Grocery shopping – it’s something we all have to do, unless, of course, we have a personal shopper and home chef! Shopping for groceries is more complicated than it used to be. Supermarkets these days are larger with more healthier choices than ever before. Yet, we still need to select items that are healthy. As you’ve probably noticed, impulse items are everywhere and it’s easy to get sucked in by their brightly colored labels and end up with a grocery cart full of items that wouldn’t make a dietitian’s top ten list. So, how can you avoid these traps and end up with grocery items that you feel good about eating?
Healthier Choices: Be Skeptical of Food Labels
The front labels of packaged foods are usually scattered with buzzwords, like “gluten-free,” “source of whole grains,” and other phrases that imply that a product has health benefits. Manufacturers know these terms resonate with consumers and create the perception that an item is healthier – but that’s not always the case! A gluten-free cookie or bowl of cereal can still have 20 grams of sugar and contain unhealthy oils with lots of additives.
The same goes for organic packaged foods. Organic only pertains to how a food was grown or raised, it says nothing about how healthy an item is. Plus, some terms like “natural” are poorly defined. Yet, they conjure up images of an item being green and healthy – don’t be fooled. Get the facts. Read the nutrition information and the ingredient list before making a decision.
Healthier Choices: Watch Out for the Prepared Food Section
These days, some supermarkets have chefs on staff for promotional reasons. This conjures up images of freshly prepared meals made on site but that’s not always the case. An investigation carried out by Consumer Reports magazine found that many meals in the prepared food section aren’t even made locally. Some of the items are trucked in from a central kitchen and heated in a microwave before going out on display. In other words, they’re anything but fresh. Prepared foods at the supermarket may also be processed and contain additives and preservatives.
In addition, packaged foods sold in the prepared food section of supermarkets aren’t required to carry nutrition labels yet. So, it’s hard to tell if what you’re purchasing is healthy. Even when they list nutritional information, according to Consumer Reports, the results are not always accurate. Sure, prepared meals are convenient, but don’t count on them to be healthy – or fresh.
Healthier Choices: Skip the Samples
Do you shop at a grocery store that hands out samples? Some big-name grocery stores, like Costco, offer an abundance of free food samples. In fact, some people joke that they go to Costco to get a free lunch. Unfortunately, most of the items grocery stores sample are packaged and processed foods, the very stuff you’d like to cut back on. Not only do the calories add up when you grab a sample here and there, but you’re also more likely to buy something you nibbled on and enjoyed. If you don’t watch it, you could end up with a cartful of packaged foods you never intended to buy. Then, once you get them home, they’re there to tempt you.
Healthier Choices: Buy Local & Avoid Imports
How fresh is your grocery store’s produce? The fruits and vegetables you find at your local supermarket may have been shipped from a distant location and this detracts from its nutritional content. During long journeys, food loses its micronutrients, especially vitamin C and some B-vitamins. It loses even more nutrient content after setting on store shelves. By the time you pile it into your grocery cart, that healthy produce may be fairly nutrient depleted.
Fortunately, more stores these days are selling locally grown items as well. This is the best option when it’s available. If you don’t have a supermarket that carries local, check out your local co-op or buy a portion of your produce from a farmer’s market nearby. Another option is to buy frozen produce since it’s frozen right after harvest and freezing locks in nutrients. An exception to frozen being equally healthy is broccoli. That’s because broccoli is blanched before its frozen and blanching destroys an enzyme called myrosinase that you need to get the full anti-cancer benefits that broccoli offers. Buy broccoli fresh but load up on other frozen fruits and vegetables. It’s good to have them on hand when you’re in a rush and still need to get your five plus servings a day.
Healthier Choices: Eat Before Shopping
Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach could double your grocery bill and fill your cart with unhealthy fare as well. Researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that people who hadn’t eaten in the past five hours filled their carts with higher calorie items relative to those who ate a meal or snack before filling their shopping cart. In fact, they loaded up on almost 20% more food. Unfortunately, hungry shoppers also chose more processed and high-calorie items. Yes, hunger does influence buying decisions and can lead to less than healthful food choices. So, have a healthy snack before heading to the supermarket.
Healthier Choices: Use Self-Checkout
If you haven’t noticed the checkout line is where supermarkets hit you hard with the unhealthy stuff. You’re waiting to check out and to pass the time you peruse what’s around you – and that’s usually chips, candy bars, and other sugar-filled impulse items. When you’re bored, a little tired, and have nothing else to do, you might be tempted to grab one a candy bar in a brightly colored package or other items you wouldn’t normally buy. Save yourself the struggle and get out of the store faster by using self-checkout. You’ll thank yourself later.
The Bottom Line
Grocery shopping is a “must do” task for most of us but that doesn’t mean you can’t shop and make healthier choices. Use these tips to avoid filling your grocery cart with unhealthy foods you won’t feel good about eating.
Consumer Reports. “Supermarket Prepared Meals: What to Watch Out For”
Greatist.com. “Hungry? Why You Should Steer Clear of the Grocery Store”
Science Daily. “Health Halo Effect: Don’t Judge a Food by Its Organic Label”
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