The ST Guide To... Healthier grocery shopping habits

Pick fresh foods over heavily processed ones

Fresh produce, like fruits, and packaged food items with the Healthier Choice Symbol are some of the options for shoppers aiming for good dietary habits.
Fresh produce, like fruits, and packaged food items with the Healthier Choice Symbol are some of the options for shoppers aiming for good dietary habits.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, TNP FILE PHOTO
Fresh produce, like fruits, and packaged food items with the Healthier Choice Symbol are some of the options for shoppers aiming for good dietary habits.
Fresh produce, like fruits, and packaged food items with the Healthier Choice Symbol are some of the options for shoppers aiming for good dietary habits.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, TNP FILE PHOTO

Dietitian also advises checking ingredients listed on food packages, choosing foods with Healthier Choice Symbol

The best way to better health is to combine good dietary habits with regular exercise. But you can start small by just watching what food items you buy at the supermarket.

When it comes to cultivating healthier grocery shopping habits, the best rule of thumb is to spend more time in the fresh food sections.

These sections, usually at the outer aisles of a supermarket, are where one finds fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products.

One should limit items from the centre aisles that stock processed foods, confectionery, snacks and sweetened drinks.

Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, also recommends that shoppers check the ingredients listed on packaged foods, and look out for the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol.

She says food items with the symbol, when compared with others in the same category, can be higher in wholegrains and fibre, and lower in sugar, saturated fat or sodium, depending on the type of food.

BEWARE PROCESSED FOOD


A customer checking out a Maling can of luncheon meat. PHOTO: SHAHRIYA YAHAYA

Many foods undergo some form of processing, from fermentation and freezing, to the addition of preservatives, colouring and sugar.

Limit or avoid ultra-processed foods that may have excessive sodium, sugar, fat and nitrates. Examples include luncheon meat, hot dogs, canned fruit, salted vegetables and Pop-Tarts.

Eating more ultra-processed foods can lead to a greater risk of obesity and hypertension and, in turn, diabetes and heart disease.

When shopping for canned food, Ms Chia says to look out for low- sodium and low-sugar options.

Sauces should be consumed in moderation as they are often high in sodium, fat and sugar. Opt for herbs and spices to flavour ingredients instead.

DO NOT RULE OUT FROZEN FRUIT AND VEGETABLES



Alvin Poh Zheng Yang, co-owner of Tangy Tangerines. PHOTO: RUDY WONG

Not all processes are necessarily detrimental to fresh ingredients.

In fact, there is no significant difference in nutritional content between fresh and frozen vegetables.

Ms Chia says: "Frozen vegetables may, at times, be more nutritious than fresh ones because they are at the peak of ripeness."

In many instances, frozen vegetables are first blanched then flash-frozen to seal in nutrients.

Ms Chia says keeping them handy may even "help to increase vegetable consumption" because they have a longer storage life. Fresh vegetables tend to wilt in the refrigerator if not consumed quickly.

Frozen fruit, too, including mango and berries, work just as well in smoothies, for example.

Canned vegetables, in contrast, are often high in sodium. But they are suitable for those who need a low fibre or potassium diet. Be sure to drain the canned vegetables and rinse with water before eating.

FROZEN MEATS AND SEAFOOD ARE JUST AS GOOD


Customers looking at the fresh seafood on sale at one of the stalls in PasarBella, Singapore. PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN

Like frozen fruit and vegetables, frozen seafood, meat and fish can be just as healthy as fresh versions.

However, Ms Chia says it is important to note that thawed fish, seafood and meat may lose some of their water content. This then affects the ingredients' elasticity, tenderness and texture. As a general rule, do not refreeze thawed items as bacteria may multiply.

NAVIGATING THE DAIRY SECTION THE SMART WAY


A basket of Danone yoghurts seen in a supermarket in Paris, France. PHOTO: LUCAS SCHIFRES

Some fermented dairy items, including yogurt, contain good bacteria that help maintain healthy guts.

Ms Chia advises buying items with live or active bacteria or culture, as well as opting for low-fat, or versions with no added sugar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Pick fresh foods over heavily processed ones'. Print Edition | Subscribe