A quick and healthy guide for those on the go
By: Melissa Stevens, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition Program Coordinator, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitative Services
With little time to spend with family and friends, much less for grocery shopping or cooking, we’ve created a quick and healthy guide to help you make the most out of convenience foods. Whether preventing heart disease or just trying to eat for good health, this guide can help you whip together a quick meal, snack or favorite family recipe using convenience foods that fit into a healthy diet.
Healthy Eating 101:
Not all convenience foods are created equal. Most convenience foods on the market today are laden with saturated fats, sodium and sugar and provide little to no nutritional value. Even foods touted as fat free or low fat are usually poor alternatives to an already low-nutritional value food such as fat free ice cream and olestra-laden potato chips.
So, what are you, the health-conscious consumer to do? Start by reading the food label. Look below to help you make some wise food choices while grocery shopping.
If you are trying to control blood pressure
Limiting your intake of sodium is still a widely accepted strategy for controlling blood pressure. Unfortunately most canned foods, frozen entrees and boxed mixes are high in sodium to extend the product’s shelf life. The good news is many food manufacturers have created lower-sodium varieties, making food choices for the sodium-conscious consumer a little easier. Below is a guide to understanding nutrient claims related to sodium.
- Low-sodium – means the food contains 140 milligrams (mg) or less sodium per serving.
- Very low sodium – means the food contains 35 mg or less sodium per serving.
- Reduced sodium – means the food has 25% less sodium than the comparable food product.
- Light or Lite in sodium - means the food has at least 50% less sodium than the comparable food product.
- No salt added – means no salt was added in the processing of the food product; however, naturally occurring sodium may be present in the ingredients.
Generally, most of us should keep our sodium intake limited to 2,400 milligrams each day; this amounts to between 600 and 800 milligrams per meal, depending on how many meals and snacks you eat. When it comes to frozen entrees or other single-meal boxed, canned or frozen dishes, limit sodium to no more than 600-800 milligrams per serving.
If you are trying to watch your cholesterol level…
Watching total fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol along with eating foods high in dietary fiber are some important keys to controlling cholesterol. Use these guidelines to help you make your menu decisions.
- Low fat – means the food contains 3 grams (g) or less fat per serving (or look to make sure the food contains no more than 3 g of fat for every 100 calories).
- Low saturated fat – means the food contains less than 1g saturated fat per serving.
- Low cholesterol – means the food contains 20 mg or less cholesterol per serving and no more than 2 g saturated fat per serving.
- Reduced fat, Reduced cholesterol - means the food has 25% less fat or cholesterol than the comparable food product.
- Fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol free – the food contains inconsequential amounts of the nutrient specified per serving. If you eat more than one serving you increase the amount of these nutrients; be aware that they add up quickly.
- Light or Lite in fat– means the food must have 50% or less fat than the comparable food.
- Lean – refers to meat, poultry, seafood and game and means the following (for every 3-ounces):
- Less than 10 grams total fat, less than 4.5 grams saturated fat, no more than 95 milligrams cholesterol.
- Extra Lean – refers to meat, poultry, seafood and game and means the following (per 3-ounces):
- Less than 5 grams total fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat, less than 95 milligrams cholesterol.
Trans fatty acids should also be kept to a minimum when trying to watch cholesterol. Trans fatty acids are formed when a liquid vegetable oil is converted to a solid form, such as taking corn or safflower oil and converting it to shortening or margarine. Trans fatty acids are not yet found on the Nutrition Facts panel of the food label, so it is up to you to look at the ingredients to find out if foods containing trans fatty acids were used. Try to limit foods containing the following ingredients:
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Hydrogenated vegetable oil
Fried foods are also high in trans fats, so keep your intake of fried foods to a minimum. Fortunately many foods on the market have been manufactured to reduce the trans fat, such as trans fatty acid free margarine. Look for these foods when shopping.
Dietary fiber is one important dietary component to lowering cholesterol. Choosing unrefined foods such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole grain breads, bagels, pitas, crackers and cereals are a great way to kick up your dietary fiber intake. Follow these guidelines to choosing good sources of fiber:
- High fiber food – means the food product has 5 grams or more fiber per serving.
- Good source of fiber – means the food product has 2.5 – 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.
- More or Added fiber – means the food product has at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.
Aim for 8-10 grams of dietary fiber at each meal for a total daily amount of 25 or more grams. Other good sources are fruits, vegetables, dried beans, lentils, split peas, nuts and seeds.
Soyfoods also provide cholesterol-lowering benefits. Choose some of the new convenience foods on the market like veggie burgers, soy crumbles or textured vegetable protein, tofu, miso, soynut butter and soy-based cheese alternatives. In order to aid in cholesterol reduction, 25 grams of soy protein each day must be eaten. Choose foods that contain at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving.
If you are trying to watch your weight
Watching your total caloric intake is important when trying to lose weight. Finding foods high in fiber can help make you feel fuller longer and helps prevent between-meal snacking. Reading food labels for serving size is also an effective measure towards weight loss.
If you just want to eat more healthfully
All of the above recommendations are an effective means to improving your eating habits. Choosing convenience foods in moderation and consuming bountiful portions of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other whole, unprocessed foods will guide you towards overall improved health.
Take time out of your busy schedule to educate yourself on healthy convenience food options. The time you spend now will save time in the future for both food prep and shopping. And your health will benefit over the long run. Enjoy the many foods now available to aid in your endeavors towards improved health! Bon Appetit!
For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation.