How To Grocery Shop Smart And Healthy

Plan your meals. Make a list.

If you truly desire to prepare fresh, healthy food and serve the kind of meals for you and your family that will give you health and not health problems down the road, you will need to get serious about meal planning, preferably up to a week in advance, and keep an accurate shopping list that corresponds to your planned meals. Then, stick to your list when you shop and buy only what you need. By doing so, you are more likely to:

  • Avoid emotional purchases at the grocery store.
  • Focus on freshly prepared, healthy meals rather than nutritionally inferior processed food meals.
  • Prevent last minute impulses to purchase fast food, pizza, or take-outs.

Don’t Let The Grocery Markets Outsmart You

  • Shop the perimeter. If you want healthy foods, concentrate on the foods around the perimeter of the store. With refrigeration, ventilation, and water access, this is where the fresher foods are kept. The foods in the center aisles are generally more processed. Once you get into the habit of healthy eating, you will discover that you rarely have to venture into the center aisles.
  • Forget the end caps. The spots at the ends of each aisle often contain promotional items that may not be that healthy or cheap. They are just conveniently placed to catch your attention.
  • Scan top and bottom shelves. The most expensive products are often deliberately placed at eye level. Take a moment to scan the top and bottom items too.
  • Do your own math, check the per unit price. Signs boasting “2 for $5” or “5 for $10” may not be an indication of a bargain at all, but just a marketing gimmick. Additionally, manufacturers tend to tinker with package size. Check the per unit price, occasionally, smaller packages are cheaper per unit than larger packages.
  • Leave your kids at home. Many parents will buy a product they normally won’t purchase simply because their kids are attracted by the packaging and want it. If it is possible to leave them at home, there will be less unhealthy temptations.
  • Don’t shop when you are hungry, eat before you go. It will help avoid impulsive junk food purchases.

How To Shop Healthy

Produce

  • First stop. Head for the produce section. Try thinking about your grocery cart like the food on your plate. You want to bulk up (at least 50 percent) with vegetables and fruits.
  • Variety is the key. Pick at least seven vegetables and four fruits of different colors for the week. Use up produce that will spoil quickly, such as arugula, spinach, and berries, at the beginning of the week. Heartier vegetables like cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and apples will hold up just fine as the week goes on.
  • Carrots, celery, cucumber, jicama, and bell peppers are great snack veggies. Cut them up over the weekend and use them as snacks throughout the week. They also go well with almond butter, cheese, or hummus.
  • Always buy organic when it comes to these produce. They have the highest residue of pesticides and herbicides – apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, hot peppers, kale, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, carrots, and collard greens.
  • Avoid buying genetically modified (GM) corn, zucchini, yellow squash, and Hawaiian papaya by staying with organic. When it is organic, it cannot be GM.

Meats and Seafood

  • Next, head down to the protein section. With animals and seafood, the key is to avoid those that have been given hormones, antibiotics, and GM corn or soy feed.
  • Organic and 100% grass-fed beef is the healthiest of all beef. This type of beef contains the highest omega 3 to omega 6 ratio as well as the beneficial CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). “Organic” animals are fed 100% organic feed without animal byproducts or growth hormones but they may not be entirely grass-fed. When it is 100% grass-fed vs. grass-finished, it means the animals feed on grass its entire life. However, be aware that “grass-fed” standards allow pesticides and herbicides on the pastures the animals feed on and they can also be fed GM alfalfa.
  • Buying ground organic grass-fed beef is an excellent alternative if you are on a budget.
  • Lamb is always naturally grass-fed.
  • With chicken, organic free-range is the best. If it is merely “free-range”, there is no guarantee that the chicken is not given GM corn or soy feed.
  • Pastured pork is much preferred over “natural” or “minimally processed” pork. Presently, there is no system in place to verify that the pork is truly natural or minimally processed. These terms are pretty much meaningless.
  • When it comes to seafood, wild is always better than farmed. Farmed fish are raised in close quarters in pens in the sea or ponds (freshwater seafood) and fed an unnatural diet of GM corn and soy. That means diseases and parasites are common, resulting in the heavy use of antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals to combat the problem.
  • Small ocean fish is better than big fish. Big fish tends to accumulate more mercury in the body.

LEAST MERCURY

Anchovies

Butterfish

Catfish

Clam

Crab (Domestic)

Crawfish/Crayfish

Croaker (Atlantic)

Flounder*

Haddock (Atlantic)*

Hake

Herring

Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)

Mullet

Oyster

Perch (Ocean)

Plaice

Pollock

Salmon (Canned)**

Salmon (Fresh)**

Sardine

Scallop*

Shad (American)

Shrimp*

Sole (Pacific)

Squid (Calamari)

Tilapia

Trout (Freshwater)

Whitefish

Whiting

MODERATE MERCURY

Bass (Striped, Black)

Carp

Cod (Alaskan)*

Croaker (White Pacific)

Halibut (Atlantic)*

Halibut (Pacific)

Jacksmelt

(Silverside)

Lobster

Mahi Mahi

Monkfish*

Perch (Freshwater)

Sablefish

Skate*

Snapper*

Tuna (Canned

chunk light)

Tuna (Skipjack)*

Weakfish (Sea Trout)

HIGH MERCURY

Bluefish

Grouper*

Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)

Sea Bass (Chilean)*

Tuna (Canned Albacore)

Tuna (Yellowfin)*

HIGHEST MERCURY

Mackerel (King)

Marlin*

Orange Roughy*

Shark*

Swordfish*

Tilefish*

Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)*

* Fish in Trouble! These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods.

** Farmed Salmon may contain PCB’s, chemicals with serious long-term health effects.

Eggs

  • Eggs are an excellent source of protein. Contrary to what we have been told by the media, cholesterol in food is not harmful. Every cell in the body requires cholesterol and we need cholesterol to make our hormones. Egg yolks contain fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial to your eyes. They also contain calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and the B vitamins.
  • Always choose organic free-range eggs. If you can get organic and truly pastured eggs, they are even better.

Dairy

  • Again, buy organic to avoid the growth hormones, antibiotics, and GM feed. Grass-fed will be an added bonus.
  • Organic full-fat dairy is far superior to low-fat and non-fat dairy. Saturated fat is essential to your well-being. Your brain is mainly made of fat and cholesterol. The lion’s share of the fatty acids in the brain are actually saturated. A diet that skimps on healthy saturated fats robs your brain of the raw materials it needs to function optimally. What’s more, low-fat and non-fat dairy often contains more additives to make them palatable. However, saturated fat is only good if it is from organically-raised animals as harmful growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides tend to concentrate in fat tissues.
  • Watch out for the additives in yogurt, cottage cheese, and flavored coffee creamer. Read the ingredient list carefully before you buy.
  • Sweetened yogurt usually contains an enormous amount of sugar. Instead, choose plain yogurt and mix it with some berries, chopped nuts, and a tiny swirl of raw, organic honey for a delicious and healthy treat.

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

  • Nutrient levels of frozen produce is generally about 10% lower than fresh produce. Picked at their peak of freshness, frozen produce is a wonderful way to fill the produce gap, especially in the winter.
  • Frozen berries are excellent for smoothies.

Canned Foods

  • If you are buying canned foods, only buy from brands that do not use BPA (bisphenol-A) in the lining of the cans. BPA is extremely harmful to health because it is a hormone disruptor. Babies and young children are especially sensitive to the effects of BPA. If you are not sure about a certain product, check the company’s website. The following are a few companies that do not have BPA in their cans: Amy’s, Crown Prince, Eden Foods, Native Forest, Muir Green, Oregon Choice, Trader Joe’s Vital Choice, Whole Foods 365, and Wild Planet.
  • Canned wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, and herrings are good alternatives to the fresh ones.
  • Check the ingredients for additives and unsavory vegetables oils (corn, canola, cottonseed, soy, safflower, and sunflower). Olive oil is the best.

Grains

  • Whole grains like barley, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, and quinoa, are minimally processed and can be fantastic substitutes for the usual rice and pasta. These grains can be combined with leftover cooked vegetables and/or proteins for a warm salad lunch. Add some chopped nuts or feta cheese for additional flavor and texture.
  • When buying bread, watch out for the unhealthy additives and bad vegetable oil used in commercial baking. Read the ingredient list carefully.
  • Steel-cut oats or Irish oatmeal are made from whole grain kernels called groats. They are cut into two or three pieces with a sharp steel blade, hence, steel-cut oats. This type of oatmeal has the lowest glycemic index, meaning your blood sugar rises slowly before it drops back down, keeping you feeling satisfied hours after breakfast. Second best is old-fashioned oats, also labeled regular or rolled oats. They are made by steaming and rolling whole groats. The least desirable is instant oats which are the most processed and highest in glycemic index.
  • Boxed breakfast cereals, even the whole grain version, are highly processed foods. They are also very heavy in carbs and sugar. Unless labeled organic, many contain GM ingredients from corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets. Breakfast cereals are usually fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals to make them look more nutritious. Unfortunately, such nutrients are not easily absorbed by the body.

Oils and Fats

  • There are only three common types of oils you should use for cooking on a regular basis: organic animal fat, coconut oil, and olive oil.
  • The most common type of animal fat is butter. Always buy organic and preferably grass-fed. Ghee is clarified butter with the milk solids removed, hence, it can withstand higher heat without burning. Other types of animal fat include chicken fat, duck fat, pork fat, and beef fat. As long as these fats come from healthy, organically-raised animals, they can be used for cooking. Different types of fats give you different flavors.
  • Buy organic, unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat, therefore, it will remain stable at high temperature and not get damaged.
  • Olive oil should only be used for making salad dressing or low heat cooking. Extra virgin olive oil is the best.
  • Do not buy commercial salad dressings. Majority of them use vegetable oils and have other additives. Instead make your own by using a good olive oil and an acid such as lemon juice, balsamic or apple cider vinegar. Chop up some some fresh herbs and mix together in a jar. It will keep in the fridge for a week.

Sweeteners

  • If you do not have a blood sugar/insulin problem or have not had cancer, an occasional treat using natural sugar is fine. The best are raw, organic honey and pure maple syrup. Otherwise, use stevia which is a sweet herb.