- The perimeter of the store is your friend, only dip into the aisles when necessary.
- Never go to the grocery store hungry, and always go with a list if you want to avoid impulse buys.
- Fresh, seasonal produce is more nutrient dense than out of season or canned foods.
- If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
While some people truly enjoy the process of grocery shopping, others find a store full of food options to be a formidable foe. Things get especially tricky when you're trying to shop for healthy foods. How can you be expected to purchase fresh foods like fruit and veggies when there are chips, cookies, and ice cream all over the place?
Too many food choices can make healthy eating feel like a willpower exercise.
But here's the good news; there's a science to healthy grocery shopping, and that's what you'll learn in this article.
Read on for seven grocery shopping tips to get you in and out of the store with a cart full of healthy foods.
7 Tips For Healthy Grocery Shopping
#1 Make a Shopping List
Before you step foot into the grocery store, it's always wise to go with a plan. Making a grocery list beforehand will ensure that you stay on track and don't get pulled in by items you don't really need.
You don't necessarily have to plan each of your meals in advance, but it can be nice to have an idea of what you want to eat for the week. Even if you're just running in to grab a few things, having a list will keep you on track so you don't end up with a shopping cart full of food that will either go bad before you can eat it or looks tasty, but isn't actually what you want to be bringing home.
Meal planning will also help you stay on track during the week with all the healthy meal options you'll provide yourself.
#2 Shop The Perimeter
Walking into a grocery store can be overwhelming. Where do you even start? The produce section? Frozen foods? The meat department?
A great rule of thumb for grocery shopping is to shop the perimeter. You may have heard this phrase before, and it refers to shopping the perimeter of the store and only going into those center aisles when you have to.
Generally speaking, most grocery stores are set up so that the fresh produce, meat department, and refrigerated foods are on the outer perimeter. This leaves all the processed, packaged foods in the center aisles.
The more whole foods you can fill your cart with, the better.
Now, this isn't to say that you can't wander into the center aisles for some staples, but when you focus your grocery trip around the perimeter, you'll be able to avoid a lot of those temptations lurking in the center aisles.
#3 Focus On Quality
One thing that many people overlook, even the avid perimeter shoppers, is that quality always matters when it comes to food. If you have an option of buying organic produce over convention, go organic.
And the same goes for animal products; if you can swing it, always buy the highest quality available. For meat, this would be 100% grass-fed and grass-finished, organic beef. For chicken and eggs, it would be free-range, organic eggs with no antibiotics.
Of course, the higher the quality of your food, the more expensive it's going to be, so do your best and don't stress if you can't be 100% organic all of the time.
One trick is to stock up on fruits and veggies when they're on sale and then freeze them. Frozen produce will stay good in your refrigerator for several months, and it will retain the majority of its nutrient density.
The same goes for beef, chicken, or any other type of meat. If you see a deal, grab a bunch. With that being said, always check the best-by dates on animal products.
#4 Always Check Nutrition Facts and Read The Ingredient Labels
When you decide to purchase items from the center aisles, always check the nutrition labels on your packaged foods. Even something as simple as coconut milk could be loaded with unwanted ingredients like sugar and preservatives.
When checking labels, there are two primary things to keep in mind:
#1. On the nutrition facts label: How much sugar is in your product? Ideally, everything you purchase will have 5 grams of sugar or less per serving. There may be a case where there is more sugar because it's coming from a natural source like fruit. If this is the case, check for added sugars.
And if you're following a low-carb diet, you'll also want to make sure that the net carb count is within your daily range. To check net carbs, look at the total carbs and then subtract any fiber or sugar alcohols.
For example, if you have a product that has:
Total Carbs: 13 grams
Fiber: 6 grams
Sugar alcohol: 3 grams
Your net carbs will be 4 grams.
#2. Look at the ingredient label and make sure that you can pronounce all of the ingredients. If something on the list looks like a chemical, it probably is. In general, you want to not only be able to pronounce your ingredients but also recognize what they are.
There will be some cases where you might not know what a specific ingredient is, but when in doubt, look it up. With that being said, if you're spending ten minutes looking up ingredients on a product, it's probably a sign that you should just put it down and move on.
#5 Never Grocery Shop On An Empty Stomach
We've all done it – going to the grocery store on an empty stomach only to end up with a cart full of snack foods and nothing to cook for dinner. Being hungry while grocery shopping is truly a recipe for disaster. Try passing up your favorite ice cream when your blood sugar is screaming at you; it's no easy feat.
To avoid impulse buys, always have a little snack before you go to the store. It may sound funny, but even a handful of nuts could save you from making some big grocery shopping fumbles.
#6 Choose Seasonal Produce
If you want to get the most bang for your nutrient buck, look for produce that's in season. Produce that's purchased seasonally will likely be more local, which means that it's spent less time off the branch or out of the ground in which it was grown. The moment a plant is picked, it slowly becomes depleted of its nutrients. Therefore, the closer to the source you can get, the better.
With this in mind, if you have a chance to buy your produce from farmer's markets, that's even better. At a farmers market, you can be sure that the produce you're buying is not only seasonal but also local.
#7 Go For Frozen Over Canned
If you're someone that likes to have plenty of food in your pantry for a rainy day, it may be time to switch out some of those pantry items for frozen instead. Specifically canned foods.
The issue with canned goods is that manufacturers line the cans with a coating that often contains the chemical BPA. Unfortunately, over time the BPA ends up leaching into your food, and now whatever was stored in the can is now contaminated.
Furthermore, the canning process doesn't preserve any of the nutrient density of your foods. This means that if a food is canned for several months or even several years, its nutrients have been greatly depleted.
Frozen fruits and veggies, on the other hand, are able to preserve the nutrients upon becoming frozen. While they may not be as rich in nutrients as their fresh counterparts, they're worlds above canned foods. And, of course, there is no concern about BPA leaching.
Going to the grocery store without a plan can quickly dissolve into a disaster. With a plan, however, you can be in and out in no time and avoid all the potential threats to your healthy diet.
Checking food labels and opting for more nutritious foods may feel like more work in the moment, but once you get to that checkout counter, you'll be thanking yourself.
You may already be following some of these suggestions in this guide, but for anything that's new, give it a try and see how much easier it is to stick to your healthy grocery shopping plan.
For more guidance on what to buy for your specific goals, check out BioCoach, where you can learn which diet is right for you and even receive personalized grocery lists.