Healthy food at local convenience stores

Read the nutrition facts label to find healthy food items at convenience stores.

When we think about where to shop for healthy food, the corner convenience store probably doesn't come to mind. After all, healthy foods are fresh, whole and non-processed right? Yes, fresh, whole and non-processed foods are healthy, for the most part. But in a pinch, relatively healthy foods can be found at convenience stores, even though they will probably be canned and processed.

While visiting my local corner store, I was able to find several items that were lower in fat and higher in vitamins and other nutrients than many of the "empty calorie" selections that filled the shelves. It takes a little patience but, trust me, they're there! One tool I used to identify the healthier choices was the Nutrition Facts Label, also called the "food label." Michigan State University Extension recommends this tool for every food choice you consider.

First I headed for the refrigerated foods. Looking past the soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, I was able to find low-fat and fat-free milk and 100 percent fruit juice. In this aisle of the store, the food labels told me if the milk was whole, low-fat or fat-free. Try to buy low-fat and/or fat-free dairy products whenever possible. When buying fruit juice, look for 100 percent juice with no added sugar. Fruit “beverages,” fruit “punch,” fruit “ade,” and drinks flavored with fruit juice usually have added sugar.

Guess what else I found in the refrigerated foods section – yogurt! Yogurt is a good source of calcium and some types also provide a decent amount of protein. When choosing yogurt, try to find a brand low in added sugar. There were a couple of ready-made sandwiches there too. Each was made with low-fat meat (smoked turkey and chicken) and whole-grain bread. I also spotted a couple of ready-made salads that included chicken, spinach and other fresh veggies.

There was peanut butter at the store too. Peanut butter has seven grams of protein per two tablespoon serving, but it is high in calories (usually 191 calories per serving). There are also 16 grams of fat in two tablespoons of peanut butter. The fat in peanut butter is considered “heart healthy.” If you choose peanut butter, be sure to stick to the recommended serving size so that you don’t consume too many calories. I planned to spread the peanut butter on the whole grain crackers I found, which contained three grams of fiber per serving.

Many convenience stores don’t carry fresh fruits and vegetables because they don’t sell before they go bad. Some convenience stores stock apples and bananas. You might also find canned fruit and canned vegetables. Canned fruit is an acceptable alternative if you can’t find fresh. When buying canned fruit, be sure to look for brands that are canned in fruit juice, not heavy syrup. I was able to find fruit cups and a serving of fresh, pre-cut mango.

Also on the shelf was a selection of boxed and single-serve breakfast cereal. When buying cereal, try to choose the brand that is lowest in sugar and highest in fiber. This store carried Post Raisin Bran, which has 18 grams of sugar and seven grams of fiber, as well as five grams of protein per serving. I also found single serve oatmeal, which contained 13 grams of sugar, five grams of fiber and seven grams of protein per serving.

I may not do all of my food shopping at a convenience store, but it was good to learn that I can find some healthier options the next time I’m there.

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