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My babysitter, Sonya, loves junk food just as much as I do. Which is why I was surprised to see her walk in my door this afternoon clutching a tub of fruit salad for her lunch. I was busy making myself a plate of cheese-laden nachos, and as I assessed her much-healthier dietary choice, I have to admit, I felt a little betrayed. My jaw must have dropped, because she started making excuses immediately.
"I'm trying to lose my belly," she explained. "LL Cool J says you should shop on the edges of the grocery store, because all the processed junk is in the middle."
Huh? LL Cool J?
Turns out, Sonya and her friend Jessica have been reading the hunky rap master's diet and exercise tome, "LL Cool J's Platinum Workout: Sculpt Your Best Body Ever with Hollywood's Fittest Star." I laughed, and scoffed a little at the source. But I had to admit: This was very good advice.
It's an old-school dietician trick, meant to encourage grocery buyers to stick to whole foods. If you think about it, it only makes sense: When you walk the walls of a supermarket, you'll find the fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, beef, milk, yogurt, seafood, eggs, organic foods, and sometimes--if you're lucky--beer.
What you WON'T find are crackers and cookies, boxes of mac and cheese, salty soups, sugary cereals, and other hideously poor nutrition choices--foods filled with artificial flavors and colors and transfats, and drained of fiber and essential nutrients. (A caveat: You also won't find diapers or tampons or shampoo, but you can make exceptions for those things.)
I first got this live-on-the-edge advice in the process of reporting a Cooking Light story, from what I consider to be a slightly more qualified source than Mr. Cool J: Jeanne Goldberg, PhD, director of the nutrition communications program at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy (http://nutrition.tufts.edu/). "Really, the axiom about shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is about finding foods that have more of what nature put into them in the first place," she said. "The foods in the interior are more processed, and much more likely to be high in fats and sugars."
It's a simple rule of thumb, though I had completely forgotten about it. It took Sonya, and LL Cool J, to remind me. And now I, like Sonya, will work to stay edgy.
The trick will be to ignore the lovely and loud Siren call of the Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts on aisle 5B, which seems always to lure my shopping vessel toward its rocky shore. But here's a new thought: Might I drown it out by pumping up the volume on my iPod, and playing "Mama Said Knock You Out?" (If not, I can always revert to, "I'm Bad.")
Hillari Dowdle shops on the verge in Knoxville, Tennessee.