The 7 Secrets To Healthy Grocery Shopping By Registered Dietician Baraa El Sabbagh
What Is Healthy Grocery Shopping?
If you’ve been wondering:
- What should I look for in the grocery store if I’m trying to live my best healthy life?
- Is there anything I should avoid?
- How can I make meal prep more tolerable?
It all starts with what you buy at the grocery store, so here are 7 juicy tips to help. Keep reading till the end where I share how you can save money while grocery shopping. And as always, if you’re short on time and would love to get this information while you’re on the go, you can always listen to the podcast episode on B for Better Health.
Here are my go-to tips for the next time you’re writing down your grocery list, 3 of which are on the image below:
Do Not Shop On An Empty Stomach
You've heard this time and time again, but I’ll just say it again anyway: Do NOT shop on an empty stomach! Let me tell you a story about my friend, Yasmine. Yasmine has oats for breakfast, topped with fruits, peanut butter, and protein powder. She’s doing great all day, especially after she had some salmon with sweet potato for lunch.
But a few hours later, just before dinner, Yasmine realized she needed a few things from the store so she headed there on what you would call an empty stomach. She went with the intent of getting soap for the dishwasher and some salad ingredients for dinner, but 30 minutes later her cart was filled with chips and frozen pizzas and God knows what else. Basically everything she wouldn’t have bought on a full stomach and thoughtful mind.
So now this stuff’s at Yasmine’s house and while she can refrain from eating that food some days, other days, perhaps she’s more vulnerable, she’s going to want to reheat that frozen pizza or dive into the bag of chips, simply because it’s there!
Here’s my tip for a mindful grocery store trip: make a plan of all the food you want to eat this week, keep it simple, and take a list with you when you go shopping. The best tip I got at grocery stores is to shop the outer aisles first. Those are where the wholesome and fresh ingredients are at, the inner aisles are mostly reserved for the canned goods and packaged food, like candy, chips, and soda.
Buy Pre-Sliced Fruits & Veggies
Who wants to get home and chop 6 onions for that molokheyeh or a spaghetti with minced meat? You can buy them chopped, same price and way less effort. That goes for fruits, too. Buy some pre-sliced fruits for easy and handy snacks.
Get mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cut cucumbers, shredded carrots and cabbage, mix it all together with a splash of lemon and olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper, and there you have it! A quick, homemade salad for any night of the week. Just a side note, iceberg lettuce is the least nutrient of all lettuces, the darker the leaf, the more nutrients you’re getting!
If you can’t find pre-sliced items, consider buying a manual chopper to cut your produce up at home more efficiently. We have an onion chopper, where you plug the onion in and press it down and bam, it’s chopped! And one more thing; feel free to buy frozen vegetables! People often think those are filled with chemicals and additives, but I’m actually a big fan, especially the healthy brands that are conscious about their ingredients. So just flip that frozen bag of peas over, read the ingredient list and it should only say: green peas, if that’s the case, then you’re good to go!
Learn To Read Labels
Are you ready to learn some label language? You know how every health blog tells you to read the nutrition facts on any food item, but they don’t tell you what to look for? There’s serving size, percent daily value, total fat, calories, sodium, the list goes on and on. It can get extremely confusing and overwhelming.
If you want to learn MORE about this, my sister Mirna, who is also an epic dietitian in case you’re new here, is offering a free 40 minute label reading video that you can get access to!
Back to labels. I want you to read the ingredients part. So if you see any of these items, you probably want to stay away from that product:
- Refined flour
- High fructose corn syrup
- Hydrogenated oils
- Preservatives or artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners
I want you to look for natural, whole foods and avoid the chemicals because that’s usually what processed food is made of, meaning empty calories and less nutrients. Also remember that they list ingredients from highest quantity to least, so whatever you’re seeing first is what there's A LOT of.
How Many Calories Are In A Product?
Fun fact: When you read the number of calories, that’s not indicating the calories in the entire package, just the serving size which you’ll also see at the top! Next, check out total fat on the label. Be on the lookout for saturated and trans fats because those are the ones that negatively impact our cholesterol. As for sodium, you might want to keep in mind that our recommended daily amount is 2,300 milligrams. This is because lots of salt in your body is going to cause high blood pressure, increase risk of stroke, & more.
As for sugars in your food, you’ll find that under CARBOHYDRATES - OF WHICH SUGARS. There’s plenty more facts you can listen to on another blog post I wrote all about sugar. You want to aim for around 30 grams of sugar a day, so add that into your calculations the next time you choose a tomato sauce or dairy product.
Choosing Healthier Canned Food
If you want to go for canned food, like tuna or veggies, that’s fine but look for things packed in water NOT oil. That reduces your calories from fats and sodium intake by A LOT. Then when you’re ready to eat, rinse the contents of the can whether it’s beans, tuna, or veggies to get rid of any extra salt.
Also make sure the cans are BPA free or buy the products in glass containers.
If you want my opinion, I’d avoid packaged products and gear myself towards wholesome ingredients like dry lentils, pasta, or fruits and veggies. If you are looking for snack bars, there have been great new developments on healthier, sugar free ones that could align with your lifestyle completely. So stay on the lookout!
Arrive Early At The Grocery Store
I don’t know about you, but isn’t it so inconvenient to arrive at the supermarket and find the produce section either empty or filled with rotten fruits and veggies? That’s why we shouldn’t plan to grocery shop in the middle of the day, but rather early morning or evenings when there are new shipments coming in. Plan your trips then!
A lot of people I know have asked me what they can do to save their produce if it wasn’t used that week but they don’t want to throw it away, which brings us to tip number 6!
How To Save Produce Before It Goes Bad
So it’s okay to go ahead and purchase fresh produce for your cooking this week but there are some things you can do to save the stuff that’s about to go bad, like turn them into awesome, healthy snacks or meals!
- Blend your fruits and make a kickass smoothie.
- Cut up carrots and cucumbers and keep them on hand for snacks at any time of day.
- Make a fruit popsicle! Blend the fruits with homemade almond milk and freeze them into popsicle moulds.
- Have you got an avocado that’s perfectly ripe? Make some guacamole dip for the carrot sticks.
- Are there apples laying around? Mix them with peanut butter to level things up.
- Freeze your veggies to make a nice steaming soup when the weather gets chilly.
- & personally, I wait for those bananas to get black so I can make a good cookie or chop them up and freeze them so i can add them to my yogurt bowl the next morning.
Healthy Snacks To Buy At The Grocery Store
Now for the non-produce snacks, here are some items to add to your grocery list for some fun food options:
- Popcorn is always a favorite and a great alternative to chips while enjoying a movie night.
- Next on the list: Buy some chickpeas, add paprika, and roast them! Such a delicious and satisfying snack.
- A healthy trail mix is so underrated, remember to add it to your list! Divide the portion you’re going to eat and keep the rest of the bag in the cupboard so you don’t mindlessly munch, because those ones are packed with calories.
- Greek yogurt’s a great snack option, but like I said before, look at the labels and make sure there’s no added sugar to the naturally healthy yogurt.
- If you want a chocolate to help you with blood pressure, don’t leave dark chocolate off your list. 70% or more will do the trick.
Save Money With Online Shopping
Last but not least, I promised you a tip that could save you time and money! Have you tried ONLINE SHOPPING? Listen, I’m as old school as it can get when trying something new. BUT, buying your groceries online allows you to ONLY select the things you need on your grocery list.
Meaning no distractions at the grocery store and just cause it’s buy 1 get 2 on chocolate, it’ll get in the cart. Also, MAJOR tip: with online shopping, you actually spend A THIRD of what you usually spend at the store, trust me. You want to try this one.
Ultimate Healthy Tips For Grocery Shopping
And there we have it team! These are my go-to grocery tips to keep you and your family healthy and happy. There’s NO reason to get bored when you have healthy eating goals and find a challenge with cooking. There’s the right food for every goal, and now you have the resources to make the best decisions when it comes to grocery shopping.
Don’t let all this info overwhelm you, all it takes is doing it properly one time and it’ll become second nature. You’ll become fluent in reading labels and nutritional facts before you know it, and you’ll find you’re more attracted to food that makes you feel good, inside and out. That means less dining out and ordering in, and more taking care and control of what goes into your body. If you’ve got grocery tips of your own that have changed your life, I’d love to hear them!