1. Understand food labels
From label claims like “all natural” and “non-GMO” to seals such as “USDA Organic” and “Animal Welfare Approved,” packaged food has a lot to say these days. Unfortunately, these identifiers are not always as good as they sound — and many people may be buying certain foods or brands believing they’re getting something they aren’t. To help you determine which labels provide valuable information and which ones are merely marketing ploys, CR created a ratings system for these claims and seals so that you can understand their meaning and decide which ones to look for and which to disregard. A guide can be found at CR.org/foodlabels.
2. Avoid food poisoning
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have a number of resources that can help you figure out whether a food is safe to eat or should be thrown away.
●To learn how to keep food fresh, and under what conditions, consult FoodKeeper at Foodsafety.gov. Developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute, it lets you browse by food category or search for specific foods. (It’s also available as an app.)
●You can search Ask.USDA.gov for answers to specific questions — such as “If the refrigerator door was left open overnight, is the food still safe?” or “Is it safe to cook frozen foods in a slow cooker?” — or ask an expert your question through the chat feature.
●You can find information about food recalls from the websites of the USDA (which oversees meat and poultry) and the FDA (which oversees all other foods), and subscribe to email updates.
3. Find advice where you shop
Cage-free eggs or omega-3 eggs? Low-fat milk or almond milk? Every time you walk down a grocery store aisle, you’re faced with seemingly endless choices about which foods to eat. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, find out whether your supermarket has an in-store dietitian. Increasingly, stores are employing these professionals, who — free of charge — can give grocery store tours, help you understand labels and find foods that meet your dietary needs, teach cooking demos and more. They may even be available for one-on-one consults. You can find in-store dietitians at ShopRite in the Northeast and Hy-Vee in the Midwest, among other chains nationwide.
4. Grab a free lunch
If you’re 60 or older, there’s a good chance you qualify for free or low-cost lunches at a local community or senior center — regardless of income level. Nutritious meals prepared by someone else are nice, of course, but the benefits go beyond the food. Older men and women who dine solo may be at a greater risk for depression, according to research in the journal Age and Aging. Adults who eat three meals alone a day are also more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms associated with heart disease, than those who dine with others, a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found. Consult your state, city, or county’s department of aging to learn more.
5. Get nutrition counseling
For people diagnosed with diabetes or kidney disease, Medicare Part B covers three hours with a registered dietitian in the initial year, with an additional two hours in subsequent years. You’ll get an in-depth diet assessment and advice based on your nutrition concerns. Medicare may also cover 10 hours of diabetes self-management training, which includes exercise and blood sugar management guidance. You’ll pay 20 percent of the cost, and your Part B deductible applies. These benefits require a doctor’s referral. Medicare Advantage plans may cover counseling for other conditions as well. Check with your plan to see what you’re eligible for.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Read more at ConsumerReports.org.