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The secrets of shopping smarter

The secrets of shopping smarter

Ever wished for your own personal nutritionist as you go around the supermarket? Here it is! We take you on a healthy supermarket tour.

What to choose

Here is a place to go wild in the aisles! Aim for 3-4 handfuls of these a day and a variety of colours.  The vege section can be split into 2 parts:

  1. The starchy vegetables including potato, kumara, yam, taro, green banana and corn. These are good alternatives to pasta, rice and bread. Keep skins on where possible to boost your fibre intake.
  2. Non-starchy vegetables, from green leafy varieties, to mushrooms and eggplant.

Smart shopper tips

  • Try new things such as alfalfa sprouts, broccolini and purple cauliflower.
  • A coleslaw mix (without dressing) is a fabulous crunchy alternative to a lettuce-based salad.
  • Try steaming fresh veges with Glad Steamlock bags.
  • With fruit, aim for variety. A serving of fresh fruit is equivalent to a medium- sized apple, two small apricots or a handful of grapes.
  • Bananas sometimes get a bad name and people see them as fattening, which is not true. They do contain slightly more kilojoules per serve than other fruits, but this is only because they have less water (you don't get banana juice dripping down your chin). Bananas are a filling, healthy snack.

What to avoid

Don't avoid anything here! Eat lots of things from this section in a wide variety.

Traps to watch out for

Bananas will make other fruit ripen more quickly, so if you want your pears softer, put the bananas on top. If not, keep them separate.

Money-saving tips

Consider varying where you shop. Fruit and veg outlets and farmers' markets sometimes charge less than supermarkets. Buy seasonally and when things are super-cheap, consider stocking up and freezing some.

What to choose

Canned vegetables can be good when you want help to whip up a quick meal. Choose foods canned in water rather than brine (salted water). If there is no salt-free version, be sure to rinse vegetables before you use them.

Canned tomatoes are a fast way to make a sauce or add more veges to a dish. Add a can of tomatoes to a can of baked beans to up the vege content and dilute the salt. Cooked tomatoes are a great source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene.

Smart shopper tips

  • Canned pulses like lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and mixed beans are useful to add to salads, sauces and soups. They can also be blended with herbs and spices to make fabulous dips. 
  • Small cans of flavoured salmon and tuna are good for keeping in your drawer at work for a quick and healthy lunch or snack, and can be a great way to get kids eating fish.
  • Ready-made sauces are useful for quick meals. Some are high in salt and fat so using them in small quantities is the way to go, or make your own sauces using the ingredients list of the back of a sauce jar for inspiration. You can't go far wrong with fresh or jarred ginger, crushed garlic, coriander and a splash of soy and sweet chilli sauces.
  • Curry pastes are a great flavour base for a dish. Drain off any excess oil. The pastes allow you to add your own liquid to make up a sauce, rather than eating the oil, cream or sugar in some of the ready-made versions. Try using a can of light evaporated milk as an alternative to cream in recipes, or add tomatoes or flavoured baked beans to a homemade curry.
  • Canned fruit is a fabulous base for a quick smoothie and can add extra flavour to plain yoghurt. Go for fruits in natural juice rather than syrups. Light versions are also available. These are packed in water with artificial sweetener.
  • Creamed rice is a quick, tasty snack for hungry teenagers or anyone active. Most varieties are reasonably high in sugar, so are best kept for when you have been active. A small can is a good way to keep hunger at bay.
  • A small amount of jam or honey is fine as part of a balanced diet. Reduced-sugar versions can be helpful for some people.
  • Peanut butter made with a high percentage of peanuts is a healthy way to have a small amount of good fat, but if you're watching your weight, spread thinly.

What to avoid

Fish canned in oil
Canned fruits in syrup
Peanut butter with added sugar

Traps to watch out for

High-salt items: aim for a sodium intake of less than 2400mg/day, and lower is better. Look at the back of your jars. You might be surprised to see where salt is hiding.

Dressings can be a trap, especially if you load them on. Be wary and check the label: some 'lite' versions are 2% fat and some 35%.

Money-saving tips

Make your own tomato-based sauces.
Cook your own soups and freeze.
Use more herbs, spices, garlic and ginger rather than relying on jars of cooking sauces.

What to choose

The fabulous thing about dried foods is that they have a long shelf life and are easy to store. Great dried foods include pasta, rice, couscous, lentils, beans, fruit and nuts. Pasta is low-GI and is an excellent carbohydrate base for lunch and dinner meals.

Smart shopper tips

  • Brown rice is higher in fibre and other nutrients than white rice as it is a whole grain. White basmati rice has the advantage of being slowly absorbed by the body, but is lower in fibre than brown rice. Long grain rice and jasmine rice are also good. Aim for variety.
  • Lentils, beans and chickpeas are the kings of dried food, being high in fibre and a good source of carbohydrate and protein. Canned versions can be more convenient, but for value, cook up a large batch of dried beans and freeze them.
  • Couscous can make the base of a quick and easy side dish or salad, and can be used as an alternative to pasta and rice. It can be fairly bland by itself so make it with stock (instead of water) or add lots of fresh herbs and spices.
  • Noodles can add interest to a stir-fry, soup or salad. Go for egg noodles without flavouring or rice noodles.
  • Cereal is a great start to the day. There are so many to choose from, there's bound to be at least one healthier (whole grain or oat- based) cereal that suits your taste buds, budget and lifestyle.

What to avoid

Dried packet noodles and ready meals are often high in fat and salt and not a healthy everyday choice.

Flavour sachets for chilli con carne, lasagne and so on are often very high in salt and pricey. Look at the back of the packet: can you make your own?

Potato chips – many are a whopping 33% fat, a third of the packet! There are healthier alternatives but they can still be between a quarter and a third fat, just made with a healthier type of fat. Go for vegetable sticks or try toasted pita bread or wraps sliced into wedges instead.

Traps to watch out for

Many processed mixes in this section are high in salt.
85% less saturated fat. This doesn't mean the food is 85% fat free. It may still be high in fat.

Lollies – 99% fat-free. Since when did jelly sweets have fat in them? There are 3000 kilojoules in a 200g pack of lollies and seven tablespoons of sugar.

Money-saving tips

Buy budget brand pasta and rice.
Cook your own lentils, dried beans and chickpeas.
Flavour your own dried foods, like rice and couscous.
Buy from the bulk bins.

What to choose

Leaner meats tend to be more expensive, but there's less waste. When buying meat, look for the least amount of white fat on the edges. The Heart Foundation Tick is a good guide to which items are lower in fat.
A piece of meat about the size of the palm of your hand is a good portion.

Smart shopper tips

  • Beef mince is graded into premium, prime and choice. The fat content is reflected in the price, premium being the leanest.
  • With chicken, try to go for skinless varieties, or remove the skin.
  • Chicken mince is a great alternative to beef, lamb and pork mince for homemade burgers, lasagne and bolognese.
  • Fish (especially oily fish) is a great source of omega-3.
  • 5-6 eggs a week is okay for good health. If you are at risk of heart disease or have diabetes, 3 a week is more appropriate. You can use 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites to make scrambled eggs, omelettes and frittatas.

What to avoid

The white bits in meat and skin on chicken.

Heavily marinated meats if you are watching your salt intake.

Highly processed meats including pepperoni and salami. Using a very small amount of these to flavour a whole dish like a pasta sauce or risotto can be fine on occasion, but they're not ideal for everyday eating.

Sausages can be like little fat sponges and most are about 16% fat, compared to skinless chicken and premium mince at about 5% fat. Look at the fat content of sausages and find ones with a high meat content and lower fat.

Traps to watch out for

Just because a product has lots of ticks on it, it's not necessarily a great choice. Look at what the ticks mean before you buy – it might not be a Heart Foundation Tick.

Money-saving tips

Buy when on special offer and freeze in single portions.
Extend meat dishes like bolognese, stews, stir-fries and soups by adding lentils, red kidney beans, chickpeas and butter beans. You'll add fibre at the same time as saving money.
Canned or frozen fish is often cheaper than fresh.

What to choose

Here is a really simple way to think about breads. There are 3 different types:

  1. The best nutritionally are mostly made from wholemeal flour with added grains. These include most Vogel's, Burgen and similar home brands.
  2. The high-fibre, grainy breads commonly have a white flour base with added grains, e.g. Molenburg, Goodness Grains and Mackenzie.
  3. Wheatmeal bread, white and white high-fibre. These do vary, but generally they don't have the full nutritional advantage of the ones with 'the grainy bits' in them.

Smart shopper tips

  • Using a good whole grain as your main type of bread is best. This also means you can enjoy other lower-fibre items from time to time like wraps, English muffins and bagels.
  • Wheatmeal and grainy pita breads can be healthy alternatives to plain breads and fruit toast can make a quick breakfast or snack.

What to avoid

Processed white, fluffy breads on a regular basis
Garlic butter-filled breads on a regular basis

Traps to watch out for

Unsliced loaves – you may be tempted to cut yourself a bigger slice than you need.

Some bread is quite high in salt. Look for mg sodium per 100g on the nutrition information panel and compare breads.

Money-saving tips

Buy bread when it's on special and freeze it. If you cannot eat a whole loaf before it goes stale, freeze half to save wastage.
Try making your own – you will be surprised how easy it can be, and a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen.

What to choose

In summer you could spend ages in this section; in winter, you just can't wait to get out and get another jumper on! 

  • Yoghurt: Is the nutritional wonder of the chilled section. Packed with protein and calcium, it can be a low-fat dessert or an easy snack. Aim for yoghurts under 2g fat/100g. Flavouring natural, unsweetened yoghurt by adding fresh, canned or dried fruit is good because you avoid added sugar and flavourings. Lite versions tend to be lower in fat and sugar, but they vary so check the label for the grams of sugar per 100g and make comparisons.
  • Cheese: Consider the fat and salt content as well as how much you are going to be having. For a standard cracker topping or sandwich filler, cottage cheese, low-fat ricotta and extra-light Philadelphia are great low-fat options. Tasty, colby or mild cheese is about 35% fat. Edam is a lower fat cheese (but by no means a low-fat cheese) at 25% fat. If you regularly eat cheese and want to reduce your fat intake, using a small amount of edam can be a good first step. A strongly flavoured vintage cheddar or parmesan can be a good way to go if you want a little cheese to go a long way in a sauce, pasta or rice dish.
  • Milk: For most of us a low-fat milk like light blue, green or yellow top is ideal. For kids and active people who need more calcium, or for those who do not include many other dairy products on a daily basis, go for calcium-enriched milk. For younger children, reduced-fat milks (1.5-2.5% fat) can be used from two years of age. Avoid non-fat milk (less than 0.5% fat) for children under five.
  • Soy milk: Look at the sugar content; some have quite a lot of added sugar. Low fat varieties are available and choose those with added calcium.
  • Dips: vary in fat content dramatically. Aim for one with under 10g fat/100g and use sensibly. Dips like pesto are based on healthy fats but can clock up about 30% fat, so enjoy in small amounts.
  • Spreads: The Heart Foundation 'Tick' is a good starting point here as you are ideally looking for something low in saturated and trans fats. If you are watching your weight, select a lite version, which has less fat per serving.

What to avoid

Cream, lard, large amounts of cheese, high-fat dips, (particularly when they are packed with saturated fat), large amounts of flavoured milk.

Traps to watch out for

Look at the back of yoghurt pots and compare sugar and fat per serving. If you are trying to lose weight, go for one very low in fat and sugar, but if you are more active and don't have a weight problem, a standard low-fat flavoured yoghurt will be fine.

Lower fat cheese is not necessarily low-fat, check the fat per 100g.

Feta cheese is very tasty, but high in salt. Look for reduced salt varieties and use in small quantities.

Money-saving tips

Grate cheese to make it go further
Buy chilled food when on special offer, but look for long use-by dates!
Make your own yoghurt

What to choose

There are an increasing number of potato-based, fish and meat options cooked in healthy fat. Look for products with under 5g fat/100g and check on the ingredients list to ensure the product has been made with a healthy fat like canola or sunflower oil, rather than beef fat, vegetable oil or palm oil.

With meat and fish products, check the words meat and fish are very high up on the ingredients list.

Smart shopper tips

  • Frozen veges are a convenient cost-effective option, especially when the veges you like aren't in season. As they are picked and snap frozen at their peak, they are full of nutrients and there is a fabulous range available.
  • The frozen section is a great place to find sweet goodies including frozen fruits that make fast smoothies, easy desserts and add a nutritional boost to breakfast.
  • Ice creams: Lite versions can be lower in fat, but are still best kept for treats. They are good served with fruit. Ice cream is made predominately from milk, cream and sugar in various proportions. There are some frozen yoghurts on the market that are lower in fat, but still high in sugar. There are also sugar-free options, but they can be expensive and are no excuse to wolf down a whole tub!

What to avoid

High-fat potato products like hash browns cooked in beef fat or vegetable oil.

Battered meat, chicken and fish that are laden with saturated fat.

Pies, pastry, sausage rolls etc – loaded with fat and not a vegetable in sight!

Traps to watch out for

Low-cholesterol claims: cholesterol in food has a much smaller impact on blood cholesterol than saturated fat. This claim can often give a false sense of security. Check the saturated fat on the label.

Money-saving tips

Make homemade wedges – microwave potatoes or kumara until soft, chop into wedges, spray with a little oil, grind on black pepper and bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes or so, until golden brown.
Blend frozen berries and fruit yoghurt together for a quick, healthy dessert.

  • Shop weekly rather than daily so you will be less vulnerable to regular (and expensive) impulse buying.
  • Plan for the week ahead and make a list. Think about what events you have on, how much food you need for the week, are there any people coming round, what do you already have? How many meals and snacks are you planning for? Do you really need more wine to have 'just in case'? Write down portions of meat, fish and other more expensive items so you don't just rely on your eyes and buy more than you need.
  • Write your list in the order of the supermarket aisles, e.g. start with veg and end with dairy.
  • Before you load up the trolley with those 'super deals' – consider, are you really saving money, or is it a food and expense you just don't need?
  • Order online. Foodtown and Woolworths both have online supermarkets and deliver your order right to your door. There's even less chance you'll make impulse purchases shopping this way.
  • Be adventurous; every week, buy ingredients for one new dish to try. It doesn't need to be expensive and you could try simply adapting recipes you already know.
  • Remember that food has to be made of something! If a product is low in fat it is likely to be higher in carbohydrate (which may be sugar) or protein.  
  • Ingredient lists are in weight order: the first ingredient/s on the list will be the main part of that food product.
  • Compare similar foods such as different cereals, yoghurts and so on to familiarise yourself with each brand and how they differ. With savoury items, look at the total fat, saturated fat, fibre and salt. For sweet items, the amount of sugar and fat are the most important.



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