Aramark, the largest U.S.-based food services provider, says it is working to help Americans make healthier food and nutrition choices, both when dining away from home, and when shopping in the grocery store for ingredients they prepare in their own kitchens.
According to new research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2019, ultra-processed foods (those made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, hydrogenated fats, added sugar, modified starch and other compounds), which account for more than 50 percent of an average American’s daily calories, are linked to lower measures of cardiovascular health.
Aramark, which employs hundreds of registered dietitians, says it is empowering consumers to make choices that feature heart-healthy nutritionally dense whole food—such as lean proteins, whole grains, leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, as well as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds and other plant-forward ingredients—for meals offered in the locations it serves and for the meals consumers prepare in their own homes.
According to Aramark, more than 30 percent of menu choices it provides in workplaces, colleges and universities and hospital cafes across the country contain at least a full servicing of nutritionally dense whole foods and that are also lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium. In addition, it says more than a third of selections served are now vegetarian or vegan.
As part of its Feed Your Potential 365 consumer health engagement campaign, Aramark dietitians and chefs provide insights, ideas and inspiration for healthier grocery shopping, to enable everyone to choose ingredients that will help them make healthier meals for their families at home.
Aramark offers these suggestions:
Knowing store layout is key
To shop smart, focus shopping where healthy foods are usually found. It’s wise to start at the perimeter of the store.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a great place to begin. Next, look for whole-grain crackers, breads and cereals rather than refined grains. In the seafood section, choose non-breaded fish fillets, especially fish that’s high in omega 3s, including salmon, tuna and trout. In the meat/deli section, choose “Select” or “Choice” grade meats rather than “Prime” cuts and be mindful about purchases of processed meats. In the dairy area, look for low-fat and fat-free products.
- Have a game plan when navigating through the middle aisles as that’s where many of the ultra-processed foods are found. You can still find many healthy items throughout the grocery store, such as canned and frozen fruits and vegetables (without added sugar or sodium), whole-grain foods, nuts and seeds and herbs and spices.
Selecting fruits and vegetables
Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into a diet has many health benefits, including making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Produce options available in supermarkets makes it easier to incorporate plants into meals.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are easy, portable choices.
- Get into the habit of putting a fresh snack in your purse or backpack; think: apple, orange, banana, grapes or baby carrots.
- Look for seasonal choices.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and then flash frozen to preserve optimal nutrition. They last for several months in the freezer and can be a very economical choice.
- For vegetables with added sauces or seasonings, compare the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts label and choose the product with the lowest amount.
- Choose 100 percent frozen fruits without added sugars.
- Fresh and frozen aren’t the only options when it comes to produce. Canned varieties of fruits and vegetables are equally as healthy as fresh or frozen produce, and they all count toward daily nutrition goals.
- Canned fruits and vegetables are convenient to have in the pantry when you can’t get to the store. There’s also no pressure to use them as promptly as fresh produce, which can spoil.
- Watch for sodium. Look on the can labels to identify no-salt-added or low-sodium vegetables. Rinse and drain canned veggies with added sodium to get rid of even more.
- Look for fruit that’s canned in water, its own juice or light syrup (rinse and drain) to avoid added sugar.
In 2015, Aramark and the American Heart Association joined forces for Healthy for Life, a multi-year collaboration that comprehensively addresses population health through the combination of healthy menu innovation, consumer health engagement, community health outreach and Aramark employee wellbeing initiatives.
Aramark says it is committed to creating community engagement programs that help families change their relationship with food—inspiring them to make healthier food choices part of their everyday lives. Aramark chef and dietitian volunteers partner with community organizations to lead community nutrition and cooking experiences. The company currently works with more than 300 local community centers in more than 50 cities worldwide—helping families get access to and prepare healthier food.