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Published: Sunday, April 16, 2017 @ 12:00 AM
One of the best things about supermarkets can also be the most confusing: all the choices! When walking from aisle to aisle, it can be overwhelming to look at all the products in each section. Just think of all the choices when you’re looking at the entire wall of cereal or a large cooler packed with tiny yogurt cups! Trying to find the best item—especially when you're trying to eat healthier or watch your intake of calories, fat or sodium—is not always a walk in the park.
Within each section of the grocery store, you'll find plenty of healthful foods that can help you reach your goals. But sometimes you have to make a food choice based on budget constraints, availability or taste preferences that isn't ideal. Not to worry. This "Good, Better, Best" guide will help you make the best possible choices on your next trip to the store. If you're new to eating healthy, start at the bottom and work your way up to the top of the lists over time. Even if all you can afford is in the "good" category, you're still doing pretty well. If you prefer the taste and texture of the "better" item to the "best" choice, that's OK, too. Or maybe you're facing a hotel breakfast buffet or trying to find something healthy to eat at a party and all you'll find is the "good" choice. No matter what your situation, you'll still be able to make the best possible choices by using this simple guide.
It has 3 fewer grams of fat than whole milk, yet still offers calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and protein for your body. It's a useful stepping-stone as whole- and vitamin D-milk drinkers make the healthy transition to low-fat dairy.
With a mere 2 grams of fat per cup, it slashes the fat found in 2% milk by more than half. This lower-fat version of milk still has 30% of the daily dose of calcium, as well as vitamin D.
It's fat-free, yet provides about the same amount of calcium and protein as higher-fat options. This is the best choice, especially for heavy milk drinkers. Skim milk may take some getting used to because it’s thinner, but it has lower amount of saturated fat and your heart will love that.
Low-fat + fortified
Plain nonfat Greek
Low-fat yogurt is made with skim or low-fat milk, which cuts calories and fat but still provides calcium and protein. Beware of added sugar (plain yogurt, flavored with fruit or topped with whole-grain cereal is your best bet).
A great up-and-coming trend in the yogurt aisle is supplementing yogurts with vitamin D. There aren’t many food sources of vitamin D, which helps in immunity and cancer prevention, so this is a great way to get an extra dose.
This plain, thick, smooth yogurt has 21 fewer grams of sugar and 60 fewer calories than it's fat-free, flavored counterparts but still leaves in a great amount of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Get our expert recommendations for the best yogurts.
100% whole wheat
Light 100% whole wheat
Bread "made with whole grains" usually contains a mix of refined flour and whole grain flour. It has a lighter texture and taste than whole wheat, making it a good choice for people who are transitioning from white bread to 100% whole-wheat bread. While it's lower in fiber, it is usually enriched with vitamins and minerals.
Bread made with 100% whole wheat doesn't contain any refined or enriched flour. It's less processed and higher in fiber than white bread and whole-grain breads. Make sure "whole wheat flour" is the first ingredient on the label or else it's an imposter!
This combines 100% whole wheat with calorie control. Some of the whole-wheat varieties can pack up to 100 calories per slice. Light whole-wheat bread can help you cut up to 130 calories from your sandwich if you're watching your weight. Here's how to pick the best bread.
Cereal without marshmallows, bright colors or clusters
Whole-grain cereal that's low in sugar
If you're going to eat cereal, avoid those made like desserts (with marshmallows, clusters, chocolate flavors and bright colors). Cereals that meet these criteria are enriched with vitamins and minerals (better than nothing), but they are highly processed, full of sugar--sometimes up to two tablespoons per serving--and seriously lacking in fiber.
A cereal made with whole grains is a better choice, but don't believe anything you read on the front of the box. Look for whole grains to be the #1 ingredient on the nutrition label and make sure there is at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Kashi Cinnamon Harvest and Kashi Autumn Wheat are good options that contain 6 grams of fiber per serving.
The best cereal is made from whole grains and very little sugar (5 or fewer grams per serving). Grape Nuts and Total are good examples. If you’re used to cereal with more sweetness, add fresh berries or sliced fruit to help you get your 5-a-day. Get SparkPeople's top cereal picks here.
Durum wheat pasta
Omega-3 enriched whole-wheat pasta
Standard spaghetti noodles, made from durum wheat, aren't inherently unhealthy. They're slightly less processed than semolina pasta and contain some protein and plenty of carbohydrates for energy. But durum wheat flour is refined and stripped of important nutrients like fiber.
Whole-wheat noodles contain more fiber and protein per serving, while providing energy-giving carbohydrates. Load them up with vegetables and low-fat tomato sauce for a nutritious meal.
Get more nutrition per bite with whole-wheat noodles that are enriched with omega-3’s. Commonplace in most supermarkets, they provide all of the goodness of whole-wheat pasta with an added dose of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
Chicken or turkey slices
Low-sodium lean meats
Whole cuts of meat (preferably homemade)
Buying lean deli meat cuts like chicken or turkey is better than bologna, salami and processed meats, which are higher in fat and sodium and contain nitrates, which are believed to be carcinogenic.
Low-sodium lean meats are better choices for your sandwiches. Look for a low-sodium version of your favorite lean lunch meat (such as turkey or chicken).
Purchasing your own skinless chicken or turkey breast to grill or bake, then slice is the best way to go. It's lower in salt, less expensive, and won't contain any of the additives of processed or packaged meat slices--and you can cook it yourself to reduce the fat and calories, depending on your method.
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 12:57 PM
— Forget about "Snakes on a Plane," we're more concerned with snakes in the yard. Even though snakes are nowhere near as prevalent as our irrational fears would have us think (assuming you don't live smack dab in the middle of rattlesnake territory), if you're a homeowner with a bit of landscape or yard under your direction, you may encounter snakes on occasion.
That should be no biggie, according to experts at the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
"As a general rule, snakes are just as frightened of you as possibly you are of them and often they move as quickly as possible in the other direction," the extension noted. Venomous snake bites are rare and you can readily take steps to treat them. If you're an avid gardener, you may even want snakes in your slice of the great outdoors, since they diet on rodents and insects and can actually help protect you from garden pests.
Not buying it? You can try to keep snakes out of your home life. Just understand that even the best measures are not 100 percent foolproof, according to America's Wetland Resources, which is based in the South.
"There are no magic or absolute solutions," AWR asserted. "There are no poisons or repellents that work, though some new 'breakthrough' is occasionally advertised. Horsehair ropes and trails of mothballs have consistently tested negative, and pest control operators have no answers."
Seal crevices. Closer to your home, seal the openings where snakes like to set up house. "Check the clearance of door bottoms, weep holes, openings where pipes enter, cracks and spaces under eaves," AWR recommended. "Don't neglect storerooms and sheds."
AWR added that sealing enough openings to make a difference is much more difficult if you own a raised wooden home.
Tidy up the yard. Snakes might choose to live on your property or simply travel through, according to AWR. You want to make your property as inhospitable as possible, so concentrate on ridding it of any places snakes would consider good spots to hide. Remove debris, from piles of boards, tin, sticks and leaves to flat boats on the ground and piles of bricks or stone, AWR advised, and keep vegetation cut back.
Stop serving the snake's preferred menu. It's a win-win. When you take away potential hiding places for snakes, the spots where rat and mice families like to congregate are also eliminated. But take this one step further, AWR advised, and take further steps to get rid of the rodents that snakes like to snack on. You may want to involve a pest control agent, but you definitely want to practice anti-rodent hygiene, including not leaving pet food out for more than an hour or so, closing trash cans tightly and securing compost in a sealed container.
Combat the climbers. If limbs from a neighbor's yard hang over your fence, snakes may use them as an entry to your place. Consider working with your neighbor to get them trimmed.
Consider the snake-proof fence. If you live in an area where one or more venomous snakes are common, you may want to invest in a snake-proof fence, according to NCSU. "Small areas where children play can be protected from all poisonous and most harmless snakes with a snake-proof fence," it noted. "However, the cost of the fence may make it impractical to protect an entire yard."
Make a fence by burying 1/4-inch mesh wire screening 6 inches underground and building it up 30 inches, instructed NCSU.
"It should slant outward at a 30-degree angle from bottom to top. The supporting stakes must be inside the fence and any gates must fit tightly. Tall vegetation must be removed along the fence, both inside and outside."
It's costly, but you can snake-proof the entire yard with a concrete chain wall that extends six inches or so below the surface, noted AWR.
"If you already have a wooden fence and the boards are very close together, a good solution is to snake-proof the bottom."
One fairly cheap way is to use 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut in strips wide enough to overlap the bottom of the fence so it can be tacked securely and extend down into a narrow trench six inches deep.
AWR added another word of caution for either snake-proof fence design (spoiler alert: it's nightmare inducing.) "Many snakes climb by looping over objects and the above described design may virtually eliminate their entry," it noted. "Others, however, can crawl up vertical surfaces if they are rough, such as the trunk of a tree or a brick wall (including the side of a house)."
To overcome this creepy climbing capability, you can place a foot-wide ledge made of wood or metal flashing along the outer side at the top. "This structure makes the snakes lean out away from the wall and it will lose its grip and fall."
After all this snake talk, AWR does have one bit of great news. "Snakes are rarely abundant in any one location."
And if all your efforts fail and snakes do make their way into your yard, AWR recommended the ultimate failsafe.
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 5:39 AM
— The weather in some parts of the country is not helping people with allergies, and your pets could also be feeling the effects of the high pollen (and other allergens) count.
Pets are often sniffling grass, other pets and the ground. They are also much closer to where the allergens can sit, so they could be more exposed to more allergens, such as pollen.
Just like humans, dogs and cats can sneeze, get watery eyes and runny noses. Allergies can make these symptoms worse. According to the Humane Society, dogs often express pollen allergy symptoms by itching. The pollen gets on their fur, makes its way down to their skin and irritates it.
Here are some ways to help your pet cope with seasonal allergies:
Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 11:38 AM
— Everyone wants to feel self-sufficient, and even those with deep pockets find it's a good idea to stick to some kind of home maintenance budget. If you chuckled at the thought of having "deep pockets," you're probably even more concerned with controlling costs on the home front.
But frugal isn't always better, even if you have monster DIY skills. "When it comes to doing your own home repairs, there's a thin line between being fearless and foolish," noted Joseph Truini of Popular Mechanics.
Involved electrical work. Feel free to install dimmer switches or replace an old ceiling light with a new ceiling fan, Truini advised. "Upgrading existing devices and fixtures is relatively easy and safe, as long as you remember to first turn off the electricity." But anything more complicated than that and it's time to call the pros (and heave a sigh as you get out your wallet). "When it comes to extending existing electrical circuits or adding new ones, call in an experienced, licensed electrician," he said. "When homeowners start messing around with electrical circuits and running new cables, there are two likely outcomes and both are potentially lethal: electrical shock and fire."
A leaky roof. Those drip-drips on the floor, even if it's only the attic floor, can indicate big problems for a homeowner who ignores them. They include possible structural damage, mold or loss of personal property, according to The Balance. "It's nothing to mess with. Address roof leaks as soon as you discover them, and you'll save yourself a ton of cash," it added.
Roof problems can be caused by weather, which can decay roof materials, or a simple lack of maintenance, which most commonly makes a flat or low-sloped roof uneven, so it accumulates water that can destroy roofing material. While a few adjustments can be made by an amateur, the most important roof area to inspect is the flashing, which is supposed to provide a watertight seal between your roof's sections and other parts of the building, according to The Balance. If you try to install, adjust or replace the flashing yourself, you're risking a disaster. "Incorrect installation procedure or attachment, and improper sealing of the flashing will allow the water to enter between the roofing systems and the roof structure."
If the problem is the roof's design, including the slope, drainage or incompatible materials, you should also get an expert roofer involved before the leaks start impressive levels of destruction. While design adjustments are expensive to correct and have to happen while another roofing material is happening, ignoring them will cost many more do-overs and potential roof failures.
Defective water-based plumbing appliances. Being a homeowner requires a little bit of DIY plumbing for the occasional leaky faucet, clogged drain or stopped-up toilet, according to the Louisville, Kentucky-based Tom Sondergeld Plumbing. "These basic projects can be finished in a couple of hours and don't require any specialized skill," the owner admitted.
But there are larger plumbing issues that can't be ignored, or tackled by a homeowner who's handy with the wrench. One time not to skimp is when a water heater, sump pump or other water-based appliance stops functioning properly. "When these appliances need maintenance or replacement, it can be an extensive process," TSP advised. "A licensed plumber can either repair or replace the appliance properly."
Standing water. All jokes about hourly rates and attire malfunctions aside, sometimes a plumber's efforts can prevent out and out disasters. One of these instances is when you spot standing water in the house, according to TSP. (Mysterious standing water, that is, not the result of a recent large dog being bathed or a spill you recognize.) The standing water can be close to a water heater, toilet or sink, but the damage may be far more extensive. "A plumber can see if there is more than meets the eye," TSP said. "Typically, standing water is a sign of a much larger problem. Before you start digging into the issue, call a professional and let them use their expertise to diagnose and treat the issue before your home becomes a splash park."
A dirty chimney. Due to the potential for fires and dangerous fumes, sweeping the chimney annually is not optional, according to the Balance. "Hire a professional chimney sweep once a year to make sure your chimney is free of creosote, bird nests and other flammables," the site recommended.
Clogged gutters. It may not seem like something worth paying someone to climb up on the roof for, but clogged gutters, downspouts that don't direct away from the house and improper grading can all lead to drainage problems. "All of them put your home's foundation at risk and invite water indoors," noted The Balance. "Now, not later, is the time to tackle those rainwater woes."
Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 12:34 PM
— You hop in the car with a few friends or the family and a mere 1,000 miles later you're down $400 when you only intended to spend $150. What happened?
Probably just a few overruns on the road trip budget.
With a little effort, you'll find it's just as simple and sometimes even more pleasant to take a road trip that will save you hundreds.
Credit Donkey shared the secret to saving money on road trips. "A big dose of planning," the consumer website said. "Okay, that might not be much of a secret, but everything from those junk food indulgences to the stomach-churning cash spent at the pump can be managed, and often minimized, with a little advance planning."
Add a few apps and some tried-and-true strategies for coping with unexpected hitches in the plan and you've got yourself a less expensive road trip. Here are some tips from Credit Donkey and other frugal travel experts:
Pick the right car: Sure, an SUV is going to offer more leg room. But it's also going to cost.
"On a 1,000-mile road trip, taking the car that gets 25 mpg instead of the one with 30 mpg will result in 20 percent savings on fuel," noted Credit Donkey. The Department of Energy provides a calculator to compare the fuel economy of any car you're considering taking.
Prep the vehicle: Be sure to look for cracks or looseness in engine belts, since broken belts are a major cause of roadside breakdowns, according to AAA. Also check the owner's manual and make sure all tires are at the recommended tire pressure. Low pressure reduces fuel economy and can damage tires, which is particularly nasty on longer trips.
Plan your route: Don't leave all the trip planning to the GPS along the way. If you map out your route in advance, you can settle on where you'll buy gas, eat a reasonably priced lunch, possibly using a Groupo, and when you'll stop to stretch your legs. Travel and Leisure recommends the customizable AAA TripTik road-trip routers, that come with gas station locations and date-stamped fuel prices along the route.
Plan your gas buys: When you're taking a trip that runs through more than one state, you can save as much as $1 per gallon just by filling up at the right time. If you buy while you're still in Ohio instead of driving into Pennsylvania, for example, you'll save about 30 cents per gallon. Track average national gas prices and state-by-state estimations at the AAA website.
Conserve fuel: There are numerous ways to save money on gas. First up, if it's the season, use the air conditioning, recommended AAA. Today's air conditioners create less drag on the engine than driving with the windows open. Tips from Travel & Leisure include using cruise control, driving when it's cooler outside and watching when you fill your tank. "If you overfill the tank, gas can slosh around and escape." You can also save money by buying discounted gift cards for gas stations at sites such as Cardpool, CardCash and Gift Card Granny, according to Kiplinger.
Drive slower: Driving near the speed limit will always help with your fuel economy. It can also help you avoid speeding tickets, which are a major drag on a road trip budget. Although the cost varies by state, the average speeding ticket is $150, according to Esurance, and violations might end up increasing your insurance rates.
Use two GPS devices: This tip from Travel & Leisure is based on the idea of avoiding the traffic that can drive up fuel costs (and test tempers). Two GPS devices can vary wildly on the routes they suggest. Having two can help you avoid any snags that arise.
Stop stopping all the time: Every time you stop, you risk expensive treat and souvenir buying. You also end up wrecking your plans for gas buying, inexpensive meals and even making it to an affordable hotel. Instead, buy all your snacks and drinks ahead of time and keep them in a cooler. Stick to your planned restaurant and gas purchase stops. And since you can't plan when someone will need to use the bathroom, use a clean bathroom finder app like Charmin's Sit or Squat.