Getting Fit, Bit by Bit: Change Your Shopping Habits

Shop smart and improve your family's diet one "food category" at a time, says Katz. You can find better breads and cereals, better dairy, and even better snacks than what you may be eating. "In every category," Katz explains, "there's a range of choices in terms of nutritional qualities."

Most of us eat too much fructose (sugar) and too little fiber, says Lustig. He offers two simple rules for healthier shopping:

1. Choose only foods with 3 grams or more of fiber per serving.

2. Buy only beverages with five calories or less per serving, with the exception of skim milk.

Sugary drinks are a major problem for many families, according to Jaimie Davis, R.D., Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. Sodas, sports drinks and even fruit juices are stumbling blocks, Davis says. "If kids could learn how to drink more water, it would have a big impact on obesity."

To ease children away from sugary drinks, Davis suggests watering down sports drinks, or mixing whole fruit in the blender with a little water to make high-fiber juice.

High-fiber foods will fill your family up faster, and keep the body's insulin levels lower so that less sugar is stored as fat, says Lustig. To get more fiber into your diet, move away from processed and fast foods. "Fast food is fiber-less food," he says.

"If you improve your food choices, it will take fewer calories to feel satisfied."

- David Katz, M.D.
Yale University School of Medicine
Editor of A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity

Instead, look for "whole-grain" breads, pastas, tortillas and breakfast cereals to gradually substitute into your family's diet. "Don't go from Cocoa Pebbles to Fiber One," says Davis, who suggests mixing a higher-fiber cereal with a cereal your child likes, and gradually increasing the high-fiber portion.

You can also increase your family's intake of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Mix veggies into pastas with sauce, or add them to homemade pizza. Add chopped vegetables to salads with your child's favorite dressing. "Even if they're covered in ranch, you're still getting the fiber," Davis says.

As you move away from processed foods with hidden sugar - which prime the palate to prefer sweet tastes - your family will begin to prefer healthier foods, according to Katz. For each single-food substitution (for example, whole-grain bread for white bread) you will likely see a preference change in a week or two.

"If you commit two weeks, you'll be in the clear," Katz says.

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