Shopping and eating healthy is so important, yet it can be difficult to discern the healthy from the unhealthy when we’re roaming the grocery store, maybe juggling kids or crowds. But taking the time to make healthier decisions when we’re in the store can really make it much easier to commit to healthier eating habits at home. There are a few basic things that every healthy shopper should know before they head to the store and whether you’re going on a massive monthly grocery shopping trip or just need to pick up a few quick things, these tips can help to keep you on a healthy track.
Fruits and Veggies
When choosing fruits and vegetables for purchase, many shoppers tend to stick with a few basics that we probably all know, like apples, bananas, and grapes; but there’s so much more variety available to try. By selecting different varieties of fruits and vegetables, you can not only brighten your menu, but get a variety of different vitamins and nutrients. Eating seasonally is also a great way of getting the freshest fruits and vegetables available because they are just that: fresh.
Put down the canned vegetables and fruits and stick with the fresh. Canned fruits may be packaged in water, but they may also be packaged in syrup; not a healthy option. Vegetables, too, may be canned with added salt. There’s certainly value in having canned fruits and vegetables on hand, but if a fresh option is available, it’s the healthier way to go. And while organic is nice, it’s not always within our grocery budgets; make the healthiest choices you can without breaking the bank; if you can’t swing organic vegetables, don’t sweat it, just make sure you’re getting a colorful variety that has many different key nutrients.
So fill your reusable grocery bags with the right choice for a healthier lifestyle!
- Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
- Fresh Ideas for Fresh Vegetables (PDF)
- Heart Healthy Foods: Shopping List
- Selecting and Serving Produce Safely
- How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight
How to Choose the Best Vegetables
- Greens: When you are choosing parsley, dill, kale, lettuce and broccoli, everything should be crisp and green looking. If it looks at all pale, brown or wilted, pass it by. Sometimes if the outside of the head of lettuce is wilted, it still can be fine inside, though.
- Cabbage: Look for a head of cabbage that is crisp and heavy.
- Root vegetables: such as carrots, turnips, beets and sweet potatoes: They should feel heavy and firm. The skin of each should be smooth and not wrinkled. Seek vegetables that smell fresh and have a pleasant color. Smaller root vegetables usually have more flavor.
- Potatoes: You should choose potatoes with unwrinkled skin. Green skin is a sign of solanine, which is poisonous, so avoid it. Don’t avoid dirty potatoes; this can be a sign of freshness.
- Onions: Good onions should be hard and heavy with a dark skin and no sprouts.
- Garlic: Old garlic has sprouts, so avoid.
- Citrus fruits: such as oranges, lemons and tangerines: Should smell fresh and not have any soft spots. Brown scratches on the surface do not affect the quality of the fruit.
- Mushrooms: White mushrooms should be white and be smooth without blemishes. The stems on the end also should be white.
- Cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants and peppers: Should be heavy and unwrinkled with dark skin.
- Melons: Push on the top where the stem was. If it is soft, then it is ripe. Ripe melon also has a sweet smell.
- Watermelons: Tap the fruit. If it sounds hollow, it is ripe.
- Tomatoes: The redder the fruit the more ripe it is.
- Avocados: Choose them when they are hard, but if you can use them right away, slightly soft is fine.
- Pitted fruits such as peaches, apricots and plums: Fruit that is ripe is softer and more colorful. A dent or scratch or two usually means they are slightly past prime but are still ok to buy if you can eat them that day.
Meat and Fish
Lean meats and fish are available and much healthier than their fattier counterparts. When you visit your local butcher, opt for leaner cuts and varieties, like chicken breast and turkey. Ground turkey is a common substitute for ground beef and, with less fat, is a healthier option many may not even notice. Try ground turkey in your next taco night or burger. If you do choose to purchase ground beef, opt for beef that has a lesser percentage of fat. The fat content can be found on the packaging and is listed as a percentage.
For example, product listed as 80% ground beef contains 20% fat; the higher the percentage of beef, the lower the fat content. When visiting the seafood section or fishmonger, you can also opt for healthy fillets over those with a higher fat content. Tuna and salmon are both very healthy options and are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Choose Lean Proteins
- Quick Tips to Choosing Lean Meats and Proteins
- Ground Beef Calculator
- Overall Healthy Shopping List (PDF)
- Lean Meat is Good to Eat
- Go Lean with Protein! (PDF)
- Choose Lean Sources of Protein
How to Buy the Best Meat and Fish
- Smell is always an indicator of freshness for meat, shellfish and fish. Meat should be read or pink, and whole fish should look shiny with clear eyes and reddish gills.
- Look out for meat packages with a lot of liquid. The meat could be dry because it has lost a lot of moisture.
- Select beef that is red, not brown, and fat that is white and not yellow. Some meat sections at the grocery store use lighting to make the meat look redder than it is. Check the color of the meat away from artificial light if possible.
- Look for pork and lamb that is pink or pale red. It should have little fat and a firm and smooth texture. The visible bone ends should be red. The whiter the tips, the older the piece of meat.
- Chicken should have skin and flesh that has no blemishes. Check the breastbone on the full bird. The more flexible the breast is, the younger and fresher the flesh.
- Choose fillet of fish that is springy and firm. Look out for discolored or limp fish. Moistness is not a good indicator of how old the fish is; fish may be sprayed with water to make it look fresher.
- If you are purchasing live crabs, make sure they are alive by checking that their legs are moving.
Dairy is an important part of a healthy diet and needed in order to make sure that our bones grow strong and maintain that strength through age. Fat free dairy options are everywhere now, as healthy eating advocates emphasize the importance of calcium and the recommended amounts of vitamins commonly associated with dairy, including vitamins A and D. Aside from fat free dairy options, there are also some easy substitutions you can make to cut back on fattier dairy staples.
For example, plain, fat free Greek yogurt is a good substitute for sour cream as a side or in recipes. Opting for egg whites, rather than whole eggs is an easy way to cut back cholesterol and calories.
- Benefits of Choosing Dairy
- Choosing Fat Free or Low Fat Dairy
- 5 Tips for Buying Safe and Healthy Dairy
- Dairy Myth Busters
- Dairy: The Ultimate Calcium Source (PDF)
How to choose the best dairy products, follow these guidelines:
- Buy organic when you can: Whole, organic milk products have more Omega-3 fats than regular dairy. And if you buy organic, you know there are no antibiotics, GMOs or pesticides used in their production. Also, cows that are raised on an organic farm have to be in the pasture for at least 120 days per year. This is better for both the animals and you.
- Choose dairy that is rGBH free: Some US dairy farms put recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone or rGBH in their cows that boosts milk production. If you do buy regular dairy products, you should look for labels that say the milk comes from animals that were not given rBGH.
- Select grass fed dairy: Dairy that was grass fed is healthier, more humane and more friendly to the climate than conventional grain fed dairy.
- Opt for small and medium farms: It is not always simple to tell the difference between a factory and family farm. No matter what the label says or how pretty the picture is, most dairy products in the grocery store come from major dairy farms. A good rule of thumb is to buy from farms that you can actually visit on your own. Also, purchase milk from brands that are own by cooperatives. Try to shop at a local farmer’s market, too.
- Buy local dairy: Buying local products is good for a lot of reasons. When you buy dairy from local farms, you are providing income to your local economy. You also are reducing the number of miles the dairy has to travel to your supermarket. This helps the environment.
- If you don’t drink or eat dairy, there are many good alternative dairy products, such as soy, rice and almond milk. Read the label because many non-organic soy products in the US have been genetically engineered. Watch for 100% certified organic soy milk.
Bread and Grains
Curbing our love for carbohydrates can be challenging, but instead of cutting them out completely, there are a few healthy guidelines that you can adhere to make your carb-heavy dishes a bit healthier. Whole wheat pasta and bread products are a good place to start. Swap out that over-processed white Wonder bread for a whole grain option. “Thins” have also become popular items in the grocery store; they are basically thinner slices of bread, so one consumes less without feeling like they’re sacrificing their satisfaction.
For those who are serious about cutting back on the carbs, limiting your pasta intake to once a week is an option; you can still enjoy your pastas and breads, but moderation is key.
- 10 Tips to Help You Eat Whole Grains
- Choosing a Diet with Plenty of Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables
- Whole Grain Cooking Guide
- Whole Grains for Good Health (PDF)
How to Buy the Best Bread and Grains
One of the best ways to enjoy bread and grains is to buy whole grain. Below are some tips when buying whole grain bread etc. at the supermarket:
- Look at the label: Look for whole grain flour on the label of products, such as bread, cereals, and pastas. Brown rice and 100% wheat pasta are good choices. Bread manufacturers are notorious for mixing up healthy and unhealthy types of flour in products.
- Look for ‘whole’: Breads are often made with a lot of flours and grains, and some are healthier than others. You want grains that are unrefined and not stripped of fiber. Watch for ingredients on the label that start with ‘whole,’ such as whole oats, whole wheat flour, whole grain corn, whole grain brown rice and whole rye. If it says ‘multi grain’ or ‘100% wheat,’ it may not be whole grain.
- Look for fiber: If the bread or cereal has at least three grams of fiber for each serving, it is a good choice, but if it has five, it is very high in fiber and is a great choice.
- Gluten in whole grains: People who are unable to eat wheat gluten often can eat whole grain if they select with care. There are many products that are whole grain such as buckwheat and gluten-free oats or oatmeal that can work for a gluten free diet.
- Keep the lid on: When you store your whole grains, be sure to have containers with tight-fitting lids and keep it in a cool, dry place. This will keep your grain fresh and prevent bugs.