Have you ever gone to the grocery store intending to buy healthier foods, only to end up filling your cart with junk food? The grocery store is a tempting place, filled with aisle after aisle of addictive foods that are terrible for your body. Therefore, it’s very easy to pick up more food than you need, much of it being not that healthy. So if you’re ready to conquer the supermarket once and for all, here are some secrets that will help you be a healthier shopper.
Before you even set foot in the store, brainstorm the healthy meals you’d like to make for the week and then make a list of all of the ingredients that you’ll need for each meal. Once you get to the store, stick to the list! By doing so, you’ll be less likely to pick up things you don’t need and your shopping trip will end much faster. And if you need to pick up some snacks, then plan those out too.
Before you leave the house, slip a small plastic calculator into your pocket or purse. If you’re on a budget, a calculator will help you keep track of how much you’re spending. But more importantly, it can help you keep track of how nutritious the food you’re buying really is.
For instance, say you’re comparing the nutritional value of a bag of baked chips to a bag of regular chips. The bag of baked chips has half the serving size than the bag of regular chips, so you’ll need to divide the serving size of the bag of regular chips in half, as well as each of the nutritional values, to get a more accurate comparison.
The only way to know what you’re really eating is to check the ingredient label. Many foods, such as salad dressings and soups, are diluted with water. Other foods may contain MSG, aka monosodium glutamate, an additive that some people are sensitive to. If you have allergies, checking the label for ingredients you may be allergic to is always a good idea.
Speaking of serving sizes, one of the things you should always do before putting an item in your cart is to check the serving size. The label of that bottle of flavored water may say that it only contains 50 calories per serving, but how many servings are in that whole bottle? You may think the bottle itself is just one serving, but chances are, the bottle contains at least two servings, upping the calorie count to 100 instead of 50.
Many food labels are adorned with words like “organic,” “natural” and “fat-free,” but they can be misleading. If a fruit is organic, that means that it was grown in a certain way and if a meat is organic, that means that the animal was fed feed that was certified organic and is hormone- and antibiotic-free. However, the term “natural,” which may seem like a synonym for organic, isn’t regulated, so farmers and manufacturers can label their food as organic when it really isn’t. But manufacturers can label their foods as “fat-free” if they contain less than .5 grams of fat per serving. But when you add those servings up, the food isn’t really fat-free at all.
The term “lite” is another word that doesn’t have much regulation, so manufacturers can label their foods as “lite” as long as it has fewer calories. However, if a food is labeled as “light,” this means that it has one-third fewer calories than the regular version.
Unless you have a really large family, you probably don’t need to shop in bulk. Avoid the bulk retailers and warehouse-style grocery stores as they’ll try to entice you with deals you don’t need. Although a deep discount on 10 boxes of cookies seems like a great deal now, once you get those 10 boxes of cookies home, you may end up eating those 10 boxes way too quickly and feel guilty afterward. Or, you may not eat them fast enough and have to end up throwing half of the boxes away, which is wasteful. This will also help you with portion control.
The dairy, meat, produce and deli sections are always located around the perimeter of store, so stick to shopping in these sections as much as possible. If you have to go to a part of the store that contains tempting, unhealthy foods, grab what you need and go. For instance, if you need to get a loaf of bread from the bakery, grab it and hustle out of there. Don’t spend time looking at all of the desserts for sale, otherwise you’ll probably grab one of those, too.
Processed foods like deli meat, frozen dinners, pastries and chips should not be in your shopping cart if you’re trying to eat healthy. Many of these foods contain extra additives that your body doesn’t need. Just look at the nutrition label on some of these foods; most of them are loaded with sodium, which Americans consume too much of to begin with (see: How A Low Sodium Diet Can Save You).
When you shop on an empty stomach, your stomach ends up doing the shopping. Before you know it, your cart is filled with all kinds of junk foods and items you don’t need. So make sure that you’re good and full before wandering around the grocery store. You’ll be less likely to pick up fatty or carbohydrate-filled foods as well as those free samples that are offered throughout the store.