Have you ever stepped into a grocery store with the intention of shopping healthfully and felt overwhelmed by the options?
These days, some stores have “health food” items full of exotic sounding superfoods you may have never heard of - from goji berry hemp granola to keto bee pollen chia bites.
You may find yourself asking do I really need these things to eat healthy?
Short answer - probably not.
But it gets worse - the quest for wholesome foods can be so easily hijacked by a myriad of unhealthful wolf-in-sheepskin food items lurking around the corners.
How To Grocery Shop For Healthy Eating
So where to start? Let’s talk about some healthful guidelines for grocery shopping with success.
#1. Don’t go to the grocery store when you are hungry
It’s way too easy to give into tempting foods on an empty stomach. These foods are usually the kind loaded with added sugar, fat, and preservatives.
#2. Take a list with you
It’s more than ok to deviate from your list, but not having an idea of what you are going to the store for can set you up for failure. You don’t want to wander aimlessly and fall prey to sneaky marketing methods.
#3. Spend most of your time at the edges of the store
Did you know that most grocery stores have a similar layout?
Think about your local grocery store - the majority of the fresh, whole foods are located on the perimeter while the packaged food are usually in the center.
This means that you want to be spending most of our shopping time at the edges of the store and only grabbing a few things from the center as necessary.
Want to avoid the temptation of packaged cookies and crackers? Stick to the perimeter and you won’t even need to have that confrontation!
Let’s do a virtual walk through of a grocery store. Which items should you be stocking your cabinets and refrigerator with?
Picking Organic Produce
When choosing produce, it’s best to eat as organic as possible to ensure that you’re getting the least amount of pesticide residue and higher quality foods from smaller farms. Monoculture crops strip the soil of the nutrients we would expect to be in them, which is why *hint* so many of us struggle with low magnesium levels! (If you Vessel tests are showing “good” magnesium levels, you can give yourself a little pat on the back right now)
However, if you are looking to save on your grocery bill, prioritize buying at least the fruits and vegetables on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list organic as they have been tested to have the highest levels of pesticides from non-organic forms.
Humans aren’t meant to be ingesting pesticides!
Here’s the EWG’s 2021 list of foods to watch out for:
- Kale, collard and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
When going to grocery shop, aim for a wide variety of colors. Eat the rainbow!
Berries are a must have! Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries and red grapes are all packed with powerful antioxidants from their coloring as well as many essential vitamins and minerals. If they’re not in season where you are located, look in the frozen aisle! Oftentimes you can find frozen berries much cheaper and available longer throughout the year, and freezing will retain their nutrient content (for about 1 year).
The more variety of colorful vegetables the better! Carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and purple sweet potatoes are all nutrient rich and contain more colorful antioxidants. Avocados are incredibly nutrient dense and full of satiating healthy fats that make them a great alternative to other fattening foods.
Want a healthy, easy snack? Find some crunchy vegetables that you would enjoy snacking on, and cut them up if necessary at home into Tupperware, ready to grab as conveniently as you would a bag of chips! Pair them with some hummus or another healthy dip option for a delicious and satiating snack. Who needs chips?
While it’s important to grab a variety of colorful vegetables, your body will thank you for putting dark leafy greens and cruciferous veggies in your cart. Depending on what’s in season in your location, try to grab a few of these - broccoli, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, chard, collard greens and arugula. Remember you can find some of these in the frozen aisle as well, which will help them last longer at your home.
Healthy Grains to Buy in the Bakery
Even though it’s normally on the perimeter of the store, this section can have many unhealthy and tempting options. Look for whole grain, whole grain rye, ancient grain, and sprouted whole grain breads and avoid the other pastries and white flour products you might see. Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted breads are some of the healthiest loafs you can buy!
Try not to let bread be your only source of whole grains - there are many other nutritious options! Look for quinoa, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, and oats.
Add some dry legumes and beans to your cart for a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Grocery Shop for Meat, Poultry, and Seafood
This section can be a little intimidating with its vast array of options. If you are vegetarian or vegan, skip this section completely!
Here are some simple guidelines:
- Skip the pork and processed meats section completely. Yes, that includes bacon.
- For poultry, choose organic antibiotic-free chicken/turkey. If pasture-raised is an option, get that. If you see the Certified-Humane stamp, you can feel confident that the chicken or turkey lived a good life before becoming your dinner. Happy animals make healthier protein!
- If you enjoy having an occasional steak (try not to let this be your daily source of protein), choose only organic grass-fed beef and grass-finished if it’s an option.
- Try to plan for eating fish two times a week. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are great omega-3 rich options. Look for wild-caught cold-water options for the most nutrients. Want to save some money? Look for frozen fish instead of fresh! If tuna is your go to fish, you may want to limit it to once a week due to it’s potentially mercury content.
Eggs and Dairy
A stop in these sections shouldn’t take too long. Once again, if you are vegan skip this section entirely!
If you enjoy eggs, grab some organic antibiotic-free eggs, pasture-raised and Certified-Humane if those options are available just like the egg’s parents. When you buy higher quality eggs, the yolks are darker and richer in color and sometimes even larger. The chicken had the opportunity to eat a more diverse range of nutrients - not just corn and grain!
Although many dairy products might not benefit your health, you may want to pick up some unsweetened whole milk greek yogurt. The bacteria in fermented foods can benefit the microflora of your gut which can help you absorb nutrients better and improve your immune function! If you’re a vegetarian, this is a great way to fulfill your B12 and protein needs. Avoid added sugars and flavors, and choose full fat to get the most satiating option.
Now it’s time to venture into the center aisles at the grocery shop!
Products to Purchase in the Center Aisles of the Grocery Shop
As mentioned before, there’s no need to spend too much time here.
The first section you can go to is the oils and dressing section. You can avoid most pre-made dressings and sauces - they often have lots of sugar, salt, and preservatives added in. Instead opt for some extra virgin olive oil to use as your main oil for cooking and dressing things. Buy bottles with dark glass or stainless steel containers to limit exposure to light. Choose smaller bottles or transfer a larger bottle into smaller containers to limit oxygen exposure over time. Grab some balsamic vinegar to pair with the olive oil to make your own dressing. To sweeten it up, grab some organic, local, raw honey!
Usually nearby will be the spice section - grabs some of your favorite spices for flavoring foods instead of the pre-made sauces. Cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, and chili powder are some awesome, health promoting spices to have on hand!
Next head over to the aisle with nuts and seeds. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts are all nutritious snacks that are great to have in your cupboard to sprinkle on top of yogurt, oatmeal, salads, and more! Also grab some chia, flax, pumpkin and hemp seeds - these are also easy to sprinkle into meals to increase the nutrient value (here’s to magnesium, fiber, protein, and more!)
While here, you may want to add in a nut butter to your cart. Peanut butter can be a nutritious option, but usually other butters like almond butter or mixed nut butters have higher levels of healthy omega-3 fats. Look for organic nut butters that have no sugar and minimal salt added.
A Successful Grocery Shopping Trip
And with that, you’ve completed your mission!
You’ve filled your cart with foods that can support your body and left the junk out. While this list is by no means comprehensive (there may be many foods you enjoy from that “health food” aisle, for example), it can give you a general guideline of what your cart should look like.
As a treat to yourself, you may want to grab some 72% or higher dark chocolate on your way to the checkout line 😊
Now, you can go home with confidence. You're stocking your kitchen with food that will help you actually help you achieve your wellness goals!
Have a question about whether or not you should add a specific food into your cart? Don’t hesitate to reach out to a Vessel nutritionist for on-the-go support!