Nutrition / Food

What to Know and Look Out for While Grocery Shopping

Learn the best ways to navigate through a grocery store and shop for healthy foods.

To some, grocery shopping may be an exciting weekly outing to pick up our favorite fruits, vegetables, and ingredients for our weekly meal prep. While to others, it may just be an overwhelming chore. Grocery stores, although bright, colorful, and full of options, can actually be more deceiving than we think. Truth be told, sometimes branding and product placement play huge factors in our grocery shopping experience. Some stores are even paid extra to house certain products at a proper eye and hand distance away, in the hopes that customers are more likely to drop the items into their carts.

We spoke with Nutritional Expert Karen Brennan, founder of Tru Foods Nutrition, about important grocery shopping rules that she adheres to and encourages her clients to follow. The guide, created by Brennan, will take away the guessing game of food shopping, and help us navigate confidently through the grocery store.

Eat beforehand.

When we go into a grocery store with an empty tummy, we’re likely to make influenced decisions on our purchases that may not be the healthiest options for us. Grocery shopping while hungry may lead us to want instantaneous satisfaction, making us more likely to shop for processed packaged foods that can be opened and eaten right away. This may also cause us to head over to the prepared food aisle, which can also have an impact on our wallets.

Avoid the middle aisles.

According to Brennan, most stores house all of the processed foods, juices, and snacks in the middle aisles. These types of foods should be avoided and not land in your cart as often as possible. While sticking to the outer ring of the grocery store, you’re likely to put more fruits, vegetables, and perishable, natural goods into your cart.

Come prepared.

Have an idea of the foods that you will be cooking and the meals that you intend on having for the week. Bring the ingredients list with you. It’s easy to over shop, or buy unhealthy items in the grocery store if we don’t have a clear direction. It’s also a smart idea to leave reusable grocery bags in your car. This way you can shop for your weekly meals, and save the environment by not using unnecessary plastic.

Buy in bulk.

One way to save money is to buy items with longer expiration dates in bulk. Brennan says items like quinoa, lentils, dry beans, rice, and almond and coconut flours are smarter to buy in bulk because they tend to have longer shelf lives. Additionally, buying large quantities of items like spices and herbs, and having smaller containers at home to refill will save you money. Additionally, it will help save the environment in using less plastic containers. Along with dry items, buying items like coconut oil in bulk may also save you some extra cash.   

Read the labels.

Don’t be persuaded by fancy packaging while grocery shopping. It’s very important to read the labels on the food that you’re purchasing. A general rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce the ingredient name (or the ingredients list is rather long), you probably shouldn’t be eating it too much. Sneaky preservatives and refined sugars can be hidden in our everyday foods. Unless we flip over our purchases and read the ingredients labels, we’ll never know.

Fill up on protein.

Be sure to stop by the protein aisle. Regardless of your dietary choices, there are tons of options for everyone. If you opt for chicken, aim to get breasts rather than thighs. And with any meat, opt for leaner cuts without extra fat or skin. For plant-based proteins, there’s always tofu. But if you’re not a fan, look for grain-based options, such as Amaranth or chickpeas.

Know which dairy to buy.

With all the different types of milk out there, it can be hard to figure out which to buy. For people without a lactose intolerance, dairy-based products can be useful in providing protein. And don’t be afraid to buy the full-fat milk or yogurt, as long as you’re consuming both in moderation. Non-dairy options, such as almond, coconut, and oat milk can be readily found at most major grocery stores. But be sure to look at the added sugar content before you put a carton in your cart.  

Bring the clean fifteen and dirty dozen list with you.

Not all fruits and vegetables are created equal when it comes to the number of pesticides farmers spray on their crops. According to Brennan, it’s better to splurge on purchasing organic from items listed on the dirty dozen list. These items, which include potatoes, strawberries, and apples, tend to have more chemicals and pesticides than others. On the other hand, if you’re trying to save some money, it’s better to skip the organic purchase of items on the clean fifteen list, since their crop production isn’t loaded or heavily sprayed with pesticides. Some items on the clean fifteen list include avocados, pineapples, and onions.

Look at your cart.

When you look down at your grocery cart what do you see? Is it a basket full of boxes and packaged foods, or colorful fruits and veggies? Brennan says that there should be an 80/20 whole foods to processed foods ratio when looking at your cart. It’s also an important rule to have a variety of color in your cart. At minimum, there should be at least five different colors. Due to the number of nutrients varying amongst colored fruits and veggies, it’s a safe bet to assume that the different colors attribute to varieties of vitamins and minerals helping to prevent certain types of illness, including cancer and strokes.

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