Making Healthy Grocery Store Choices

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Going to the grocery store and making healthy choices can be difficult because there are so many different foods with multiple different ingredients. Sometimes we don’t even know what an ingredient is or what it is used for. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when you shop at the grocery store to simplify the process. 

The first thing to remember is shop the perimeter of the store. This is where the majority of the less processed food can be found. You will typically find healthy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, frozen produce, and some whole grains around the perimeter. Avoiding the aisles as much as possible will prevent you from loading up your cart with the more processed foods such as candy, chips, and cookies. 

In the produce aisle, you don’t have to buy everything organic but it is a good idea to remember the “dirty dozen”. These are the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide content and if you can buy them organic that would be recommended. Of course, it is always better to consume any produce compared to not eating it at all! The dirty dozen includes: strawberries, apples, nectarines, spinach, peaches, grapes, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers. 

When you look at the back of the label the ingredients list should be short, roughly around 5 ingredients or less. You should also be able to understand all of the ingredients that are listed. If a food that you buy has more than 10 ingredients and words that you can’t understand it is best to put it back on the shelf because it has most likely been overly processed. Also, pay attention to what the ingredients actually are. For example: if you see the word “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list that means the food has trans fat in it, in which case it would be best not to buy it because trans fat increases your risk for heart disease. 

If you are watching your sugar intake, check the sugar on the back of the label in food panel. It should be around 5 grams. If it is 10 grams or more, most likely a lot of that sugar was added to the product. Consuming foods with too much added sugar can increase our risk for becoming overweight and developing high blood sugar. Sugar should also be listed towards the bottom of the ingredients list.

Always make a grocery list before going to the store. Keeping a grocery list will help you stay on track with buying the foods that are necessary. You will be less likely to grab something unhealthy or make an impulse buy if you make your grocery list ahead of time. Along the same lines as making a list, you also should not be shopping on an empty stomach. Eating on an empty stomach will more likely cause cravings for specific foods (and usually junk food) which makes it more tempting to place those foods in your cart.

When buying animal proteins it is best to stick with the leaner options like 93% lean or more. The American Heart Association recommends to eat 2 servings of fish a week to get enough omega 3 fatty acids for your heart health. You can also get more omega 3 fatty acids by choosing meats that have been pasture raised or grass fed.

Dairy products are another area where you can easily make the right choice by looking at a few things. Pre-shredded cheese contains extra added ingredients and starches to keep the cheese from sticking together and yellow cheeses have added food coloring. Remember the less ingredients the better so stick to white cheeses that are whole and not shredded!

By following a few simple procedures at the grocery store you will get yourself on the right path to making the most nutritious food choices possible!

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