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Diet & Nutrition

The Giant Eagle® dietitians answer your most-asked questions about diet and nutrition topics. Have a Question? Email us at nutrition@gianteagle.com, or meet us in person. All Giant Eagle dietitians are available to meet one-on-one with you. We’ll help with nutritional analyses, determine ideal nutritional intake and recommend foods for your individual needs. We also offer group classes, store tours and food demonstrations. Important Physician Advice Disclaimer: The content provided by Giant Eagle, including but not limited to, website, recipe and health information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician for professional guidance before changing or undertaking a new diet program. Advance consultation with your physician is particularly important if you are under the age of 18, pregnant, nursing or have health problems.

  1. Q. Does overcooking affect the nutritional value of vegetables and meats?
    A.

    Overcooked vegetables and meat can lose nutritional value. Heat, for example, destroys Vitamin C. Water-soluble vitamins like B-complex and C dissolve in water. Follow package directions for cooking frozen or canned items and ask the experts at Giant Eagle for some help on cooking tips. Fresh veggies are best steamed, microwaved, roasted, stir-fried, or grilled. Overcooking meats on a grill or by frying not only depletes nutrients, but extreme heat can also create toxic substances.

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  2. Q. How can I add extra calcium to my family’s diet?
    A.

    Make sure dairy is a part of your daily routine – skim milk, Greek yogurt and low-fat cheeses are great choices. Replace sour cream with yogurt in your salad dressings or dips. Make tuna or chicken salad with yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Top baked potatoes with yogurt and chives. For dessert, whip up yogurt smoothies or parfaits made with fresh fruit. Remember to look to the Giant Eagle Produce department – dark greens are calcium-rich foods, too! Add kale, broccoli, spinach, or bok choy to your meals and you’ll boost your daily calcium! 

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  3. Q. How can I jazz up my leftovers?
    A.

    Recycling yesterday’s dinner is a great way to save time and money. Bring leftovers to life with canned sliced water chestnuts for crunch, chopped nuts are great on casseroles or in salads for a spike of protein.  If you have a mishmash of leftovers, consider combining to make a new dish like a pot pie, soup, casserole or a unique tossed salad.

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  4. Q. How do I make citrus zest?
    A.

    Many recipes call for citrus zest to add a zing of flavor to drinks, salads, vegetables and desserts. Citrus zest is health-smart, budget-friendly and easy to make.  Before cutting, wash and dry the fruit to remove any pesticide residue and wax. Use a zester or a grater to remove the outermost, colored peel, not white pith, which is bitter. Place in a freezer bag or spread in a single layer to dry until brittle, and then store in a small jar until needed.

    Once your fruit has been “zested,”enjoy the juicy goodness. Oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons and limes are excellent sources of Vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Eat alone as a snack, as part of your meal, or in a homemade Citrus Salsa.

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  5. Q. How do I plan a meal for someone with diabetes or a food allergy?
    A.

    Ask your guest what’s okay or not okay. Sometimes what you plan to serve is fine! Usually, serving size is more important to diabetics than the food itself.

    Allergies are more of a concern, since even casual contact with an offending ingredient can be an issue. The best course of action is to eliminate entirely any food that may trigger an allergic reaction.

    Food handling is very important. Use separate cutting boards, knives, and plates, and keep foods separate and labeled. For peanut, nut, wheat or seafood allergy or gluten sensitivity, it’s not  enough to just wipe off the knife and keep slicing, or to pick out the croutons, nuts or shrimp!

    Tell your guests with diabetes or allergies what ingredients are in your dishes, so they can make informed decisions about what they can and cannot eat.

    For more information:

    Holiday Meal Planning for Special Diets

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  6. Q. I love fresh produce but my family is bored with the same veggie sides. How can I make vegetables more exciting?
    A.

    Try a stir fry for dinner! Take whatever veggies you have on hand, add chunks of chicken, pork or beef and serve over steamed brown rice with garlic and ginger for accents. Veggie frittatas are another interesting and easy option. Simply whisk eggs, add chopped vegetables, cheese, and bake. Homemade salsas and vegetable spreads are another great way to incorporate fresh vegetables into a fun snack.

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  7. Q. I spend too much time looking for items on my list when I shop. How can I save time?
    A.

    Make a list and organize your shopping by food groups. Build your list in segments of fruits and veggies, meats or protein alternates, dairy or diary substitutes, and grains like cereal, bread, pasta, rice and noodles. Remember half your plate – and shopping cart – should be fruits and veggies. The Giant Eagle Shopping List allows you to quickly create your list, organize it by food group and access it from your iPhone® or Android device. 

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  8. Q. I want to save on my weekly food budget by adding meatless meals. What should I serve?
    A.

    Making at least one main meal a week meatless is both nutritious and helps to stretch your budget. Try bean salads with navy, kidney, black or pinto beans to add protein. Drain and rinse canned beans to lower sodium content by about 40% without sacrificing taste. Grains like brown or white rice, couscous, quinoa and pasta can be main dish items (as well as vegetable omelets and soups). These dishes are lower fat sources of protein, fiber and become a hearty meal with a salad or fruit.

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  9. Q. I’ve been hearing more about planning meals according to MyPlate. What is MyPlate?
    A.

    The USDA MyPlate guidelines include the five groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet: Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. Using the familiar image of a dinner plate, MyPlate illustrates the recommended amounts for each group for a meal. You should aim to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with grains, one quarter with proteins and supplement with dairy products like a glass of low-fat or skim milk. If the seasonal produce you want isn't available, try frozen or canned varieties. To reduce sodium content, drain and rinse canned veggies or buy sodium- free. For fruits, buy the larger size cans, drain and save extras for another meal, or choose frozen fruits without added sauces. 

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  10. Q. Information on nutrition and package labels can be so confusing. What does it all mean?
    A.

    Nearly every packaged food made in the U.S. today has a food label with information on serving size and nutrition.

    • The Serving Size is based on the amount of food an individual would typically eat and may or may not be the amount you normally eat. All the nutritional information on the label will be based on the stated serving size.
    • The next most important information for most people is the Calories and Calories from Fat per serving.
    • The Nutrients section lists the percentage daily amount of each nutrient in a serving based on a diet of 2000 or 2500 calories.
    • The Ingredients section will include all ingredients in the product listed from largest quantity to smallest.
    • Any special Label Claims such as “low fat” can only be used if the product meets the government definition for this claim. For example, “calorie free” means a serving size must contain less than five calories.


    Here's a quick tip: 5 percent or less is low – try to aim low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium while 20 percent or more is high – try to aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber! 

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  11. Q. Is breakfast really that important?
    A.

    Yes! The American Dietetic Association considers breakfast the most important meal of the day. Think of breakfast as a kick-start for your brain, something important to adults and kids alike! Breakfast is your first opportunity of the day to replenish your blood glucose levels—the main source of energy for your body. Make it easy to eat at home with a supply of ready-to-eat, high fiber cereal, snack bars, low-fat string cheese, hard-cooked eggs, yogurt, 100% juice and fresh fruit to grab-and-go. Try this recipe for On-The-Go Bars

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  12. Q. My family is on the go and I need help with ideas for quick, healthy meals.
    A.

    No need to sacrifice taste for nutrition because you’re in a hurry. Try these meal ideas:

    • Eggs make for a budget-friendly meal anytime of the day. Omelets can star as a dinner entrée when packed with vegetables and chopped meat or chicken. Add a whole grain wrap, cheese and fresh salsa for a Southwestern spin and red pepper flakes for some additional heat.
    • Soup and crusty bread is a meal when you start with a protein like beans, lentils, meat or chicken. Add some whole grains like barley, brown rice and veggies. And it's quick if you start with a ready-to-use, reduced sodium stock or broth, a can of tomatoes and your favorite seasoning.
    • Serve freshly roasted rotisserie chicken and half of the work is done for you! Add your favorite bagged salad mix and top with flavorful favorites such as gorgonzola, sliced almonds, sprouts and mango, fresh seasonings like cilantro and lime juice and serve with a low-fat vinaigrette. Use remaining meat for savory pulled chicken barbeque sandwiches the next day. Great with a baked sweet potato with a touch of cinnamon and a vegetable.
    • Make a meatloaf. Your Giant Eagle Meat Department has blends of ground meat that offer a variety of meal options–try mixing extra lean ground turkey breast with lean ground beef for flavor and nutrition. Serve meatloaf one day and use the leftovers as the base for a Shepherd’s Pie the next day.
    • Fish can be a great value meal! Oven 'fry' by coating firm white fish with crumbs, spraying a cooking sheet and the fish with canola oil-based cooking spray. Bake in a 400°F preheated oven until crispy (15-20 minutes). Add quartered potatoes for oven fries for a tasty and low fat dinner.
    • Try broiling tender flank steak or flat-iron steak. For the best flavor, cut across the grain in thin slices, and marinate or add dashes of low-sodium seasoning or black pepper. Leftovers make great fillings for wrap sandwiches or salad toppings.
    • Bring out the crock pot for easy, delicious meals that cater to tight schedules and tight budgets. It’s a perfect way to cook lentils, beans or lean cuts of meat. Add fresh veggies you have a great meal and plenty of leftovers! Add your ingredients to the crock pot at night and refrigerate. Plug in your crock pot in the morning and let your dinner simmer all day long. Try this recipe for savory Crockpot Chicken and Rice
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  13. Q. Should I avoid eating foods that contain gluten?
    A.

    If your doctor has diagnosed celiac disease, going gluten free is important. It’s not an easy diet to follow and isn’t necessary unless you are gluten intolerant.

    Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Foods that contain these grains or ingredients from these grains (like malt from barley) must be avoided completely. Even a trace of a grain from a toaster or knife can be an issue, so handling of food must be carefully monitored to prevent cross-contamination.  

    Nutrients found in these grains have to be replaced in other ways. Rice, quinoa, millet and oats (processed in a gluten free environment) are used in gluten free foods.

    A gluten free diets means a lot of label reading, checking ingredients and looking for safe breads, cereals, crackers, pasta and even beer, to name a few. Gluten gives structure to baked foods. If you go gluten free, you’ll need to find new recipes and special ingredients if you bake goods at home.

    The bottom line: You should not “try” a gluten free diet. Check with your doctor first. There’s a blood test for celiac disease that won’t be accurate if you’re on the diet beforehand. And, if your doctor advises it, see a registered dietitian for help choosing and preparing foods that meet your needs.

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  14. Q. Should I drink wine every day since I heard it's good for my health?
    A.

    Talk to your doctor before you follow the advice of friends, the internet or TV! It’s true that wine, especially dry red wine, has health-smart plant nutrients, called phytonutrients. However, wine is alcohol and contains calories, two potential problems if you have diabetes or weight issues. And the rule is moderation: one 5 oz. glass for women and up to two for men. Bottom line: Enjoy an occasional glass of red wine if your doctor—and your pharmacist—say it’s okay.

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  15. Q. What are some ideas to introduce healthy eating options to my family of picky eaters?
    A.

    Making better for you choices doesn't mean you need to make drastic changes or entirely new menus. Start by slowly adding more veggies to your favorite main courses to stretch your dish and add nutrition. For potato fans, choose sweet potatoes over regular potatoes. You can mash, bake or roast them just like the regular variety and get twice the nutrition. Select brown rice over white rice and breads made with whole grains instead of traditional white. Swap out some meat and cheese in sandwiches for healthier lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, cucumbers, and avocado. These small choices now will yield big health payouts later.

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  16. Q. What are the healthiest grains to include in my family’s diet?
    A.

    Make at least half of your grain choices whole grains. Along with the nutrients found in whole grains, you'll enjoy the nutritional benefits of naturally occurring fiber–and you're sure to enjoy the "nutty," full flavor. Try adding barley or brown rice to your soups, stews or casseroles. Both barley and brown rice are affordable, and either tastes great when combined with beans or cheese to make a main dish.


    Quinoa is a whole grain that is worth substituting in any recipe that calls for rice. And if your family is not ready for a switch to whole-wheat pasta, mix half semolina pasta and half whole wheat pasta for a powerful, high-fiber flavor combo. Give this recipe for a Warm Quinoa Salad with Edamame & Terragon a try.

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  17. Q. What can I serve to a diabetic who insists on a sweet for dessert?
    A.

    The American Diabetes Association doesn't recommend giving up sweets or even sugar, but dietary guidance does focus on serving sizes that fit the person's calorie, health and medication needs. Lower-fat choices, limited amounts of added sugar, or sugar substitutes are first steps. Fruit is naturally sweet, and angel food cake is great with berries.

    Make fresh strawberry shortcake with angel food, and use a lower-calorie dessert topping.

    Balsamic vinegar or vanilla splashed on fresh berries adds great taste and limited calories!

    Layer a zero-fat Greek yogurt with fruit for a parfait.

    Mix fruit with sugar-free gelatin or pudding. Try blending pudding with Greek yogurt or a lower-calorie dessert topping for a mousse-like dessert.

    Squirt a bit of chocolate syrup on plain cookies, strawberries, and pretzels.

    Check out the frozen dessert case in Giant Eagle® for “sweet” ideas. Do check labels, since the calories per serving are a guide to ensuring the food meets requirements. Serving size is key!

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  18. Q. What can I serve to a diabetic who insists on a sweet for dessert?
    A.

    The American Diabetes Association doesn't recommend giving up sweets or even sugar, but dietary guidance does focus on serving sizes that fit the person's calorie, health and medication needs. Lower-fat choices, limited amounts of added sugar, or sugar substitutes are first steps. Fruit is naturally sweet, and angel food cake is great with berries.

    Make fresh strawberry shortcake with angel food, and use a lower-calorie dessert topping.

    Balsamic vinegar or vanilla splashed on fresh berries adds great taste and limited calories!

    Layer a zero-fat Greek yogurt with fruit for a parfait.

    Mix fruit with sugar-free gelatin or pudding. Try blending pudding with Greek yogurt or a lower-calorie dessert topping for a mousse-like dessert.

    Squirt a bit of chocolate syrup on plain cookies, strawberries, and pretzels.

    Check out the frozen dessert case in Giant Eagle® for “sweet” ideas. Do check labels, since the calories per serving are a guide to ensuring the food meets requirements. Serving size is key!

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  19. Q. What can I use to add flavor, without calories, to my dishes?
    A.

    You likely have several calorie-free options already in your pantry. Vinegar is great splashed on cooked greens. Herbs, garlic, citrus zest and seasoning blends go a long way to jazzing up the taste. Try a dash of cinnamon on oatmeal, sweet potatoes or carrots for a sweet addition.

    If you're watching your weight, remember to watch out for extra calories. Gravy, dressing, mayonnaise and butter all add calories to meals. Gravy made from broth or pan liquids is okay if you skim the fat—bring to a boil and skim the top with an ice cube to help remove fat. 

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  20. Q. What ingredients can I add or substitute to reduce calories and fat in my baking?
    A.

    Healthy cooking doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice taste in your baked goods. Here are a few easy tips to try:

    • Substitute skim milk for whole milk. One cup of whole milk has 160 calories and eight grams of fat, while one cup of skim milk has about 100 calories and less than one gram of fat.
    • Use one-fourth cup of egg substitute or two egg whites for every whole egg in recipes.
    • For most recipes, you can reduce sugar by one half without affecting taste. To maintain moistness, be sure to use at least one-fourth cup of sugar for every cup of flour. Enhance flavor with a bit more vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg.
    • Replace half of the all-purpose flour in your recipes with whole wheat pastry or whole grain flour in recipes.
    • Replace regular sour cream with low-fat or no-fat versions, or use plain yogurt.
    • Substitute applesauce one-for-one for butter or margarine baked goods. Substitute applesauce one-for-one for oil and, in addition, add in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
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  21. Q. What ingredients can I substitute to make healthier meals?
    A.

    Control added sugar and calories with a sugar replacement.

    Use oil-based spreads or a butter/canola blend to cut saturated fat. Light spreads reduce total fat.

    Cut the salt. Add flavor with herbs, spices, Balsamic or wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice, or zest and pepper. Put Kosher or sea salt on the table for sprinkling – larger crystals mean less salting.

    Offer sparkling waters with fresh lemon or lime slices instead of soda,

    Sneak in some lower-fat cheeses on the cheese tray.

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  22. Q. What is gluten?
    A.

    Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Some people have a dietary intolerance to it. If you, or someone you know, has been advised by a physician to observe a gluten free diet, Giant Eagle can help. We provide an online guide of dietary consideration, so you can easily identify gluten free products. For customers with an iPhone subscription, apps such as Is That Gluten Free? and iEatOut Gluten & Allegen Free, are available for help with gluten free shopping and dining. For additional information, consult our team of registered dietitians in one of our stores or email nutrition@gianteagle.com

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  23. Q. What is the proper temperature for grilling meats?
    A.

    We assume you mean meat, fish and chicken. The USDA recommends that the temperature reaches 165°F for hamburger, ground beef, chicken, turkey and hot dogs, and 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal.

    Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. You must use a working meat thermometer to test for doneness. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Your Giant Eagle® Chef or Registered Dietitian can help you if you are unclear about how to position or use a meat thermometer.

    For More Information:

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  24. Q. What should I prepare for vegetarian guests?
    A.

    Provide one or two sides that offer vegetable-based protein. Try a quinoa dish (a grain with more protein than most grains), such as a pilaf or casserole. Lentils, a bean and corn salad, hummus as an appetizer. Browse all of our recipes for more ideas.

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  25. Q. What’s the best way to store fresh berries?
    A.

    Fresh berries are a delicious healthy treat loaded with vitamins and nutrients but they have a short lifespan. If you plan to eat them within a day or two, store berries in a breathable container on the counter. For a longer lifespan, refrigerate and use berries within two to three days. Always wash berries just before using; and pat dry. If the berries are soft, wash and place in a microwave-safe bowl to create a sauce that is tasty on pancakes or mixed with Greek yogurt.

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  26. Q. Why do I need to drink eight glasses of water every day?
    A.

    Water is good for you and is one of the simplest, healthiest and most affordable ways to improve your health. Dietitians recommend you drink eight glasses each day to stay properly hydrated. Dehydration can sap your energy and cause headaches and digestive problems. Thirst can also be confused with hunger, causing you to consume extra calories. Add fun and flavor to your water pitcher with cuts of citrus fruit–or try adding cucumber slices for a fresh, tasty, calorie-free flavor boost.

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