Monday, July 1, 2013

Grocery Store 101

Ever have trouble trying to pick out healthy food when shopping? The grocery store can make this task a difficult one. There are so many already prepared goodies and free samples of them. How do you navigate with so many choices and still get a great dinner on the table? It can be hard to make nutritious choices, when there is so many options.  Here a few tips to get you through with a healthy cart.

Shop Around the Perimeter

The perimeter of the grocery store has the most nutritious foods. This includes: produce, dairy, meat, and seafood. The produce allows you to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Load up on these foods for snacks and as sides for lunch and dinner. Buying a rainbow of colors in produce helps to get all the nutrients necessary and give some variation in your diet. The dairy section contains low fat yogurts, milk and cheese. This will help you get the Vitamin D and Calcium you need. Try to stay away from a lot of heavy cream, cream cheese and other highly processed dairy foods. The meat section is a great way to get your protein and add variety to your meals. Great lean meat options include chicken breast, turkey, flank steak and pork loin. The seafood department has many nourishing options between the lean fish, hearty shrimp and omega three fish such as salmon and arctic char. It is a exceptional place to get your protein and explore some alternative protein sources.

Avoid Food Products in the Inner Isles

The corollary to shopping around the perimeter is to avoid buy too many products from the inner isles of the store, which tend to be highly processed. These foods have scientific sounding ingredient lists that go on and on. Most of the time they lack many of the needed nutrients and are loaded with preservatives. Items in these isles are generally high in sodium, sugar, and fat, which can have multiple negative effects on the human body. These foods have a long shelf life, but that is accomplished by loading them full of preservatives. Longer shelf life, generally means less nutrients. However, there are exceptions, such as: canned tomatoes, dried beans or canned beans, spices, bulk items, nuts, whole grain pasta and other whole grain products. These are important items to keep on hand in order to help make a quick meal. Canned tomatoes can be used to make an impressive sauce or added to a variety of dishes. Beans can be used as a protein in a side or salad. Spices add many nutrients and antioxidants to your meal. Whole grains add fiber and are a great starch to have with your meal. Nuts are great as a snack and be used in a variety of ways when cooking.

Canned versus Frozen Foods

The nutrients in frozen fruits and vegetables are far higher than in their canned counterparts. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the perfect ripeness and then flash frozen. This allows the nutrients to be locked in at their peak. Taste is much greater and truer in these item as well. Canned foods are loaded with sodium and have a long shelf life due to the processing that is involved in order to preserve food this way. If fresh is not available, frozen is the way to go. It is optimal way to keep wholesome items on hand as well. I always have frozen peas, spinach and mixed vegetables in my freezer. I can use these items to make last minute meals or side dishes. They can also be added to soups, sauces, curries, and rice for a nutritional boost.

Ingredient List 

An important part of shopping is reading food labels. This may not be something that you are in the habit of yet, but is very beneficial. It is important to know what is being digested in your body. A good rule of thumb is the shorter the list the better. The more ingredients in the food item usually the less healthy that item. More ingredients often means more preservatives. A second rule is if you don't know what an ingredient is don't eat it. When you don't understand what is on the label, you probably don't want to eat it. Food items should have a simple list with ingredients which you can pronounce and understand. Most of the science terms on food labels are often preservatives.

Bulk Foods

Buying bulk food is a marvelous in terms of nutrition. You can get great healthful items here such as nuts, brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats and many others. When you buy these items here you save money because you are not paying for packaging. You can also just get the exact amount you need. This can make buying healthy more affordable.

Buying Local

One of the best ways to support your community and your health is by buying local. Many grocery stores label food that has specifically come from a local source. Buying local gives you the most nutrients available because it did not have far to travel before you purchased it. The sooner an item is consumed after being picked the more nutrients are in it. Shopping at farmers markets are a great way to get local ingredients and products. No matter where you live, you can find some great products and produce from local farmers. There are often free samples to try so you can know what you like. Also beneficial is that they can answer any questions you may have, which is a great way to learn. Buying local products and produce is a great way to support your community!

Organic or Not?

I personally try to buy organic as much as possible. It is not always affordable so I keep to a general rule. The thicker the skin on a particular type of fruit or vegetable the less important it is to buy organic. Or if you are going to eat the skin buy organic. Items such as lettuce, nectarines, peaches, parsley, potatoes, cilantro, berries, apples, pears, and tomatoes, I buy organically. Items such as pineapple, bananas, and avocados have a much thicker skin so the pesticides do not penetrate into the fruit or vegetable as much. It is not as necessary to buy these organic.

Bring a list

It is very important to bring a list when shopping. This helps you navigate and get what you really need. A list allows you to plan your menu. This way you can plan around what is on sale or what is already in your fridge. Sticking to a list will help you pass up on those impulse buys. It is much easier to buy healthy when you know ahead of time what you will be making. If I go to the store without a list, I tend to buy items that don't really make a complete meal. I end up with way to much of one item or not enough of another, and I tend to spend money on items I don't really need.

Don't go hungry

Another very important tip to follow is: Do not shop on an empty stomach! When I am hungry, I often come home with twice as much as I needed, and I buys items I can't possible make before they go bad. A good time to go is after a meal like breakfast or lunch. This helps you make rational decisions and  avoid adding impulse items to your cart. Do yourself a favor and have snack before going to the grocery store.

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