Abs are Made in the Grocery Store
There is a popular saying that goes, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym,” referring to the fact that our body composition depends as much if not more on our food choices than the amount of exercise we do. However, I think that phrase needs some revising. I truly believe that the choice happens at the grocery store, not the kitchen. If you buy healthy foods, you will eat healthy foods! Keeping tempting snack foods and indulgences out of the kitchens makes it much easier to make healthy choices when it is late, you are tired, or the stress of the day makes you want to eat everything in sight! But how do you conquer the grocery store and leave with only healthy purchases? This is what my best friend asked of me, so we took a field trip to Trader Joe’s to learn some healthy grocery shopping basics. This is the advice we came up with for filling your grocery cart with healthy food on a budget.
1. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is the oldest advice in the book when it comes to healthy grocery shopping tips, but it really works! The real food – like fruits, veggies, dairy, and meat – tends to be located towards the periphery of the store. The tempting snack foods, desserts, and prepared frozen meals tend to be located in the center aisles. While necessary ingredients are located in the center as well, the bulk of time should be spent perusing the outskirts. The 80-20 rule applies here. 80% of your time and grocery budget should come from the perimeter, while the other 20% is dedicated to the shelf stable centrally located necessities.
2. Stock up with fruits and veggies, and try at least one new produce item each week. The most common comment I hear from friends is that they don’t buy fresh produce because they are afraid of not being able to use it and wasting food. I have found that the more produce I have in my house, the more I am forced to make healthy choices for that exact reason. It is easier to choose an apple for a snack when you know you have to eat the fruit before it goes bad! It may take a few weeks and a little playing around with how much you can realistically eat within a week, which may mean a few up front weeks of spoiled veggies or sad fruits. However, it is worth the experiment in the long run! If this really is an issue, then frozen fruits and veggies are still an excellent option. Simply look for things that are flash frozen, have no added salt or sugar, and will maintain texture and flavor after being frozen.
Trying new things is also crucial here – you may find new favorites and will never know unless you begin to expand your horizons! This will also break you out of boring produce ruts and help to ensure that you get the full range of nutrients in your diet.
3. Focus on whole grains. Make sure that your bread is made with 100% whole wheat flour, choose whole wheat crackers and wraps, and look for items like quinoa, brown rice, old-fashioned oatmeal, and other unprocessed grains. White grains turn more quickly into sugar and are only for a treat, but often hide in products marketed as whole wheat or healthy. Be a label sleuth and a grain snob – it is for your health.
4. Read the labels! And don’t just stop at calories and fat. While counting calories is important for weight loss, there are other important items to consider. Serving size is key – my friend picked up a package of chicken taquitos and exclaimed, “Oh, only 110 calories!” That may sound ok until we looked at the serving size and realized that it is per tiny taquito, which would not make for the most filling lunch.
Ingredient lists are also good to peruse – anything with a laundry list of ingredients or with lots of hard to pronounce chemical names is probably something to steer clear from. Another important line to read is sodium. Anything with more than 10% of the RDV of sodium is probably not worth it – you can add salt if your taste buds need it, but you can’t take out the hidden salt. High sodium foods are not heart healthy, and also lead to water retention, which can be discouraging for dieters. The last place to look on a food label is the carbohydrates section. You want high fiber foods, since they help with satiety and help, well…. ya know. You also want to avoid added sugars, which I learned during my challenge, are everywhere!
Now take the reading labels example as a whole: my friend was choosing between 2 different types of bread. Both were 100% whole wheat, no weird preservatives, and similar in calories (110 vs. 80 per slice). Many dieters would stop there and choose the lower calorie bread. However, we looked down and noticed the 110 calorie option had 3x the amount of both fiber and protein, making it more nutritious per calorie and therefore the better option. Reading food labels is important!
5. Keep a well stocked pantry. Having staple ingredients on hand when the fridge seems empty will help you avoid the take-out temptation. Bulk grains, pastas, beans, low-sodium canned tomato sauce, and frozen veggies are helpful and can be thrown into a quick meal, like rice and beans or pasta with vegetables. Vinegars and herbs are also helpful for adding flavor and interest to a simple meal, without high cost, calories, or sodium. Having healthier quick-fix meal options, like low sodium soups or healthy frozen entrees instead of boxed mac and cheese and high sodium options, is also important for nights when things are too busy to cook.
6. Never shop hungry. If you are hungry, you will fall victim to end cap sale items, junk food treats, and impulse buys. Shopping on a full stomach will help you focus and make the best choices at the store.
7. Use a list. Some people go to the extreme with meal planning and lists, but I take a looser approach. In order to shop the sales, I make a bare bones shopping list: 3 types of fruit, 5 types of veggies (2 leafy green, 1 starch, peppers, mushrooms), bulk grain, bread, yogurt, eggs, etc. This allows me to choose what looks best that week or what is on sale, while still allowing me to have the essentials for meals throughout the week.
With these guidelines in hand, my friend was able to conquer Trader Joe’s and emerge with bags of healthy food! Together, we brainstormed healthy lunches, picked up fruit for healthy snacks, and compared a lot of labels to pick the best products. We both learned a lot and had fun in the process, but who wouldn’t have fun with this little guy smiling back at you the whole time?!
Question: Do you have anything to add to this list? What is your grocery shopping style?