Dietary needs vary from person to person, but there are some general principles that most of us should follow, including:
• Eat more fruits and vegetables.
• Include whole grains.
• Consume fewer processed foods.
• Reduce your intake of salt, sugar and trans-fats.
• Enjoy saturated fats, meat and animal protein only in moderation.
Understanding these ideas is an important first step toward healthier eating. But principles mean little unless they shape how you actually shop and eat. Given that the grocery store is where good intentions so often go amiss, here are some practical tips for healthier, stress-free grocery shopping.
Plan your meals and make a list. Impulse purchases are one of the most common downfalls for the would-be healthy eater. The reasons for this are pretty obvious: Salt, sugar and processed foods can be habit-forming, and savvy marketers have learned to exploit our cravings to help drive sales. So plan your meals in advance, making sure to include healthy, vegetable-heavy meals in the process, and then create a grocery list that you actually stick to.
Don't shop hungry. This is common advice to avoid impulse buys, especially for those trying to lose weight. Shopping with a basket, not a cart, can also be a great way to stop yourself from loading up on things you don't need.
Shop at the farmers market first. One way to make sure you load up on fresh, local produce first is to shop at the farmers market before you hit the big-box grocery store — that way you can check off the items on your list that are available locally before resorting to the supermarket aisles.
Learn to read nutrition labels. Decoding what nutrition labels are actually telling you is easier said than done. The Food and Drug Administration has a quick guide on how to read a nutrition label, which I recommend checking out. Be aware, however, that sometimes the best nutrition labels and ingredient lists are the ones that don't exist — the less processed a food is, the less labeling required. Focus on real, whole foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Shop the perimeter, and never buy at the register. If you think about the layout of your average grocery store, the perimeter tends to be where all the healthier, whole foods are — fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats and dairy. Try to shop mainly in these departments and then be selective about the aisles containing processed foods. Most important, do your best to avoid the candy displays at the cash register.