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As you know, your food dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. As a result, you might find yourself increasingly hemming and hawing over which foods to toss into your grocery cart. But the most nutrition-packed choice isn’t always obvious. Oats or granola? Almond butter or peanut butter? We’re sending several similar edibles to the ring to crown the nutritional champs.
Canola oil vs. vegetable oil
The champ: canola oil
Vegetable oils are often made with low-grade soybean, corn, cottonseed and/or sunflower oils that contain high levels of omega-6 fats. A diet with too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s can promote internal inflammation, raising the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and potentially slowing exercise recovery. With fewer omega-6 fats and more omega-3 ones, canola oil is a better option for home cooking. If you want to steer clear of genetically modified canola, opt for organic brands.
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Chicken breast vs. chicken thighs
The champ: chicken thighs
Save money and boost flavor by joining the dark side. Surprisingly, darker, less expensive cuts of chicken such as thighs contain only one extra gram of fat than chicken breast per serving. A nutritional upgrade comes via twice as much iron and three times more immune-boosting zinc. Your taste buds will also appreciate that dark meat stays juicy during cooking rather than becoming parched like breast meat. But make sure to throw away the skin after cooking, since this is where high amounts of fat and calories are found.
Frozen blueberries vs. fresh blueberries
The champ: frozen blueberries
Frozen berries such as blueberries and raspberries are picked at peak ripeness and flash frozen very soon afterward to lock in nutrients, antioxidants and flavor. Fresh berries, when out of season, have been trucked in from afar, and probably had significant nutrient loss by the time they top your oatmeal. Frozen wild blueberries have been shown to be especially rich in disease-thwarting antioxidants.
Granola vs. oats
The champ: oats
Despite their health halo, many boxed granolas are heavily sweetened and calorie-dense. A better way to start your day is with plain oats, which can be jazzed up with berries, chopped nuts, seeds, cocoa powder and/or flaked coconut. Steel-cut oats are the heartiest and most filling, but rolled oats, quick-cook oats and even unsweetened instant oatmeal are also healthy options.
Honey vs. maple syrup
The champ: maple syrup
Honey has always been a favorite sweetener among athletes, but consider using natural tree goo more often to sweeten your oatmeal or DIY energy bars. Maple syrup has about 20 percent fewer calories than the bee sweetener, plus recent studies show it contains an array of unique antioxidants. But remember: Maple-flavored corn syrup is no way to adorn your pancakes.
Grain-fed beef vs. grass-fed beef
The champ: grass-fed beef
Indeed, the grass is greener on the other side. A recent study by California State University researchers determined that grass-fed beef has significantly higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fats but lower amounts of saturated fatty acids and inflammation-promoting omega-6 fats. Other perks include more disease-fighting antioxidants such as vitamin E and glutathione. A growing chorus of experts also agrees that animals that nibble on turf have better flavor and texture, and are generally raised more humanely.
Almond butter vs. peanut butter
The champ: almond butter
Sweeter tasting than peanut butter, the almond spread contains more bone-building magnesium and calcium as well as additional levels of the potent antioxidant vitamin E. There is also more monounsaturated fat, shown to improve cholesterol numbers, making almond butter a champion for heart health. When possible, select brands that only list one ingredient: almonds!
Quinoa vs. brown rice
The champ: quinoa
Compared to brown rice, the South American whole grain quinoa is plush with higher amounts of fiber, folate, potassium, zinc and energy-boosting iron. Studies suggest diets higher in fiber can help you better maintain your race weight. Also, quinoa contains a full complement of amino acids, making it a valuable protein source as part of an exercise recovery meal.
Vinaigrette vs. fat-free salad dressing
The champ: vinaigrette
Bottled fat-free salad dressings are often laced with added sugars and sodium to make up for the loss of flavor when the fat is sucked out. What’s more, a 2012 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that adding some fat to your salads greatly increases the absorption of carotenoid antioxidants, such as cancer-fighting lycopene. Look for bottled salad dressings made with extra virgin olive oil and a simple ingredient list with little more than oil, herbs and vinegar.
Traditional yogurt vs. Greek yogurt
The champ: Greek yogurt
Embrace the cultural revolution in the dairy aisle. Deliciously thick and creamy Greek yogurt is strained so the liquid is removed, resulting in a yogurt with twice the muscle-friendly protein and less sugar than unstrained varieties. To reduce your consumption of sugar and fat calories, stick with plain Greek yogurt with fat levels of 2 percent or less.