How to make healthier groceries

You want to eat better. You really do. But you show up at the grocery store, and none of the aisle signs say “Healthy Food.”

Kristen Gradney has a strategy for you. A registered dietitian with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Gradney says you just have to know where to look.

Here’s a hint: Avoid the aisles. Concentrate your shopping on the four walls of the store.

“The refrigerated items are going to be on the perimeter, and those are the items that are going to have less preservatives and that need to be kept fresh,” Gradney said. “The idea is they are kept fresh when you buy them, and use them immediately. The things that are on the shelves have more of the preservatives, the sodium, the fats, so they can sit on a shelf for an inordinate amount of time so people can grab them when they want them.”

Most grocery stores — like Calandro’s Supermarket on Perkins Road, where Gradney discussed how to shop for healthy eating — put their produce, meats, dairy and frozen foods along the perimeter of the store, she said.

In these sections, Gradney advises:

Produce : Choose vivid colors — the darker the better — for salad greens, and the colors of the rainbow for other vegetables, which are signs they contain healthful vitamins and minerals.

Fruit juice: Drink it in small quantities. It has all of the sugar of fresh fruit, but little to none of the fiber. That is especially worth noting in summer, when juice might seem like a good thirst-quencher.

“It’s kind of counterintuitive: You drink a lot of juice, and it has a lot of sugar in it. That just makes you thirstier,” she said. “Ideally, we’d rather you choose water, and to kind of spice up your water you could add lemon, lime. If you wanted to, you could add a little fruit juice to your water, especially lemon juice, to make it a more refreshing drink. The more sugar you drink, the more water your body will crave.”

Cheese : The reverse of vegetables — the whiter the cheese, the lower the sodium, and there also tends to be less fat.

Love cheddar? Use it sparingly.

Milk, yogurt : The lower the fat, the healthier the product. The difference between 2 percent fat and fat-free yogurt may not seem like much, but for those paying attention to what they eat, every little bit matters.

“In a day, if we’re looking at about 65 grams of fat total, four grams is going to add up,” Gradney said. “Personally, I’d rather have four grams added to my lunch or my dinner as opposed to my snack.”

For those who want fruit in their yogurt, Gradney recommends choosing packs that have the fruit separate. Fruit adds a lot of sugar, and adding your own gives you some control.

Eggs : To get protein but avoid cholesterol, use egg whites only. Gradney said she chooses brands with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are credited with a variety of health benefits.

Of course, Gradney knows you’re going to venture into those inside aisles. A few tips:

Bread : Choose bread with at least three grams of fiber per serving, and with whole wheat as the first listed ingredient. There are breads that may look healthful, but the dietary information label tells the tale.

Salad dressing : Choose oil-and-vinegar-based dressings, which are likelier to be lower in sodium and fat. Again, read the dietary information.

Canned vegetables : Gradney much prefers fresh and frozen vegetables, but if you choose the canned variety, try to find ones with no salt added. If not, rinse the vegetables before preparing them.