat, which increases the risk for other diseases. Foods that have more than 13 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, or 480 milligrams of sodium per serving and have a nutrient claim for a different nutrient must carry the following statement: "See [appropriate panel] for information about [nutrient requiring disclosure] and other nutrients." Because of the complex rules governing these health claims, experts believe will not be widely used.

Summing Up: While the new food labels may not be perfect, they are beneficial. Many foods will now be required to display them, and serving sizes are now standardized to make comparisons easier. Rather than trying to interpret every fact, concentrate on what is important. The values for carbohydrate, fiber, Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron should be high, while the values for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium should be low.


FOOD MARKET SECTIONS

The Bread Box

Experts urge us to eat whole grains. They have all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber originally found in grain. Many of these important nutrients are lost when the grains are refined. Some nutrients -- vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, folic acid, and the mineral iron -- are added to refined grains, which are then called "enriched." Refined, enriched wheat is the kind usually used to make white bread.

You can't always tell by the color whether or not bread is made with whole grains. Some wheat breads look toasty brown, but the color is not from whole wheat flour. Caramel (browned sugar), molasses, or raisin juice can add rich br own color. The ingredient list on the label will tell you which grains are in the bread. The one listed first is the major grain in the bread, cereal, or cracker.

Bread labeled "100% whole wheat" contains only whole wheat flour. But even a bread that is not 100% whole wheat can be nutritious. Wheat germ, cracked wheat, oatmeal, sprouted wheat, bran breads, and enriched breads are also good sources of nutrients. You may enjoy the flavor of pumpernickel and rye breads, which are mixtures of white flour and smaller amounts of whole grains.

Cereals

Cereals can be hot -- cooked in a pan or in the microwave -- or cold and ready to eat. They are rich in nutrients, fill you up, and are usually low in fat too. It your favorite has a lot of added sugar (you can tell when you see sugar listed as one of the first ingredients), mix it with a cereal that contains less sugar, or use it as a snack instead of cookies.

Note: Some cereals that contain fruit or fruit juice and have more than 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar in a serving may still be good choices. They may look like they're high in sugar, but the sugar in the dried fruit or juice is included on the label, with the added sugar.

Crackers

The cracker shelf is one of the largest and most varied in the supermarket. For a healthy snack, try some of the new reduced fat and fat free varieties, like cracked pepper, which are flavorful without fat. Rice cakes (the chocolate ones are great), bagel chips, breadsticks, saltines, and soda crackers are usually good lowfat choices, but don't forget old-fashioned graham crackers for a sweet treat.

Other Grains

Many delicious grains are now available. Besides regular enriched whi te rice, you'll find long grain, short grain, wild rice (not really rice at all), barley, buckwheat (kasha), bulgar, cracked wheat, millet, cornmeal, and quinoa, to name some of the more common grains available. Package labels give cooking directions.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid, the USDA guide for choosing a good diet recommends eating six to eleven servings from the Bread and Cereal Group each day. In 1996 only 12% of Americans ate the recommended six servings. The average intake of grains is three to four servings a day; only 5% eat the minimum six grain servings. A serving is 1 slice of bread, 4 crackers, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of hot cereal, pasta, rice, bulgur, or other grains.

The Dairy Case

Choose fat free, nonfat (skim), or reduced fat milk. Sales of fat free milk have tripled in the last ten years. It has all the vitamins and minerals you get in whole milk minus the fat. Whole milk is best for children under two or three. The same holds true for yogurt, with lowfat or fat free versions best for everyday use. Yogurt is still more popular in Europe, but it's estimated that four out of ten Americans now eat it regularly.

Milk is 93% water, so it is easy for bacteria, yeasts, and molds to grow in it. That's why milk should be kept cold at all times. Keep the milk container or bottle in the refrigerator. Ultrapasteurized milk is treated at an ultrahigh temperature to kill off the bacteria that cause spoilage, and therefore it lasts longer. Shelf-stable milk is now available so that you can always have a supply on hand.

Also in the dairy case is a large selection of reduced fat cheeses. Try them to see which ones you like best as an alternative to regular cheese, which is high in fat and should be used, in smaller amounts.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid recommends two to three servings from the Milk, Yogurt & Cheese Group. Teens, young adults, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need three servings. The average American has only one serving a day. A serving is 1 cup of milk, buttermilk, or yogurt; 1 1/2 cups reduced fat ice cream; 1 1/2 ounces hard cheese; or 2 ounces processed cheese. It takes 2 cups of cottage cheese to equal the calcium in 1 cup of milk, so it's not an equal milk replacement.

Fruits and Vegetables

Even though fresh fruits and vegetables account for only about 10% of grocery sales, surveys show that customers often decide where to shop based on the quality of the produce section. Twenty years ago food markets stocked 30 to 40 produce items; now there are 350 to 400 items. Fruits and vegetables are no longer seasonal. Now, you can buy almost any kind year-round. At any one time your food market may stock apples from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, melons from Israel, and mangoes from Peru.

But remember, buying fruits and vegetables in season means lower prices and better quality. Medium-size fruits are a better buy than larger fruits, and you pay a premium price for jumbo because they are scarce.

Prepared produce -- like cut-up melons, washed salad ingredients, and celery and carrot sticks -- costs much more. A pound of whole carrots may cost as little as 35 cents. The price of carrot sticks climbs to almost $2.00 a pound, but the time saved may be worth the cost.

Note: The Nutrition Facts Panel on dried fruit may lead you to believe that prunes, for example, contain a lot of added sugar. In fact, there is no added sugar. The 11 grams of sugar (almost 3 teaspoons) in 6 prunes is all natural sugar. The nutrition label does not distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar. Read the ingredient listing to see if there is any sugar added. When no sugar is listed, all the sugar is natural to the food.

Fruit and vegetable juices are good sources of vitamins and minerals, but they do not contain all the fiber in the original fruit. They are available as frozen concentrates, ready to use from the dairy case, and in shelf-stable containers (box drinks). Don't confuse pure juice with juice drinks. They are not the same. Pure juice is 100% fruit juice, while juice drinks can contain as little as 10 to 30% real juice. In addition, these drinks contain water and added sugar.

The federal labeling law requires that the percentage of actual fruit juice or vegetable juice in a drink, punch, ade, or cocktail be shown on the label. You will find it on the side nutrition panel of juice packages. Because it is not on the front and it may be in small print, you may have to look carefully to find it, but don't let that stop you. Higher percentages of fruit and vegetable juices mean a healthier beverage that is richer in vitamins and minerals and has less water and usually fewer sweeteners. Many juice drinks cost the same as or even more than pure (100%) juice even though sugar and water cost less.

Note: Some 100% juice drinks contain a large percentage of apple or grape juice in addition to more exotic juices like guava or papaya that lend their names to the beverage.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid recommends five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day. So me surveys suggest that many Americans do not eat even one. Only 25% of Americans eat the recommended five or more servings a day, and even this may be an overestimate. The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association found that people frequently overestimate the amount eaten by 33%. Men eat fewer fruits and vegetables than women. It is much easier to meet this guideline if you stock up on ready-to-use fruits and vegetables when you shop.

A serving of fruit is 1/2 grapefruit; 1 medium apple, banana, or orange; 1 peach or pear, 2 plums, 12 cherries; 2 raw figs; 1/2 cup cooked or canned fruit; 1/2 cup berries, pineapple, or melon chunks; 1/4 cup dried fruit; or 3/4 cup fruit juice.

A serving of vegetables is 1 small potato, 1/2 cup cooked vegetables, 1 small ear of corn, 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, or 3/4 cup vegetable juice.

Variety in the Salad Bowl

Food markets now stock a variety of salad greens. Washed greens are available in bags and in salad bars, and heads of lettuce are sold in the produce department. Iceberg lettuce has always been popular because of its crispness, but if you want greener, leafier, or tastier choices that are more nutrient rich, try arugula, Belgian endive, butterhead, radicchio, romaine, chicory, escarole, spinach, or watercress.

Arugula: slender green leaves with a peppery flavor, younger, smaller leaves are milder.

Belgian endive: not really a green, since bullet-shaped heads are yellow; crisp, mildly sharp, and flavorful.

Butterhead: includes Boston and Bibb; soft, buttery texture with a mild, sweet flavor.

Radicchio: colorful red leaves that look like little red cabbages; not as crisp as endive, which it stars with in t ricolored salads.

Chicory: also called curly endive. Its thin, curly leaves are fairly bitter; can be used raw or cooked.

Escarole: leaves are wider and flatter than chicory; slightly bitter, but the inner leaves tend to be milder; popular in soups; can be used raw.

Romaine: very nutritious green often used in Caesar salads.

Watercress: small, dark green leaves with a sharp, peppery flavor, used in salads and sandwiches, and as a garnish.

Meat Case (and Beans Too)

The meat group in the Food Guide Pyramid includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. Protein is found in all the foods in this group, as are iron and other minerals and vitamins. Animal protein foods also supply vitamin B12, while beans are a good source of fiber.

Four ounces of lean, boneless meat, fish, or poultry will give three ounces cooked, about the size of a deck of cards. That's plenty, even though it's less than you usually get in a restaurant.

Summing Up: The Food Guide Pyramid recommends two to three servings from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs & Nuts Group. The average American eats more than two servings a day from the meat group. A serving is equal to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, fish, or poultry. One-half cup cooked beans or lentils, 2 ounces tofu, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1/3 cup nuts, or 1 egg can fill in for 1 ounce of meat.

Snacks

Many snacks fall into the Fats & Sweets Group, which includes oils. This group makes up the tip, the smallest part of the Food Guide Pyramid. Instead of a recommended number of servings, the advice given is to use these foods sparingly. Most of us enjoy high sugar, high fat snacks like s oda, chips, cookies, cake, ice cream, and candy. Considered fun foods, they are often used as a treat or reward, as a cure for boredom, or as a quick way to satisfy hunger. Americans are such eager snackers that over three hundred new snack items are introduced every year!

Eating these foods is not the issue; the amount you eat is. Have a snack-size candy bar, not a regular size. Try an ice cream bar or a small cup instead of a soup bowl full of ice cream. Reach for an individual bag of chips rather than the giant economy size. Eat a cupcake instead of a large slice of cake.

Chips and pretzels are popular snack foods. In 1994, Americans ate, on average, 22 pounds of salty snacks like potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, and tortilla chips. Pretzels usually are lower in fat than regular chips and are also available lightly salted or unsalted, but Americans prefer chips, eating three times as many potato chips and twice as many tortilla chips as pretzels.

Choose cookies that snap instead of bend or fruit bars for lowfat choices; buy air-popped corn or pretzels rather than chips. Lower fat and no fat versions of your favorite chips are becoming available, so look for them.

Americans love candy. We each eat an average of 24 pounds a year! Try some licorice, jelly beans, candy corn, or marshmallows. These are all sweet lowfat treats. Hard candies and lollipops provide long-lasting, lowfat, sweet snacking.

Ice cream should be a "sometimes" food. While it does contain some calcium, it also has lots of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Look for lower fat or fat free varieties. Or look for lower fat frozen desserts like sorbet, ices, or frozen yogurt.

Pastries such as pies, Danish pastries, croiss ants, and doughnuts can be very high in fat. They're all "once in a while" snacks. Even muffins, often thought of as a healthy substitute for pastries, can be high in fat. Look for muffins that are labeled lowfat, or have a bagel with jelly instead.

Americans drink a lot of soda -- nearly 9 ounces of carbonated soft drinks a day. One ounce of soda contains about 1 teaspoon of sugar, so the usual 12-ounce can contains 12 teaspoons. Colas, the most popular soda, and some fruit-flavored sodas often contain caffeine too. Instead of soda, try plain sparkling water (mixed half and half with fruit juice), mineral water, or iced tea for a change.

Deep Freeze

Frozen fruits and vegetables are a quick and convenient way to add vitamins and minerals to meals. Most of the time, stay away from those that are sauced, buffered, or sugared. You can add your own flavorings and toppings, as little or as much as you like, suiting your taste and saving money at the same time. Frozen potatoes are popular, but label reading is important, because many are high in fat and should be reserved for occasional use.

Instead of complete dinners, use frozen entrées -- pasta dishes, pizza, tacos, chicken, fish, pancakes, or waffles -- convenience foods you can use as the base for a quick meal. Simply add a salad or fresh fruit, some bread, and a beverage.


SO THAT THERE'S ALWAYS S0METHING TO EAT

Sometimes you just may be too tired to eat out or even order in. Even though there are no leftovers from yesterday, you can easily put together a quick, satisfying meal when you keep your refrigerator and cabinets stocked with foods we used to call staples.

Use the following list for a start, adding your o wn special favorites. You'll never have to complain again about there being nothing to eat.

Freezer

Bread: sliced loaf, tortillas, pita
Made in minutes: bagel pizza, salad pita, grilled cheese

Vegetables: green peas, mixed vegetables, corn
Made in minutes: peas and pasta

Fruit: strawberries, raspberries
Made in minutes: fruit cup, topping for angel food cake

Frozen juice and juice drinks

Frozen lowfat or fat free yogurt

Meat and poultry: hamburger or turkey patties, chicken pieces, boneless chicken breast
Made in minutes: creamed chicken (use canned cream soup)

Refrigerator

Cheese: your favorite hard cheese, grated cheese

Eggs

Butter or other spread

Vegetables: onions, carrots

Cupboard

Canned tomatoes: crushed, stewed, sauce

Pasta, rice

Canned beans: chickpeas, black beans, blackeye peas, baked beans

Oil: olive oil and another vegetable oil, like corn or canola

Vinegar: try flavored

Ketchup

Soy sauce

Salsa

Anchovy or sun-dried tomato paste

Bread crumbs

Dried fruit: raisins, prunes, apricots

Nuts: walnuts or your favorites

Milk: shelf-stable or evaporated

Dried mushrooms

Spices: cinnamon, ginger, oregano, paprika, curry powder, dried garlic, seasoned pepper

Bouillon cubes or powder

Canned soup: chicken broth, cream soup

Cereal: Oatmeal and ready-to-eat

Jam or jelly

Sugar

Popcorn, unpopped

Tea

Coffee


HANDLING FOOD SAFELY

To keep food at its best in flavor and nutrition and to avoid food poisoning, you must handle and store it carefully. When you're loading your cart in the supermarket it's a good idea to pick up cold and frozen foods last. Cold foods should feel cold, an d frozen foods should be solid. Pack them together in one double bag so they have less chance to thaw out on the way home. And go home quickly. Canned foods should be free of dents, rust, cracks, and bulges, which can indicate food spoilage. Look for the use-by date on packaged foods, and don't buy any that you can't use by the time listed.

Be sure that your refrigerator and freezer are kept cold enough. Refrigerators should be at 40°F, as cold as possible without freezing milk or vegetables. The freezer should be at 0°F, keeping the contents frozen hard. Unpack and refrigerate or freeze your food as soon as you get home. If you can't use meat, poultry or fish within two days, freeze it.

There is a time limit for storage of all foods. Even canned foods that look as if they will last forever are best when used within one year. Rotate canned and frozen foods so that the older ones are used up first. You may have noticed that more packaged foods now show a date on their label. Sometimes only a date appears, as on milk and juice containers; other times the statement "Best when purchased by (date)" or "Sell by (date)" is on condiments, salad dressings, and baked goods. "Use by" is on box drinks, jellies and cereals. Some products have expiration dates that indicate the end of their shelf life. Fewer than 5% of shoppers pay attention to these dates. Depending on the product there is a reasonable time to use it after the sell date, before it gets stale or spoils. Of course, the way the food has been handled before it is sold in the store will affect the length of time it remains usable. It's always best to buy food in a store that has a rapid turnover of products.

A good food rule is, "When in doubt, throw it out." When you see mold on soft cheese, sour cream, yogurt, bread, cake, or cooked beans, toss them. Small moldy spots can be cut away from hard cheese or firm fruits and vegetables. Cut at least one inch around and below the spot of mold. Store the food in aclean container and use it as soon as you can. You can also scoop out tiny spots of mold from jellies. Be careful to scoop out a larger amount around the mold. Pure maple syrup that has become moldy can simply be boiled and used.

The high temperatures of cooking will kill most of the bacteria that cause food-borne illness. While steaks can be served very pink in the center (medium rare), all poultry and ground meat should be thoroughly cooked. Ground meat must be cooked until it is gray, not pink, in the middle, particularly if children, elderly persons, or people with compromised immune systems will be eating the meat. Several deaths of children have been reported recently due to eating undercooked ground meat from cattle carrying a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria. Thorough cooking of the ground meat will kill the bacteria.

Once cooked, keep the food hot (above 140°F until it is served. Put cooked meat and poultry on a clean platter, not the raw meat platter. Don't keep cooked foods at room temperature for longer than two hours. Don't allow leftovers to cool on the kitchen counter before refrigerating. Thaw perishable foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not at room temperature.

Do not eat raw seafood unless it is prepared by a trained sushi chef. Fish and shellfish need special handling, as they deteriorate quickly. Fresh fish should be frozen immediately if it will not be used in a day or two. During some times of the year, eating oysters may pose a problem for people with suppressed immune systems. Viruses that can cause fever, nausea, and occasionally death may be found even in oysters that have been steamed for thirty minutes. These viruses will not harm most healthy adults.

Always wash fruit before eating it, even when you will peel it. Use clean running water and no soap. Soap can leave a residue.

Here's how you can keep your kitchen sponge or dishcloth free of harmful bacteria: simply rinse it, wring it out, put it in the microwave, and zap It at full power for thirty seconds. This will make it virtually sterile.

If you have specific questions about safe food handling, you can call these numbers:

  • USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-800-535-4555 (10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, weekdays)

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food-borne Illness Line: 1-404-332-4597 (twenty-four-hour recorded information)

  • Your local health department
    Extension home economists or department of public health (listed in phone book)

Safe Handling Instructions for Fresh Meat and Poultry

The Department of Agriculture requires fresh meat and poultry to be labeled with safe-handling instructions. The safe-handling instruction label was developed to help consumers prevent food-borne illness at home. It covers four safety guidelines: safety, cross-contamination, cooking, and handling leftovers.


USING YOUR FOOD SHOPPING COUNTER

Shoppers average just over two trips a week to the food market. It doesn't matter whether you shop at Safeway, Kroger, A&P, Publix, Associated, Winn-Dixie, Wild Oats, Grand Union, or Balducci's in New Yor k, this book lists the calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber of most of the 20,000 foods you'll find there. For the first time, information about these nutrient values is at our fingertips. Now you will find it easy to follow a healthy diet. Before The Food Shopping Counter, it was impossible to compare so many foods at one time. For example, when you want to select bread, look up the bread category on page 53. You will find over 430 different breads listed, so you can see which one is the best source of carbohydrate and fiber.

The Food Shopping Counter lists the calories, fat, carbohydrate, sodium, and fiber values. These are key nutrients for good health. Fat and sodium should be limited, while carbohydrate and fiber should be increased. The food labeling act established guidelines for nutrient intake. It recommends that a diet of 2,000 calories a day include at least 300 grams of carbohydrate and 25 grams of dietary fiber and less than 65 grams of total fat and 2,400 milligrams of sodium.

In The Food Shopping Counter foods are listed alphabetically. For each group, you will find nonbranded (generic) foods listed first in alphabetical order, followed by an alphabetical listing of brand-name food. The nonbranded listings will help you determine nutrition values for foods when you do not find your favorite brand listed. They also help you evaluate unbranded and store brands. Large categories are divided into subcategories such as canned, fresh, frozen, and ready-to-eat to make it easier for you to find what you are looking for. Many categories have take-out subcategories. Look there for foods you buy at the supermarket that have been prepared there and do not have a nutrition label. One out of eight shoppers (12%) buys take-out foods. The Food Shopping Counter has over four hundred takeout items for you to choose from to make it easier for you to evaluate these foods.

Most foods are listed alphabetically, but some are grouped by category. For example, pasta dinners, like spaghetti and meat balls, lasagna, and manicotti, are all found under the category "Pasta Dishes." Other group categories include the following:

ASIAN FOOD
Includes all Asian-type foods

BABY FOOD

DELI MEATS AND COLD CUTS
Includes all sandwich meats except chicken, ham, and turkey

DINNER
Includes all frozen dinners listed by brand name

ICE CREAM AND FROZEN DESSERTS
Includes all dairy and nondairy ice cream and frozen novelties

LIQUOR AND LIQUEUR
Includes all alcoholic beverages except wine and beer

NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Includes all meal replacers, diet bars, and diet drinks

SPANISH FOOD
Includes all Spanish-type and Mexican foods

Copyright © 1995, 1999 by Jo-Ann Heslin and Annette Natow

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