Wellness Topic

Practical Nutrition

Eating well helps your body get healthier and stay healthier at every stage of life. Eating foods that don’t have the right nutrients may help you feel full, but could cause malnutrition as you get older. The good news is that making more nutritional, affordable food choices is within your control.

A woman shops at a farmer’s market.

How to Make Smart Food Choices

Plan healthy meals.

The simplest way to make smarter food choices is to select from all five of the primary food groups when you prepare meals. Eating a variety of foods from each food group can help give you the right nutrients. Consider vibrant colors when planning meals. Nutrition comes in all shapes, sizes and colors and provide beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.

  • Grain include bread, pasta, oatmeal, and brown rice. Whole grains are best or look for grains that are low in fat and sugar and are high in fiber.
  • Protein include lean meat, seafood, poultry, soy, nuts and seeds. Beans and eggs are often low-priced options for good protein. You should aim for 5 or 6 ounces of protein per day.
  • Fruits and Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories but high in fiber and important vitamins and minerals. These include bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, dark-green leafy vegetables, green peppers, and carrots. The more colorful the food on your plate, the better.
  • Dairy includes yogurt, cheese and milk. Consider powdered milk and/or soy or almond milk as alternatives for your dairy needs.

Check your portion sizes.

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Most of us have experienced that uncomfortable feeling of being over-stuffed. That should never be the goal. Portion sizes that are too big can lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain. An easy way to measure portion sizes and serving sizes is to use your hands in the following ways:

  • The palm of your hand is close to about three ounces of poultry, seafood, or beef.
  • Your closed fist equals about one cup of leafy green vegetables or salad.
  • The tip of your index finger equals about one teaspoon of oil, peanut butter, or mayonnaise.
  • The cup of your hand equals about a half cup or one serving of chopped vegetables, fruit, cooked pasta or rice.

Read the labels.

Food labels and packaging contain a lot of nutrition and food safety information. Knowing how to read it can help you make smarter choices when shopping. Here are some tips to help you read food labels and packaging:

  • Pay attention to the serving size or the number of servings per container.
  • When choosing foods, limit total fat, cholesterol, sodium, and total carbohydrates, and avoid trans fats.
  • Focus on getting plenty of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron.
  • When choosing foods, remember that the healthiest foods are whole foods.
  • Even if the label says “healthy,” “organic,” “heart smart” or “natural,” most packaged foods have high levels of sodium (salt), preservatives and added sugars.

When you’re looking at the packaging also be aware of the following dates:

  • Expiration date
  • Use by
  • Sell by
  • Best if used by or Best if used before

These dates on product labels have to do with food quality. To avoid unsafe food, do not to buy food products that have damaged packaging. Stay away from cans with bulges or dents, and torn bags or boxes because their contents may be spoiled and harmful.

You can save on your food bill.

To both save money and make smart food choices, you should:

  • Make a list and stick to what’s on it. If you do your own food shopping, it’s best to avoid going when you’re hungry. It will most likely result in making poor food choices.
  • Ask about discounts and use store coupons. Ask your local grocery store if they have senior discounts, loyalty or discount cards. Besides getting a lower price, you may also get valuable and cost-saving coupons. Remember that coupons only help if they are for things you would buy anyway. Sometimes, another brand costs less even after you use the coupon.
  • Consider buying store brands. Store brands, or private label brands, are usually on shelves that are higher or lower than eye-level national brands, but their value in savings is well worth it.
  • Limit buying food that has empty calories. Stay away from tempting foods that are not on your shopping list to ensure they do not end up in your shopping cart.
  • Buy produce in season. They are likely to be fresher and cost less.
  • Check out other helpful resources for obtaining food on a budget. Look into Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Area Agency on Aging or Meals on Wheels programs, and the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. We partner with find help to connect people in need to verified, free or reduced-cost social services and resources. To search programs available in your area, visit CignaCommunity.findhelp.com.

Tips when cooking at home.

Preparing and eating healthy food should be an enjoyable experience. Consider these.

  • If you have difficulty cutting or chopping foods, purchase pre-chopped, ready-to-eat fruits, vegetables and cheeses.
  • Remember, fresh, dried, frozen or canned all count.
  • When cooking meat or vegetables, try baking, broiling, grilling or steaming. If a recipe calls for oil, opt for olive oil, which is a healthy fat.
  • Experiment with adding flavor to your meals by using herbs and spices, salt-free spice blends, or vinegar.
  • Be mindful when eating. Eat slowly, avoid distractions, and eat only until satisfied. Be sure to enjoy the taste and texture of the food.

Stick to your meal plan when dining out.

If you’re having a meal out at a restaurant, you can still make smart food choices. Make sure to speak up for yourself so that others can help you stick with your healthy eating plan:

  • Ask how your meal is being prepared and what the added ingredients are.
  • Consider healthier substitutions, such as a baked or grilled entrée, or a side salad instead of fries.
  • When your meal arrives at a restaurant, ask your server for a to-go container. You can set aside food that will be too much for you to eat and that you can enjoy for another meal.

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