Grocery Guide

Grocery shopping can be a pretty daunting task for most of us. Misleading health claims, deceptive packaging, and simply being low on time can all add to the difficulty of making the healthiest purchases. That’s why we’ve created a grocery guide to help you decipher which foods to pick and which foods to ditch. We’ve also included some healthy alternatives and bargains for those savvy shoppers!

A quick rule is to primarily shop the perimeter of the store. This is where you will usually find the healthiest and freshest foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and low-fat dairy. The less healthy, processed foods are usually located on the inner aisles.

Produce Section

Shop the rainbow. Each differently colored fruit or vegetable represents a variety of vitamins and minerals. Try to buy something from each color category as you pass through the produce section.

Grocery Guide

Healthy Alternative: Try making baked fruit or veggie chips with apples, kale, spinach, eggplant, or zucchini. Simply toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 425°F for 10 minutes or longer. 

Bargain Buy: As your produce starts to over-ripen (bananas, strawberries, blueberries) throw them in the freezer and mix with low-fat milk to make a smoothie. Don’t waste money on not-so-healthy- frozen smoothie mixes or ice cream.

Quick Tip: When it comes to buying salad greens, the darker the leaf, the more nutrient dense the food. For example, spinach has 19 times more Vitamin A and 3 times as much protein as iceberg lettuce.

Meat, Fish, and Deli

Quick Tip: In general, the lighter the color, the leaner the meat.

Beef: 93% lean ground beef, eye, top and bottom round, sirloin, and flank steak are all a great source of protein that offers less fat and cholesterol in comparison to other popular cuts.

Healthy Alternative: 99% fat-free ground turkey breast is often cheaper than ground beef and lower in fat which is helpful in fighting cardiovascular disease.

Boneless skinless chicken breast: Is a great source of protein. Try to get “all natural” or non-enhanced chicken breasts if you can because enhanced chicken is injected with saltwater to keep it moist; 3 ounces can pack more than 300 mg of sodium.

Healthy Alternative: Tofu and beans are a great source of protein that is usually cheaper and a great option for vegetarians.

Healthy Food Phony: Deli meat and canned meat are usually much higher in sodium and preservatives such as nitrites which have been linked to certain cancers.

Pantry Aisle

Mustard: Toss the mayo and try mustard. Dijon and spicy mustard are both much lower in calories and fat, but pack a powerful flavor punch.

Healthy Alternative: Avocado offers heart healthy unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats found in mayonnaise.

Vinaigrette-based salad dressing: Go for vinaigrette-based dressings instead of mayonnaise-based dressings like ranch or bleu cheese and you’ll save calories and fat.

Whole grain cereal: Check for less than 200 calories per serving, ≤8 grams of sugar per serving, and aim for a cereal with more fiber than sugar per serving.

Healthy Food Phony: Granola. Many granola-based cereals want to be perceived as healthy but contain more calories, sugar, and fat in comparison to other cereals.

Snacks

Popcorn: Ditch the pre-bagged kind that is high in fat and unhealthy preservatives. Instead, pop your own.

Cheese sticks: Reduced fat, often called “light” string cheese sticks are a great source of protein for kids and adults alike.

Hummus: Made from protein packed chickpeas, hummus is also a good source of fiber. Try eating with carrots, celery, or bell peppers instead of potato chips.

70% Dark chocolate: A healthier choice for those with a sweet tooth, but make sure it’s at least 70% dark. This kind is lower in sugar and fat and has more antioxidants in it which have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Nuts: (especially walnuts) have heart healthy omega- 3 fatty acids and protein. If you need some help enjoying these in moderation, try the pre-packaged individual serving sizes. Or to save money, buy the larger container and package them into smaller snack-size bags yourself.  Just make sure to avoid sugar coated, honey-roasted varieties. Stick to the raw form.

Drinks

1% Low-fat milk: Is a great source of lean protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Healthy substitute: Try soy, almond or coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. Just make sure you get the unsweetened kind to avoid too much added sugar.

Tea: Black, green, and herbal teas are all high in antioxidants. Just don’t add too much sugar or honey. Opt for the caffeine free option for afternoons and evenings.

Healthy Food Phony: Sport Drinks. On average, sport drinks contain 20 grams of sugar in one 12 oz. serving. Not to mention a plethora of other UFOs (Unidentifiable Food-Like Objects). Unless you’re engaging in endurance sports, water is sufficient for hydration.

Refrigerator/Freezer Aisle

Quick Tip: Frozen fruits and vegetables are often packaged at their peak ripeness which makes them just as nutrient dense if not more than fresh fruits and vegetables, and often at a fraction of the price. Just check the ingredients label to make sure there is no added sugar, preservatives, sodium, etc.

Low-fat cottage cheese: This is a great source of protein and calcium. Jazz it up with some fruit!

Low-fat cheese: Try goat, feta, or ricotta instead of American which is heavily processed and often contains the most salt and fat of all cheese!

Healthy Food Phony: Smoothie kits. Often these ready to go kits have added sugar and other junk. Try making your own instead.

Bargain Buy: A one pound package of cooked frozen spinach is inexpensive and packed full of nutrients. It takes about 1 ½ pounds of fresh spinach to make one standard 10 ounce package of frozen spinach...now that’s a bargain!

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sports Drinks

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What to look for: natural sources of electrolytes like bananas & coconut water 

What to stay away from: sports drinks all together unless intensely exercising

Sports drinks are intended to maintain hydration and restore electrolyte balance lost during heavy exercise. Electrolytes are maintained in body fluids and needed for nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are lost through heavy sweat and must be replaced to keep the concentrations in your body fluids constant. But, buyer beware.  On average, sport drinks contain 20 grams of sugar in one 12 oz. serving.  That’s over 13 teaspoons of sugar in the average 32 ounce sport drink bottle. All of the added calories from sugar can seriously interfere with weight loss/maintenance efforts in addition to sending blood sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride of peaks and valleys. Therefore, it is important to know when sports drinks are appropriate and useful and when they are not necessary.

Sport drinks are ideally used by athletes engaged in high‐intensity workouts lasting 60 minutes or more. They are not recommended for routine consumption.  However, factors such as duration of exercise and weather conditions can affect the need for an athlete to supplement carbohydrate and electrolyte loss with a sport drink.  It is especially important to be mindful of electrolyte loss when exercising in high temperatures.

Most people exercising at a moderate-vigorous rate can stay hydrated and energized by eating a healthy meal or snack and drinking enough water prior to and during their workout. Check out the list below of electrolytes and common food sources for each.

Potassium-bananas, kiwis, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes

Magnesium- green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nut butters, pumpkin

Calcium- milk, yogurt, black eyed peas

Chloride- olives, tomatoes, celery

Sodium- The typical American diet is quite high in sodium, so dietary need to supplement is rare. However, nut butters are a healthy source of sodium if needed.