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Eating a healthy, well balanced diet starts with smart shopping

Susan Tucker Nutrition Counselor & Health Coach Green Beat Life, LLC

The cycle of eating well and staying healthy begins with what we reach for, and this all begins with the decisions we make at the grocery store. Food shopping is a key element in our dietary behavior. When we shop for food, we are essentially making the initial choices, not only about how we will stock our kitchen and refrigerators, but how we will design our plate, and ultimately what we will put into our bodies. Why not start out on the right foot at the market? It’s not just about choosing what to buy and checking it off our list, but also assessing and choosing the quality of the items we buy.


Do make a shopping list

Creating a shopping list before going to the grocery store has proven to save time and money. It also supports us to not give in to unplanned eating and those not-so-wise food choices. You can make a master list of your main food staples that can easily be added to or subtracted from, so you don’t have to start from scratch for each shopping trip. Send it to your handheld device so you have it with you on-the-go.

Another way to generate a list is by extracting food items from recipes that you commonly make. For convenience, make your list by food categories, e.g. produce, dairy, grains, condiments, etc. Most stores are designed by these types of food sections in their layout. Keeping your list by food categories, also allows you to identify your dietary needs and meals more clearly, e.g. I have a lot of grains at home, but I need more greens.

Do shop for produce 2–3 times a week

Fresh vegetables and fruits are the most lacking foods in the modern American diet. Back in the old days, before processed and packaged foods came along, people used to shop almost everyday and walk miles for fresh seasonal foods. We can’t even imagine this! Produce, of course, is the most perishable on our list. If you buy too much at once, it gets wasted. Try and buy organic produce as much as possible. Research the top most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables and buy accordingly. Even if you stock up on other food items, once a week, schedule produce shopping 2 -3 times a week. Make it part of your walk or drive home from work, and swing by your local Farmers Market on a regular basis.

Do be a food detective

In processed and packaged foods, there are added sugars (even natural ones), excess sodium and oils. For this reason, learn to read food labels and start understanding what goes into a processed and packaged food. It may seem tedious at first, but once you get in the habit, it becomes second nature. Less is more when it comes to added ingredients. Look for a short list of ingredients rather than a long list of ingredients you have never heard of. The length of an ingredient list on any one product may be a hint itself.

Also, just because a brand says organic, naturally sweetened, gluten free or high in protein, does not mean that it is necessarily healthier for you. Many sauces, soups, power bars, and cereals have added sugars, and although they may be organic, this does not lessen the effects of added sugars on our health; gluten free products replace the gluten with oils, eggs and fillers; and a high protein product may be filled with processed soy or wheat by products. Therefore, check labels, do some research and buy foods in alignment with your nutrition goals and health concerns.

Do buy in bulk

Many people assume eating a healthy diet is expensive. The bulk food section of a grocery store is a wonderful way to save, while making good choices. In essence, you are buying as much or as little as you want without paying for the packaging. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, honey, dried fruit, and a variety of whole grain flours are commonly available to buy in bulk, and are all great choices for any healthy kitchen.

Do bring your own bags

This is healthy tip for the earth, but it will make you feel great too! Plastic bags are on their way out in some of the more environmentally active grocery stores, but not everywhere, so we can help too. Plastic bags are so damaging to the landfill and oceans. Get some eco-bags and bring them with you each time you shop. For all those paper and plastic bags that you have collected, find out where you can recycle them. At home, start storing your bulk items in glass jars, and wrap your leafy vegetables in damp towels or cloth-mesh produce bags. Others you can simply store unwrapped, in your refrigerator drawers and shelves.


Do not give in to processed foods to save time

For so many of us, our lives are built on speed, and how to cut corners to save time. Processed foods are manufactured and marketed for this very reason, and are indeed very convenient. However, they are not the healthiest food choices. Developing healthy and clean eating habits includes weaning ourselves off the processed stuff. During busy times, you want to grab a frozen meal and pop it in the microwave. There are some healthy frozen items on the market, but if you choose these every now and then, make sure you accompany them with fresh items as well. Planning ahead, preparing food for your week, using leftovers, and learning easy cooking methods will allow you to whip up fresh meals every day.

Do not shop when you are hungry

Have you ever gone food shopping on an empty stomach? You may have found yourself reaching for some strange and unusual items! Hunger affects our thought process and emotions, so it is best to shop when you are feeling balanced and you have eaten a proper meal, at some time in the day so your shopping list and choices are not fueled by cravings. The worst time to shop is upon returning from a trip, your fridge is empty and you are tired and stressed. Go out for a meal or order in, get some rest and shop when you are fresh and rejuvenated!

Do not shop big in a small amount of time

If you only have a small amount of time, don’t try and cram in your big weekly or bi-weekly shopping. This kind of shopping will also give way to unplanned purchases. You want to give yourself ample time to make the wise food choices you need to support a healthy lifestyle. Once it becomes habit, you will know exactly what to reach for and what to avoid. As you are learning and taking time to research products and read labels, give your nutrition the time it deserves. If you have only a small amount of time, use that to buy produce or a just few items you may be low on.

Do not be an experimental food shopper

There are so many fascinating and alluring products lining the shelves of the grocery store. And there are constantly new food trends and products popping up, suggesting that we need this or that. You may find yourself wanting try something new every few days! If you stock your kitchen with a lot of these experimental food choices, they tend to sit on the shelves for ages, and it becomes wasteful and costly. The best bet is to establish your own dietary repertoire in your kitchen based on your nutrition goals and what really works for you. Be clear when you shop about what foods are truly nourishing and are key elements of your dietary and wellness routine. Certainly every now and then we like to try new things, but take it easy!

Jumping cartoon

Healthy food shopping is closely tied to time management, developing strategies, research, and common sense. It just takes practice! And truly, it’s a lifestyle. Shop for health, not for speed. Eventually these elements will merge, as you become more and more familiar with what and where to buy your food, and how to prepare it for convenience. If you consider food as medicine, as Hippocrates once said, then you will consider your food shopping one of the keys to lasting vibrant health.

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Susan TuckerNutrition Counselor & Health Coach

Susan Tucker is the founder of Green Beat Life, LLC, a nutrition counseling practice based in New York City. Susan is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where she earned certification in Nutrition Counseling and Health Coachin...

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