Healthy living starts with healthy eating—and healthy eating often starts with the choices we make in the aisles of the grocery store. Many of these aisles are filled with tempting treats that will do nothing to support your commitment to nutrition. Learning how to navigate the grocery store is your first line of defense against the barrage of junk food that has overtaken our kitchen cabinets—and our waistlines.
Start with a List
If you’re trying to adopt new eating habits, you know the importance of having a plan. You may plan to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables or plan to eliminate heavily processed foods, but that plan only works if you put it into action—and that means stocking the right foods.
Spend a little time planning your meals for the week and then head to the grocery store armed with a specific list. Shop for what is on the list. Stay focused. Follow the list, grab the items, and make a hasty exit. Some people like to take list-making to the next level and list the items in the order in which they appear in the store. This can save time and prevent impulse purchases.
Peruse the Perimeter
Grocery stores are filled with unlimited choices, some healthy and some not so much. In fact, many nutrition buffs jokingly refer to some of the products on grocery store shelves as “food-like products.” With the number of chemical additives and preservatives in many of these foods, there is some truth to these jokes. But, if someone handed you a map of the grocery store, you would probably find that most of those “food-like products” live in the middle of the store—and area you may not even need to explore.
The fresh food (and the most nutrient dense) resides around the perimeter of the store. If you walk the perimeter of your local grocery store, you’ll find fresh produce, dairy, meats, and seafood—all of which are healthy options.
Once you venture into the interior, you’ll be faced with many unhealthy choices—foods that come in boxes with long lists of ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
Find a Farmer’s Market
A local farmer’s market is one of the best ways to shop for fresh, healthy food. The food at a farmer’s market is local and fresher than the produce you’ll find in a grocery store, which has often traveled thousands of miles to reach you. Furthermore, local produce is often organic. Once you taste a fresh tomato from a local farmer, you may never buy another grocery store tomato again. For the epitome of fresh food that is both nutritious and delicious, head to the farmer’s market.
Guidelines for Healthy Shopping
- Stick to the perimeter of the store, where the fresh food is stored.
- Choose real, whole foods that occur in nature (rather than in a box).
- Keep it simple—the fewer ingredients, the better.
- Buy organic and locally grown produce when possible.
- Visit your local farmer’s market for the best choices.