Finding healthy options is easier than you think.
Let’s face it, grocery shopping can be a challenging chore, especially if you’re trying to eat better. With temptation at every turn of the grocery cart, how can you make healthy choices for yourself or your family?
Shop like a dietitian. It’s easier than you think! Follow these steps to navigate the grocery store like a pro.
- Make a plan and shop once a week. Making a menu for the week can help you stay organized and make it easier to create a shopping list. How do you make a menu? Choose a healthy recipe for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day of the week. Or make a general meal idea list. For example, an easy breakfast could be a hard-boiled egg and cup of fruit.
Choose foods that you and your family like to eat so you can stay on track and meet your goals together. Need some recipe ideas? Consider:
Are you more of a spontaneous, play-it-by-ear home cook? That’s OK too. It’s still important to make a shopping list to avoid temptation (and multiple shopping trips). Focus on choosing whole, unprocessed foods that help you build a healthy fridge and pantry so that you can come up with nutritious meals on the fly.
- Make choices that are right for your health — and your budget. You may have heard the advice about shopping the perimeter of a grocery store — the healthiest choices are not in those middle aisles. That’s not exactly true, especially if you have a strict budget. You can find healthy choices in most aisles, you just have to know what to choose.
- Avoid processed foods. When you read food labels, can you understand everything on the ingredients list? Is the list a long paragraph with words you don’t know? If you can’t understand most of the words, then you can assume the product is processed, and it’s not a great choice. Also, try to buy items without high fructose corn syrup. Avoid processed meat products such as hot dogs, ham, sausage and bacon. If you like bacon or a hot dog every once and awhile, look at the label and make sure your choice is nitrate-free.
- Choose whole-grain bread. Choose bread that has the word “whole” as the first word on the ingredients list. Why? The bread is made with the whole of the grain husk and includes more naturally occurring fiber and B-vitamins than enriched flour bread (such as white bread). Sure, you could choose a sprouted, seven-grain bread or you could simply choose 100 percent whole-wheat bread. Choose what tastes best to you. Don’t let the idea of “perfect” choices get in the way of healthy eating.
The same thing goes for pasta. If you’ve never cooked whole-grain pasta before, try it with a new recipe. That way, your family won’t expect your famous pasta recipe to taste the way it always has and turn them away from exploring a healthier pasta option.
- In the canned food aisle? Reach for tomatoes and beans. Canned vegetables can have a lot of sodium (salt) and fewer vitamins and minerals due to the canning process. However, beans and tomatoes don’t lose a lot of vitamins and minerals and are your best choice in this aisle. Are you buying canned veggies and fruit for cost savings? Try frozen — fruits and veggies are flash frozen at their peak, keeping their nutrients intact with no salt added.
- Eat meat and dairy? Choose smart. Look for wild-caught fish and meat that is grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free and nitrate-free. Yes, it’s more expensive, but factory-farmed meat contains antibiotics and hormones that can lead to antibiotic-resistant germs. That can hurt your microbiome, a community of bacteria that lives in your gut and helps with your immune system, maintaining a healthy weight, balancing blood sugar and more. Offset the higher cost of this meat by eating less red meat overall.
Choose dairy products that come from hormone-free cows for similar reasons, especially if you have kids or eat and drink a lot of dairy. Go for the cage-free, hormone-free eggs too.
- Do I have to buy organic? Only if you want to. Organic means the food is grown, raised or processed according to specific requirements outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you see the “USDA Organic” or “Certified Organic” label on food, it means the ingredients list and contents should be 95 percent or more certified organic. Organic food is free of artificial additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, dyes, and it must be processed without using industrial solvents, radiation or genetic engineering.Organic meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables can have a higher price tag than non-organic items. The vitamins and minerals in the food are the same. However, two studies in the British Journal of Nutrition found some differences:
- Organic meat and dairy has 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s are good for heart health and immunity).
- Organic fruits and vegetables have a substantially higher concentration of antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and flavonols, which can be anti-inflammatory and help with immunity as well.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t overthink it. Choose what’s right for your family and budget — if buying organic is important to you, do it. If you want to save money, that’s OK too. The most important tip for healthier eating is adding more vegetables and fruit, and cutting out processed foods.
“The key to healthy eating is not to let the idea of ‘perfect’ get in the way of good habits,” said Erin Wiedmar, clinical nutritionist with Norton Healthcare. “Eating healthy does not mean eating perfect. If you can avoid processed foods filled with added sugar and other concerning ingredients, cook at home most of the time and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily — you’re doing great! It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.”