Contributor: Maxine Smith, RD, LD
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Following USDA dietary guidelines can reduce your risks of obesity-related illnesses — diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
There’s a lot to chew on in the guidelines, released as a 95-page document in 2011. But two overarching themes emerge: increasing the nutrient-dense foods we eat, and reducing our intake of sodium, and solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS).
Increasing the nutritient-dense foods we eat
What you should put in your grocery cart are nutrient-dense foods and beverages. These have relatively few calories yet are rich in vitamins, minerals and other healthy substances. Nutrient-dense foods are also low in solid fats and have not been diluted with “junk” calories such as added sugars. Top nutrient-dense choices include:
- All vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains
- Beans and peas
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products
- Lean meats and poultry
Shop the perimeter of the grocery store to find nutrient-dense foods.
Reducing our intake of SoFAS and sodium
The middle aisles of the grocery store are where the dietary culprits linked to obesity — solid fats and added sugars, and sodium — lurk. Here is what you shouldn’t put in your cart:
Solid fats. Look for hydrogenated fats in the list of ingredients to identify foods with solid fats. Check the “Nutrition Facts” box to compare saturated fat and trans fat amounts on packaged foods. Solid fats are found in:
- Fatty animal products — marbleized steak, full-fat (regular) cheeses and ice cream
- Baked goods such as cookies and crackers
- Convenience foods containing hydrogenated fats (liquid vegetable oils solidified through a chemical process)
Added sugars. Steer clear of foods with added sugars at the top of the ingredients panel. Added sugars don’t occur naturally in fruit, milk or any other food. They include:
- Corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high-fructose corn syrup
- Juice concentrates
- Raw, brown or white sugar
- Fructose, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose
- Malt, maple or pancake syrup
- Honey, molasses
- Anhydrous or crystal dextrose
Sodium. Comparing labels for sodium content can be a real eye-opener. Sodium is the mineral in salt that helps to flavor and preserve canned and packaged foods. Sodium is abundant in:
- Processed meats
- Salted snacks
Get off the SoFAS and have fun
Filling your grocery cart with nutritious foods can be rewarding and fun for your family. With each trip, try comparing a few similar products for SoFAS and sodium content.
Before you know it, you’ll have added new favorite foods and brands to your weekly shopping list. For kids, it can be like solving a puzzle. Plus, they’ll take pride of ownership in the foods they choose.