Grocery Shopping: Navigating the Store Quickly & Making Healthy Choices

by Brooke Joanna Benlifer, RD

Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
You may be tempted to buy more than you bargained for and end up with less healthy items than you originally intended. Having a snack beforehand (apple, string cheese, small handful of nuts, etc.) can curb hunger and let you focus on getting your shopping done efficiently! By the same token, creating a list helps keep you on track.

Stick to the perimeter of the store for the bulk of your grocery needs.
The staples (fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low fat dairy tend to be found here, rather than in the center aisles, which are crowded with pre-packaged chips and snacks, many of which are not key to a healthy diet.)

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables on every trip to the grocery store.
This way, you always have them handy in your refrigerator. While aiming for 9+ total servings of fruits and vegetables combined is ideal, you may need to gradually work your way up to this amount–and not all of these servings have to come from fresh produce. Frozen can be just as good, if not better as far as nutrient density. Canned vegetables are acceptable, provided they have no added salt. If choosing canned fruits, make sure they have no added sugars or syrups. Overbuying fresh produce is not ideal if it spoils before you have a chance to eat it. As you begin to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, you will get a sense of how much you need to buy at any given time.

Go for omega 3 rich sources of protein and leaner poultry & meat choices.
When shopping for fish/seafood, wild salmon (including sockeye), sardines, kipper snacks, chunk light tuna and sablefish are some of your best bets. Choose wild salmon over farmed and chunk light tuna over albacore to cut down on contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. Choose skinless chicken and lean turkey when buying poultry. Remember that ground turkey is not necessarily leaner than ground beef–it depends on the cut and the percentage of fat, so check the labels and choose the leanest version possible for both turkey and beef. The highest quality meats often are organic and/or are from animals that were fed grass only or are labeled “free-range.”

Vegetarian sources of protein are also excellent choices.
Think about adding tofu, tempeh, edamame, beans, nuts and seeds to your diet. One suggestion is to start going vegetarian for at least 1/2 of your dinners. For example, you can rotate throughout the week: chicken, bean dish, fish, tofu dish, lean beef, etc. Eggs, skim milk, low fat/nonfat yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese and cheese are other quality protein sources. Many lacto-ovo vegetarians enjoy the benefit of these items to add variety to their diets.

Experiment with new types of grain…try brown rice, quinoa, millet, & wild rice.
Look for breads that use sprouted grains or where the first ingredient is 100% whole grain. Choose breads with at least 3 grams of fiber per slice. Some breads have 5 or more grams per slice, making it easier to reach your goal of 35 grams of fiber daily!

Allow some room for flexibility and spontaneity.
This is especially when it comes to experimenting with new fruits and vegetables. Try to buy at least 4 different fruits and 4 different vegetables each time you do a regular grocery shopping trip. Choose locally grown, organic produce if possible, and incorporate new items that you have never tried (perhaps Asian pears, persimmons, honeydew melon, starfruit or asparagus, artichoke, kale or endiive).

  • Brooke Joanna Benlifer, RD is a Cornell University graduate and Registered Dietitian with expertise in a variety of medical issues, from diabetes and cardiac care, to renal health and GI issues. She has a strong interest and background in weight management, emotional eating, sports nutrition and corporate wellness. She maintains a private practice, working with clients of all ages, from pediatric to geriatric, and has done freelance writing for Call 619-206-8022 to schedule an appointment.
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    admin on November 9th 2007 in Uncategorized