How to Be a Healthy Shopper

By Austin McEvoy

Navigating through the grocery store can be like digging for gold. You have to sort through a lot of junk before you can find the good stuff. With so many faux health food labels and the media’s conflicting messages about what you should and shouldn’t buy, it can be hard to know what to throw into your cart.

Here to set the record straight is registered dietitian Stephanie Jones. Jones has more than 20 years of experience and specializes in helping people shop smarter. She shares her tips to staying on the right track while at the grocery store so that you can leave with more than just a cart full of junk.

1. Have a Plan
Knowing what you need before you get the grocery store will not only save you money, but will prevent you from buying items that you may have been tempted to pick up while browsing (like those popsicles on sale on aisle four). Jones recommends mapping out a weekly menu to prevent frivolous buys.

Having a plan also means knowing your individual nutrition goals. If you don’t know what kinds of foods you should be shopping for, the free smartphone app called ShopWell is a great tool. You can create your own profile based on your individual nutritional needs. As you shop, you can scan labels in the store to see if the foods match up with your nutrition plan. If they don’t, the app recommends alternative items.

2. Know your Budget
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to fill their carts with organic items. It is essential to be able to balance your budget with your nutritional needs.

For example, buying a whole chicken is cheaper, but the breast, which is more expensive, is the leanest part of the animal. If you are on a budget, you can buy the whole chicken and just make sure that you find a healthy way to cook it. Try out a new crockpot recipe on Pinterest or bake it in the oven with some seasonal vegetables.

No matter what your budget is, there are certain items you should always try to buy organic. This infamous list is known as the “Dirty Dozen,” which gets its name from the large amount of pesticides used in the harvesting of these produce items. The list includes staple produce like apples and potatoes.

“If you can’t afford to buy organic, make sure you wash them very well,” Jones said.

3. Shop the perimeter
Shop the perimeter of the store before venturing into the processed food aisles. The outskirts of the store contain vegetable, fruits, meats, and dairy. You should fill your cart with as many of these items as you can before you move to the center of the store.

“I think the best rule of thumb is the closer the food item is to nature, the healthier it is going to be,” Jones said.

If you do need something from the aisles of the store, Jones cautions to pay close attention to labels. For example, if you want to get canned fruit, make sure it’s canned in juice and not heavy syrup. If buying fat-free coffee creamer, check the label to make sure it’s not loaded with sugar.

4. Color your cart
Variety is an important part of a balanced diet. “You should eat a rainbow of foods,” Jones said. “Each color signifies a different nutrient.”

Orange vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, contain beta-carotene which has antioxidant properties and is also a good source of vitamin A.

Red fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes and strawberries, contain the antioxidant lycopene, which may help prevent tumor growth, according to the Mayo Clinic.

As you already know, fruits and vegetables can be expensive. To save money, Jones recommends shopping for seasonal fruits and vegetables. The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service offers a list of monthly seasonal vegetables. This month’s savory seasonal selections include cherries, asparagus, and plums.

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Categories: Your Lifestyle, Your Nutrition

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