What Are Smart Food Choices?

Get the Most "Nutritional Bang for Your Buck"

One of the great things about the average shopping trip is, for some, also the most difficult: the wide range of food choices available. Where once people could eat only (for the most part) what was raised near them and what was either in season or able to be preserved, today we can enjoy a wide range of foods from the common to the exotic to the highly processed with just a meander through the grocery aisles. How are you supposed to know what’s a smart food choice and what’s not?

The first step in improving your overall choices, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, a registered dietitian and the director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic: “Choose foods with the most nutritional bang for your buck.” A good rule of thumb, she advises, is to go back to basics — that is, to eat relatively unprocessed foods. Shoot for 100 percent whole-grain products, fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables, low-fat or nonfat dairy products and heart-healthy fats. To help you make the best choices, try to eat every three to four hours — you’ll avoid that famished feeling, which can lead to picking foods with less nutrition.

The Healthy Plate

Paired with what to eat is how much you choose to eat of any given food and how to balance your plate at every meal. Jamieson-Petonic has a trick for building a healthy plate: Imagine your plate like a clock. Fill the first half of the circle (from 12 to 6) with fruits and vegetables. Add lean protein to a quarter of the plate (6 to 9); round things out (from 9 to 12) with a whole-grain, high-fiber starch.

Need guidance on what to reach for in those categories? Here’s a handy at-a-glance guide.

            Eat                                                               Limit or Avoid

Meats & protein

Skinless white-meat poultry, lean meats such as pork tenderloin, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, halibut), beans and lentils, tofu, egg whites and egg substitutes

Red meats such as beef and lamb, sausage, processed meats, whole eggs

Dairy products

Skim or 1% milk; soy milk; low- or nonfat cheeses, yogurt and other dairy products; soy-based yogurts

Whole or 2% milk; whole-milk cheese, yogurt and other dairy products


Whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals; sweet potatoes; brown rice; whole grains such as barley, bulgar and quinoa

Bread, pasta and cereals made from refined flour, white rice

Fats & oils

Olive oil, canola oil, fat-free oil sprays, fat-free salad dressings

Butter, lard, creamy salad dressings, hydrogenated margarine


Nuts and seeds; whole-grain, trans-fat-free crackers; air-popped popcorn

Chips, candy, baked goods

Try This Make a healthy plate! Using Jamieson-Petonic’s “around the clock” method, create a dinner tonight from the smart choices on this chart.

By Stacia Jesner

More from 360-5:
The Thinking Behind Smart Food Choices
The Body Benefits of Smart Food Choices
Plus: Learn how to eat right and get healthy with Go! Foods for You

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