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updated: 2/8/2011 2:21 PM

Tips for nutrition-wise shopping at the grocery store

Ask the Nutritionist

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Q. Why do nutrition experts say that you should only shop around the perimeter of the grocery store?

A. The concept behind that advice is that the produce, dairy and fresh meat and seafood departments are usually located around the outside rim of the grocery store. By shopping there - and avoiding the inner aisles laden with sweets, soft drinks and low-nutrient snack foods - the hope is that you'll fill your cart with healthful foods. We know from research that no matter what you tell yourself when you throw them in your cart, the more unhealthy choices you bring home, the more of them you eat.

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However, it's not really true that everything in the center of the store is unhealthy. This is the spot for many unprocessed whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa), dried beans (either canned or uncooked), nuts, dried fruit, coffee and tea, and herbs and spices. And although it's hard to go wrong in the produce department, the meat department contains both healthy options like seafood, poultry and lean red meat (for limited use), and high-fat and processed meats that should not be standard fare for eating habits that help lower your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Perhaps what makes more sense for nutrition-wise shopping habits is to shop with a list and go down only the aisles with foods on that list. Shopping like this, rather than going up and down every aisle, will probably save you money by avoiding impulse purchases and lead to better food choices.

Q. What is miso?

A. Miso (pronounced MEE-so) is a paste made of fermented soybeans that is a traditional part of Asian cuisine. It gives a sweet, salty flavor to sauces, soups, dips, marinades, dressings and stir-fries.

Flavor, texture and color vary considerably, depending on the amount of salt used, the addition of rice or barley, and how long it ferments. Darker miso usually has a stronger, saltier flavor. You can store miso in the refrigerator for several months. Recipes using miso usually require only one to two tablespoons for a cup of broth. Each tablespoon contains about 35 calories, 2 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of fat. Watch out for the sodium content, usually over 600 milligram (mg) per tablespoon. That's less than you'd get in regular bouillon to mix with a cup of water, but more than a quarter of the recommended limit for the day.

Miso provides isoflavones, as do other forms of soybeans, but since the portion used is small, it's not a major source. Each tablespoon provides about 7 mg, about as much as a veggie burger and much less than a standard serving of tofu or cooked soybeans.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. More about the group and its New American Plate program at aicr.org.

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