5 Nutrition Tips You Have Permission to Ignore
1. Only shop the perimeter.
The intentions behind this advice were good: You should fill your cart with plenty of produce, which is typically found on the perimeter, along with healthy foods like fish, eggs, and dairy. But there are loads of nutritious options in the center that you don't want to miss out on either, like nuts, whole grain pasta, oats, canned and dry beans and lentils, and frozen fruits and vegetables. (In my local store, there are also plenty of less nutritious items on the perimeter, like donuts and beer!)
2. Avoid any ingredient you can't pronounce.
Many people are seeking out products with simpler ingredient lists. That's all well and good, but there are lots of ingredients with lengthy or scary-sounding names that aren't harmful, like acetic acid (vinegar) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Sodium bicarbonate sounds like a harmful chemical, but it's actually baking soda. You'll spot lactobacillus acidophilus, on the label of some yogurts--a mouthful of a name for sure, but it's a strain of beneficial bacteria that's good for the gut. Some products are also fortified with nutrients that are important for health but happen to have confusing names, like cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) and calciferol (vitamin D).
3. Don't eat white foods.
It's true that pigments that give color to produce have health-protecting qualities. But white fruits and vegetables actually have beneficial compounds in them too, including foods some people think of as nutritionally wimpy like white potatoes (they're high in vitamin C and fiber) and even celery (it's got a decent amount of vitamin C and folate). And though white bread and white pasta have less nutrition than their whole grain counterparts, they certainly aren't devoid of nutrients. So if your kid is stuck on white bread and pasta, rest assured that they're still getting nutrition on their plate.
4. Only buy organic.
It's much more important to buy and eat fruits and vegetables than whether they are organic or conventional. Researchers haven't found evidence that organic produce is healthier in terms of nutrition or that eating organic is better for long-term health. What IS known for sure: Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are good for everyone. Even the Environmental Working Group, best known for its Dirty Dozen list, says "EWG always recommends eating fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown, instead of processed foods and other less healthy alternatives." So buy the produce you can afford and serve it often.
5. Always pick low-fat dairy.
There is some evidence that full fat milk may have some health benefits. It's been linked to lower body weight among kids, possibly because it's more filling and prevents overeating. Some pediatricians may advise serving low-fat milk and yogurt depending on the child's health history. But otherwise, my advice is to buy the kind of dairy your kids like and will eat and drink so they're sure to get the calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other nutrients they need.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.