Healthy grocery shopping may sound easier than it is — checking labels, avoiding specific store areas, and making lists may even seem like pointless habits. However, picking up certain healthy patterns when going to the supermarket can enormously impact your diet and well-being. Here’s what you need to know.
Planning a healthy trip to the grocery store
Picking up healthy shopping habits begins, unsurprisingly, at home. You’ll avoid buying unnecessary things by writing a precise shopping list that reminds you of what you need and what you have. Plus, keeping a list will allow you to realize which foods need to be changed for healthier ones.
Yet, starting the habit of writing grocery lists isn’t easy — many people struggle with not realizing that they’re lacking specific foods. But by dividing the list into a few different sections, you’ll be able to quickly tell if you’re missing anything. Here are some categories to keep an eye for:
It’s no secret that vegetables are the cornerstone of healthy eating. From spinach to beets, almost every vegetable provides dozens of unique benefits that help you avoid processed foods. Plus, most vegetables have few calories while also being nutrient-dense, making them ideal for people losing weight (1).
Experts point out that vegetables are one of the easiest ways to get essential nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, fiber, and potassium. The high nutrient density of vegetables is the cause of their anti-inflammatory and protective properties. Ideally, vegetables and fruits should make up for one-half of your plates (2).
However, each category of vegetables provides unique benefits, so make sure to find out which ones are best for you. For example, leafy greens contain thylakoid — a specific nutrient that helps keep satiety levels throughout the day (3, 4).
Fruits are, without a doubt, the perfect complement to vegetables. Allowing you to get all the necessary micronutrients you might have skipped, fruits make up for the perfect dessert or sweet breakfast. On top of that, you can choose to increase your fruit intake through juice and other homemade sweets.
Fruits contain many protective and beneficial compounds, ranging from vitamin C to folic acid. However, not many people know that they also have a few adverse elements — most of which come from aggressive farming processes. As such, it’s best to try picking organic, pesticide-free options at the grocery store (2).
Like vegetables, each fruit has its unique nutrients and benefits. Apples, for example, reduce cardiovascular disease risk while improving your gut health. Berries, instead, promote satiety levels along with increasing calcium and iron intake (5, 6, 7, 8).
Whole grains are an essential part of the healthy food pyramid, but not everyone is used to eating unprocessed versions of foods such as bread. Opting for whole-grain options will considerably increase your protein and fiber intake, along with all the natural benefits of these foods (9).
Recent research suggests that whole-grain foods may help prevent several conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Similarly, they have shown promise in deterring colorectal, gastric, and pancreatic cancers. Although research isn’t over, experts recommend eating two to three servings daily of whole grains to get these benefits (9).
Furthermore, thanks to their high nutrient density, whole grains are some of the best foods for losing weight. Foods such as quinoa and brown rice also provide high amounts of fiber and protein, keeping you satiated for a long time after eating (10, 11, 12, 13).
Most meats are often regarded as being healthy — however, recent research shows that there may be a connection between processed meats and bowel cancer. This means that you should pay special attention when buying meat at the supermarket to improve nutrient diversity and avoid unnecessary risks (14).
Ideally, you should opt for lean, high-quality cuts from protein-rich meats such as pork, lamb, or beef. Otherwise, you could try to replace some of the meat in your diet with poultry and seafood, which provide healthy alternatives to red meat (14, 15, 16).
A crucial thing to keep in mind when buying meat at the grocery store is cross-contamination — the act of spreading bacteria from one food to another. To avoid it, keep meats and the rest of your food in separate bags. Similarly, try to place them in different parts of your car when returning from the supermarket (17).
Beans and Legumes
Although some experts group them with vegetables, it’s always a good idea to consider your legume intake in a separate category. Highly nutrient-dense and cheap, legumes are the perfect choice for anyone looking to take care of their fiber intake without excess calories (18).
Recent research also suggests that beans and legumes may positively impact your metabolism. Mainly, they could help in treating conditions such as diabetes by reducing blood pressure and total cholesterol levels (18).
However, experts always advise looking for unsalted options when considering canned legumes. Excessive salt leads to problems such as hypertension and could also mean that the food was unnecessarily processed during manufacturing (19, 20).
What to avoid at the store
Once you’re done with your grocery list, it’s time to start with the essential part — going to the grocery store. Although this may seem like a simple step, there are a few common pitfalls that could result in buying unhealthy foods. Plus, understanding healthy grocery shopping will allow you to save some extra money.
By following a few general guidelines, you’ll be able to start ingraining specific habits that promote healthy eating. Here are some of the essential habits to develop while at the grocery store:
Perimeter shopping has become a popular term over the last few years — put simply, it means sticking to the outer walls while shopping. Stores usually keep their processed foods at the center displays to appeal to more people, meaning they will keep healthier foods on the perimeter (21).
Yet, keep in mind that perimeter shopping isn’t a magic cure-all when it comes to healthy grocery shopping. Not all stores follow the pattern of keeping processed foods in the center, so make sure to pay attention to whether or not this technique could work.
Stick to the List
Even though it may seem obvious, sticking to the list is arguably the most critical aspect of healthy grocery shopping. Grocery stores are just like any other business, meaning they’ll try to convince you to buy more than you need, often including ultra-processed products.
By focusing only on the things you have written on your list, you’ll be able to ensure a healthy diet while also spending less money. Plus, it’ll make your trips to the grocery store considerably shorter.
Understanding Supermarket Ads
Recent research has shown that grocery stores follow a specific advertisement and placement pattern that promotes unhealthy foods. From snacks to sugary beverages, supermarket ads almost always endorse ultra-processed foods, often at discounted prices (22).
Yet, these kinds of products have many negative consequences on your health, such as increasing blood pressure. Plus, they are one of the most concerning causes of obesity and metabolism-related conditions such as diabetes (23).
Read Food Labels
One of the few ways to distinguish whether a product can be considered healthy is to read the labels. There, you’ll find crucial information such as a particular food’s fat, protein, and carbohydrate levels. It also tells you the number of calories per serving (24).
Learning to read these labels is a crucial aspect of a healthy trip to the grocery store. Furthermore, it’s an essential skill if you have a condition that prevents you from eating certain ingredients or if you’re trying to lose weight.
Review Your Cart Before Checking Out
While you’re in line before checking out, make sure to take a final look at your shopping cart. This will allow you to pick up on not-so-healthy foods that you might have grabbed without paying attention, such as a processed loaf of bread.
During that final overview, keep your list handy to remove unnecessary products. If you’re unsure about a specific food, try to read the label more carefully. In the case it has any unnecessary components such as added sugars, try to replace it with a healthier alternative.
Why Does Healthy Grocery Shopping Matter?
Grocery shopping is a necessary part of life, but it can be challenging to make healthy choices when you’re bombarded with tempting, unhealthy options. However, sticking to a few habits will ensure you a nutritious diet, which carries dozens of benefits for your health.
For example, a healthy and diverse diet is closely tied to preventing obesity. The easiest way to do this is by cutting back on unhealthy products such as sugary beverages and processed foods. Instead, replacing them with vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods will go a long way in preventing obesity (25).
Wholesome diets can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and specific types of cancer. Similarly, a healthy and varied eating plan can also prevent diabetes, respiratory disease, and hypertension (26).
Here are some other benefits of eating a healthy diet (27):
- Increases life expectancy
- Strengthens bones, skin, teeth, and eyes
- Improves gut health
- Boosts your immune system
In addition to our physical health, the foods we eat also impact our mental health. Eating a healthy diet has been linked with lower rates of depression and anxiety. When we feel good mentally, we are more likely to be productive and happy (28).
Although the mechanisms of why this happens are unclear, recent research suggests that gut microbiota plays a crucial role in determining mood. Similarly, healthy diets have anti-inflammatory properties — which help your brain with cognitive tasks (28).
How Can I Complement Healthy Shopping?
Anyone actively seeking a healthy diet knows that eating isn’t the only thing that matters. Instead, it’s crucial to ingrain other habits that ensure a wholesome body while also promoting a varied eating plan.
Exercising is, without a doubt, the perfect companion to a healthy diet. This is even more true with the modern lifestyle, which often forces us to sit for long periods during work. Staying still for such a long time has several negative consequences, such as causing obesity and insomnia (29).
Taking an hour every day to exercise can have fantastic effects on your health, from strengthening your muscles to improving your mood. Even if you can’t perform an entire exercise routine, merely standing up every hour and walking around greatly diminishes the impact of sedentarism (30, 31).
Avoid Eating Out
We all know the situation — you get home after a long day of work only to find out that there’s nothing cooked in the fridge. Most people’s response to this is simply ordering something or going out to a restaurant to avoid having to cook at home.
Yet, research shows that eating out has negative consequences on your health. For example, a recent study shows that eating at home is related to decreased carbohydrate and sugar intake. Similarly, eating out usually results in a higher caloric intake — which may be a problem if you’re trying to lose weight (32).
Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time
The idea of meal prepping has become increasingly popular over the last few years as a way to save money and avoid cooking after work. However, not many people know that planning your meals ahead of time can positively impact your health.
Recent studies indicate that meal planning at least once a week is associated with a lower risk for obesity and more diverse diets. Furthermore, it has been shown to reduce general stress levels while also providing a higher intake of most micronutrients (33, 34).
Key Takeaways: Healthy Grocery Shopping
Healthy grocery shopping is crucial for maintaining a wholesome diet. By following a few general tips, you’ll be able to make sure that your next trip to the grocery store is a healthy one.
For example, try to make a list of all the things you need before going to the store. Similarly, try to stick to the store’s perimeter, where most healthy options are usually kept.
When you’re at the store, make sure to read food labels carefully. This will help you identify unhealthy foods that might be disguised as being healthy. Also, avoid eating out as much as possible, as eating at home is cheaper and healthier.
Finally, try to complement your healthy diet with other healthy habits such as exercising regularly. This will help you stay in shape and avoid conditions such as obesity.