Here are seven tips that will help you maintain good grocery shopping habits.
Your diet is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, and the choices you make at the grocery store can have a profound impact on your health and fitness. But making the right choices when grocery shopping isn't always as straightforward as you might think. Buzzwords, misleading nutritional labels and even your own psychology as a consumer can greatly interfere with your ability to buy the right products.
Thankfully, there are some strategies you can use to ensure that you only allow the healthiest food choices into your cart. Here are seven tips that will help you maintain sound grocery shopping habits:
1. Take a look at the ingredients
When it comes to the overall number of ingredients in a food product, less is more. As Reader's Digest pointed out, products with longer ingredient lists tend to be loaded with unnecessary additives that alter the taste and nutritional value. Many of these additives include added sugars and other chemicals that help extend the shelf life of the food, and can have a negative impact on your weight.
The solution? Just look at the list of ingredients — if it's short then chances are that it's much simpler and thus, healthier.
2. Have a plan and stick to it
Most of us are familiar with making a grocery list before heading to the store, but sometimes there's not enough time to make a detailed list during our busy days. Without a set plan, it's easy to get caught up thinking that you need some extra things that you really don't.
Making a complete list of everything you need for the week can benefit you greatly because it prevents you from going off track. You can simply follow your list and move efficiently to each item without giving yourself a chance to wander off for other goodies.
3. Don't shop while hungry
This tip is well-established, but it's always worth repeating. Just like with the last suggestion, you may find yourself without time to eat before making a trip to the grocery store after a long day at the office. This can work against you because it makes you more likely to buy more food than you actually need, and not all of it will be good for you.
Have a filling (and healthy!) meal before you go to the store to avoid thinking with your stomach instead of your head.
4. Shop for a variety of healthy options
While the traditional food pyramid has come under fire in recent years, its basic rule — that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats and fish should be the bulk of your diet — still rings true, according to WebMD. The majority of your shopping cart should include these items.
When it comes to produce, you should be looking to get a variety of vegetables and fruits in your diet. Don't get stuck buying the same few things, and avoid things like white potatoes and iceberg lettuce, which have healthier substitutes. You can even try making new dishes by incorporating these different ingredients into exciting recipes.
5. Check the labels carefully
Nutritional labels can be extremely misleading if you don't know what to look for. Reader's Digest correctly noted that most labels list the nutrients on a per-serving scale. This means that at first glance, the items will look healthier than they really are.
For example, the label on a jar of sauce might say that there is only 200 calories, but that's at a per-serving scale. If there are five "servings per container," you're actually getting 1,000 calories in that one jar. It's easy to scan the labels and just assume something is healthy, but you actually need to do a little more reading to find an item that is truly healthy and not hiding behind deceptive labeling.
6. Get the "plain" version and enhance it yourself
Julie Upton, co-founder of Appetite for Health, told the Huffington Post that it's almost always best to
of an item, rather than those spruced up with artificial flavorings.
"The original versions (most often plain-flavored) foods and beverages — like cereals, soy milk, yogurt, pasta sauces and more, are usually the most nutritious," Upton said. "That's because as brands extend product lines, they move into more decadent offerings that cost more and have worse nutritional profiles."
It's understandable if you're not totally sold on the idea of eating plain food, but you can overcome this by adding healthy ingredients of your own to make them taste better. Fresh fruits like berries or bananas go perfectly with plain yogurt and cereal, and pre-made pasta sauces can get an extra kick by chopping fresh basil or other spices and adding them yourself.
7. Watch out for "healthy" juices
Juice is made from fruit, so it must be healthy, right? Not always. Many juices out there have loads of added sugars on top of the natural sugar from the fruits. This, combined with the fact that the amount of sugar shown on the nutritional label may only be a part of what's in the whole bottle, means that you could end up taking in a lot of sugar in just one glass of juice.
Don't just throw any juice into your cart thinking you're getting something healthy. Again, check the labels to make sure you're not drinking the equivalent of a soft drink in terms of sugar content.
Being more conscious about what you eat starts in the grocery store, and understanding how to shop a little smarter will go a long way toward building the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.