By Cathy Cassata
While you plan to stock up on groceries during the pandemic, you may be wondering which items with a longer shelf life are the healthier choices to add to your cart, and which are the unhealthy ones to stay away from.
Though some items may seem obvious, it isn't always easy to tell the difference — or make the healthier choice.
"It is important to keep in mind both shelf life and the nutritional value. It can be tempting to pack your cart with cookies and sweet treats to get your mind off the stressors we all face, but these foods won't support your immune system or keep you feeling your best," Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, and author of "Belly Fat Diet for Dummies," told Healthline.
Instead, she said look for foods rich in antioxidants, fiber, protein, and healthy fats to support your energy needs and keep you at your best.
Here are 9 healthier choices you may want to consider, and 6 items you should consider limiting or avoid altogether.
With a shelf life of a year, prunes make a great option for increasing your produce intake even when you can't get to the store.
"This no sugar added dried fruit not only provides a good source of fiber to promote digestive health, [but] prunes are also incredibly versatile. Enjoy them alone as a sweet treat, add into homemade trail mix, or purée and use as a substitute for added sugar in any baked good," said Palinski-Wade.
Eating 5 to 6 prunes per day can prevent bone loss, she added.
Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are also go-to shelf stable options, said Alyssa Pike, RD, manager of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation.
"There are tons of options depending on your needs and preferences, and they can be cooked to add extra nutrients to a meal or easily thrown into a smoothie," Pike told Healthline.
Pulses, including lentils, chickpeas, beans, and dry peas, have an average of 8 grams of protein per half cup serving, which is more than double the protein of quinoa, said Palinski-Wade. This makes them one of the best sources of plant-based protein.
"Eating just a half cup three times per week can help you to increase your healthy protein intake while adding fiber and nutrients to your diet. Both canned and dried options have a shelf life of one year and can be added into a variety of recipes such as salads, soups, and even baked goods," she said.
Visit pulses.org for a variety of recipe ideas and information on how to best prepare them.
3. Winter squash and cabbage
When looking for vegetables that have a long shelf life, those that have a thick peel or rind are best, said Amanda Frederickson, cook and author of Simple Beautiful Food.
"Winter squash has a thick peel that can last for at least a couple of months on your counter. Winter squash includes everything from butternut squash to spaghetti squash to pumpkins," she said.
Cabbage can last for at least a month in your refrigerator, she added.
"It is a hearty vegetable that can be used in everything from salads to stir frys, or even braised on its own," said Frederickson.
4. Riced/spiralized vegetables pasta
It can be tempting to stock up on boxes of white rice and refined flour pasta, but eating too many of these foods can lead to unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels, said Palinski-Wade.
"Instead, head over to the frozen food section to stock up on rice vegetables, such as riced cauliflower along with precut spiralized vegetables. Not only do these options save time with food preparation, but they have a much longer shelf life than their fresh alternatives," she said.
She recommends the Green Giant brand, which has a variety of options offered nationwide.
Frederickson said whole grain oats can last a year or two in your cabinet and longer if the container isn't opened.
"You can obviously use them in oatmeal, but they also work in cookies, bread, or even as the base for oat milk," Frederickson told Healthline.
Pike agreed, noting their biggest health benefit is fiber.
"Enjoy rolled or steel cut varieties for breakfast or add to baked goods to increase the nutrient-density of your creations," Pike said.
6. Canned salmon and tuna
Because salmon and tuna are packed with protein and will last a long time in the pantry, Pike said she advises adding them to your grocery list.
She also suggested buying lean meats, poultry, and seafood and storing them in the freezer to extend their shelf life.
7. Coconut milk
Frederickson said she always has canned coconut milk in her pantry because it will last at least a year, if needed.
"Coconut milk can be used in anything from sweet to savory dishes, some of my favorites are coconut curries, base for oatmeal, or even whipped cream," she said.
8. Pyure Organic all-purpose stevia blend
It may be tempting to bake a lot while being quarantined, but making too many treats packed with added sugar can start to have a negative impact on health and weight.
Instead, Palinski-Wade suggested using Pyure Organic all-purpose stevia blend.
"This granular all-purpose sweetener can be used in the same way as traditional sugar without the added calories or carbohydrates and it has a shelf life of 2 years. With 0 grams of net carbs and 0 calories, this sweetener works for almost any diet plan and can be used to sweeten everything from baked goods to beverages," she said.
9. Veggies Made Great double chocolate muffin
When you need a chocolate fix, Palinski-Wade said her go-to is the double chocolate muffin by Veggies Made Great.
"Eating foods packed with produce helps to provide your body with immune-supporting antioxidants. That's why I love these double chocolate muffins by Veggies Made Great. They taste like a decadent cupcake, but with the first two ingredients being zucchini and carrots, they are packed full of good-for-you nutrition to give your body what it needs right now," she said.
Less Healthy Choices
1. Instant pancake mix
While just-add-water pancake mixes are convenient and have a long shelf life, many are also a source of refined carbs without much nutritional value.
"Instead choose an option rich in protein and whole grains, such as Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes," said Palinski-Wade.
2. Toaster strudel
What you choose to eat in the morning makes all the difference in how you'll feel throughout the day.
"Toaster strudels are packed full of refined carbohydrates and added sugar, leading to a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. As an occasional treat, these can be included in the diet, but I don't recommend stocking up on them as a meal choice now," said Palinski-Wade.
3. Frozen pre-fried chicken
Frozen fried chicken can make a great option for a quick meal because of its long shelf life, but Palinski-Wade said breaded and fried options contain a large amount of added calories and saturated fat.
She recommended opting for a precooked option that has been breaded and baked, or forgo the breading all together for a more nutritious alternative.
Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation, compares fats to fonts.
"It's the type that matters most. The type of fat we eat is more important than the amount of fat we eat. So, look for items with less saturated fat than unsaturated fat (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated)," he told Healthline.
4. Frozen pizza
A frozen pizza is a great option to have in the freezer and to eat occasionally. However, Palinski-Wade said avoid ones with lots of processed meat or stuffed crust (like this DiGiorno one).
"With the stuffed cheese crust and addition of extra bacon, this frozen pizza contains a high amount of saturated fat (one serving contains 50 percent of the recommended daily value), calories, and sodium," she said.
Instead, she suggested choosing a thin crust frozen pizza topped with vegetables, such as the DiGiorno Thin & Crispy Garden Vegetable option with only 210 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat per serving.
5. Creamy canned soup
Stocking up on canned soup makes sense, but canned varieties with a cream base are often loaded with saturated fat, calories, and sodium, Palinski-Wade said.
Instead, she suggested opting for select broth-based options labeled "low sodium" that contain lean proteins, vegetables, and whole grains, such as a low sodium minestrone soup.
Sollid agreed, noting that sodium is essential for the body to thrive, but too much can have a negative impact on health.
"If you are watching your sodium intake closely, opt for lower sodium items. Items that have 140 mg of sodium or less per serving are considered 'low sodium.' Items that have 35 mg of sodium or less per serving are considered 'very low sodium,'" he said.
6. Ice cream
Having gallons of ice cream stored in the freezer can lead to overindulging.
"If you do want to enjoy a frozen dessert, try purchasing single-serving ice cream bars to help control portion size or even better, make your own 'nice' cream by blending up those overripe bananas you stored in the freezer," said Palinski-Wade.
Sollid noted that added sugars are not an essential part of the diet, though there is room for small amounts of added sugars in a healthy diet. (He advised to aim for less than 10 percent of your total calories.)
"Keep your added sugar intake in check by choosing foods that are higher in fiber and lower in added sugars," he said.
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Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?
By Robert J. Orth, Jonathan Lefcheck and Karen McGlathery
A century ago Virginia's coastal lagoons were a natural paradise. Fishing boats bobbed on the waves as geese flocked overhead. Beneath the surface, miles of seagrass gently swayed in the surf, making the seabed look like a vast underwater prairie.
Why Didn’t Seagrasses Recover Naturally?<p>Development, nutrient runoff and other human impacts have damaged marshes, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses in many bays and estuaries worldwide. Loss or shrinkage of these key habitats has reduced commercial fisheries, increased erosion, made coastlines more vulnerable to floods and storms and harmed many types of aquatic life. Rapid climate change has compounded these effects through <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-has-fisheries-on-the-move-helping-some-but-hurting-more-116248" target="_blank">rising global temperatures</a>, more <a href="https://theconversation.com/more-frequent-and-intense-tropical-storms-mean-less-recovery-time-for-the-worlds-coastlines-123335" target="_blank">frequent and severe storms</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-climate-change-alters-the-oceans-what-will-happen-to-dungeness-crabs-61501" target="_blank">ocean acidification</a>.</p><p>In the late 1990s, local residents told two of us who are longtime students of seagrasses (Robert "JJ" Orth and Karen McGlathery) that they had spotted small patches of eelgrass in shallow waters off Virginia's eastern shore. For years the conventional view had been that seagrasses in this area had not recovered from the events of the 1930s because human activities had <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2005.07.007" target="_blank">made the area inhospitable for them</a>.</p><p>But studies showed that water quality in these coastal bays was <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02782971" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comparatively good</a>. This led us to explore a different explanation: Seeds from healthy seagrass populations elsewhere along the Atlantic coast simply weren't reaching these isolated bays. Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants, so seeds are among the main ways they reproduce and spread to new environments.</p>
Eelgrass beds were restored in four bays at the southern tip of Virginia's eastern shore on the Atlantic coast. David J. Wilcox/VIMS, CC BY-ND
Sowing a New Crop<p>From our <a href="https://doi.org/10.2307/1941597" target="_blank">earlier research</a>, we knew that when eelgrass seeds fall from the parent plant, they sink to the sea bottom quickly and don't move far from where they land. We also knew that these seeds don't germinate until late fall or early winter. This meant that if we collected the seeds in spring, when eelgrass flowers, we could hold them until the fall, helping them survive over the months in between.</p><p>We decided to try reseeding eelgrass in the areas where they were missing. Starting in 1999, we collected seeds by hand from underwater meadows in nearby Chesapeake Bay – plucking the long reproductive shoots, bringing them back to our laboratory and holding them in large outdoor seawater tanks until they released their seeds naturally. After about 10 years we started gathering the grasses using a custom-built underwater "lawn mower" to collect many more of the reproductive shoots than we could by hand.</p><p>In 2001 we sowed our first round by simply tossing seeds from a boat. Our first test plots covered 28 acres of mud flats in waters 2 to 3 feet deep. Returning the following year, we saw new seedlings sprouting up.</p><p>Each year since then, the <a href="https://www.vims.edu/" target="_blank">Virginia Institute of Marine Science</a> and the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/virginia/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve</a>, along with staff and students from the <a href="https://www.vcrlter.virginia.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Virginia</a>, have led a team of scientists and citizens to collect and seed a combined 536 acres of bare bottom in several coastal bays.</p><p>These initial plots took off and rapidly expanded. By 2020 they covered 9,600 acres across four bays. Several factors helped them flourish. These bays are naturally flushed with cool, clean water from the Atlantic Ocean. And they lie off the tip of Virginia's eastern shore, where there is little coastal development.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a482c2146febd6782c99960c2b55feb8"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K9NyfPLINtk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Sheltering Marine Life and Storing Carbon<p>Since eelgrass disappeared from these bays in the 1930s, human understanding of seagrass ecosystems has evolved. Today people don't pack their walls full of seagrass insulation but instead value different services they provide, such as habitat for fish and shellfish – including many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12645" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">commercially and recreationally important species</a>.</p><p>Scientists and government agencies also have recognized the importance of coastal systems in capturing and storing so-called "<a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/bluecarbon.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blue carbon</a>." In fact, we now know that seagrasses constitute a globally significant <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1477" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon sink</a>. They are a key tool for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64094-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slowing climate change</a></p><p>We are working to understand the valuable services that our restored seagrass beds provide. To our surprise, fish and invertebrates returned within only a few years as the meadows expanded. These organisms have established extensive food webs that include species ranging from tiny seahorses to 6-foot-long sandbar sharks.<br></p><p>Other benefits were equally dramatic. Water in the bays become clearer as the seagrass canopy trapped floating particles and deposited them onto the bottom, burying significant stocks of carbon and nitrogen in sediments bound by the grasses' roots. Our research is the first to verify the overall net carbon captured by seagrass, and is now being used to issue carbon offset credits that in turn <a href="https://vaseagrant.org/eelgrass-carbon-credits/" target="_blank">create more funds for restoration</a>.</p><p>One big question was whether restoring seagrasses could make it possible to bring back bay scallops, which once generated millions of dollars for the local economy. Since bay scallops no longer existed in Virginia, we obtained broodstock from North Carolina, which we have <a href="https://chesapeakebaymagazine.com/return-of-the-bay-scallop/" target="_blank">reared and released annually</a> since 2013. Regular surveys now reveal a growing population of bay scallops in the restored eelgrass, although there is still some way to go before they reach levels seen in the 1930s.</p>
Restored seagrass beds (dark areas) along Virginia's Atlantic coast, with sunlight reflecting from a small island. Jonathan Lefcheck, CC BY-ND
A Model for Coastal Restoration<p>Repairing damaged ecosystems is such an urgent mission worldwide that the United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the <a href="https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/" target="_blank">U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration</a>. We see the success we have achieved with eelgrass restoration as a prime model for similar efforts in coastal areas around the world.</p><p>Our project focused not only on reviving this essential habitat, but also on charting how restoring seagrasses affected the ecosystem and on the co-restoration of bay scallops. It provides a road map for involving scholars, nonprofits organizations, citizens and government agencies in an ecological mission where they can see the results of their work.</p><p>Recent assessments show that the restored zone only covers about 30% of the total habitable bottom in our project area. With continued support, eelgrass – and the many benefits it provides – may continue to thrive and expand well into the 21st century.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Leaders of climate and conservation groups on Tuesday welcomed House Democrats' introduction of landmark legislation that aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management—recognizing that, as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva put it, "a healthy ocean is key to fighting the climate crisis."
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