Let’s Take a Trip… to the Grocery Store
By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. John 6:11
This month we will continue to look at components of wellness from the Healthy Living Wheel and focus on Nutrition. Many of my articles lately are being written through the filter of COVID-19. What do you do when you are stuck in the house and feeling frustrated? Oh sure, there are a few things that you could do—laundry, cleaning, yard work, exercise. But after several weeks at home, some people start turning to food for comfort or as a reward, instead of just eating to meet our basic physical needs. (And by some people, I mean me. And maybe you?) Food has been on a lot of people’s minds recently—will we have enough meat? Should I go to the grocery store? Is food safe? We are also missing out on the social aspect of food. Food is the center of many gatherings which are not taking place. During the past few weeks one of my only outings has been to the grocery store. In this month’s article we will explore the grocery store and how to effectively shop for healthy options.
Did you know that many grocery stores are laid out in the same way? Usually you will find healthier items around the outside edges. The inner aisles generally have less healthy options. Even though there may be some items as you enter the store that are probably not the best choice, the first section you encounter when you arrive is the colorful produce section. It is in this same location in nearly every grocery store that I have gone to.
At the store I usually go to, if you walk through the produce section you encounter the bakery. I try to avoid it and not even enter that area. If I keep walking around the perimeter, I encounter the fish and seafood section. Then comes the remainder of the meat—beef, pork, chicken, turkey. If I keep walking the next location is the dairy section—milk, yogurt. Right across from that is where you can find the eggs. Now this is where it falls apart. The refrigerated case contains a variety of juices—nearly everyone with added sugar.
The next freezer cases contain prepared, easy to cook, frozen meals. Some of these items are tasty, but they contain a lot of sodium and preservatives. So even though they may be low in fat and calories, there are a lot of things that aren’t so great. As we come back around to the front of the store, we pass the “Health Food” section. Not always the healthiest option—check the labels—but this area has gluten-free foods, sprouted breads in the freezer case, and protein powders. OK—we’ve circled the perimeter, but what’s in those center aisles? This is the place where we find canned products, snacks, pop, boxed cereal, bread, ice cream, cookies. Some of these are not the best choice when it comes to healthy eating. The other place to be wary of at the store are the end displays and near the registers. As I go to the checkout, I see a loaf of banana bread—mmm, that looks good…and it is bananas. This is how I inappropriately justify buying it. I wish they would have left it back in the bakery section so it wouldn’t tempt me on my way out. Then as I am waiting to check out I see the magazines and candy bars. I can just picture myself eating a Twix bar and catching up on the Hollywood gossip…wait, I don’t want to do that. By knowing about how the grocery store is laid out, you have more control over buying healthy choices.
Some shopping tips when in the grocery store:
Write out a list and stick to it. This helps prevent impulse buys.
Don’t go to the grocery store when you are hungry. You will be more likely to fill your cart with anything and everything that looks good to you. On the other hand, it’s probably not the best time to go to the grocery store after you finish a hearty meal. In that case, nothing looks good and your trip to the store will yield little, healthy or otherwise.
Shop the rainbow. Look for colorful produce and for what’s in season.
Buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables if that is going to make the difference between eating healthy and not eating healthy. It is more expensive, but also very convenient.
Look for lean proteins. What are lean proteins? We are talking about lean cuts of meat, chicken, turkey breast, eggs, many types of fish and seafood, lower-fat milk and milk products, and plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, and tofu.
Buy healthy fats. Yes, there are healthy fats. Some choices include extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, raw and unsalted nuts, natural nut butter, and preferably organic butter.
Pick up some whole grains. Whole grains include steel-cut oats, barley, brown rice, wild rice, and
Read labels—before you buy. Try to ignore what is on the front of the package—look at the label instead. For example, I bought some Beyond Burger plant-based patties. (I don’t eat red meat, but once in awhile a burger sounds good.) The front of the package says: 35% less saturated fat than 80/20 ground beef, 20 g of plant protein per serving, no soy, no gluten, non-GMO project verified. Wow—these must be healthy! Then I looked at the back and found that the serving size was one 4 ounce patty. Each patty had 260 calories, 18 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber. The label had 20 ingredients listed!
Whole foods or “real” foods
No more than five ingredients on the label. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient—skip this food.
Food that is as close to what it started out to be. Can you see the oats in Cheerios?
Local foods—the Farmers Market will have great options throughout the summer.
Foods with minimal packaging.
What to avoid:
Sugar and other sweeteners. The label might not come right out and say sugar, so be on the lookout for these words and phrases: syrup (corn syrup, agave syrup, etc.), words ending in “-ose” (sucrose, glucose, fructose), words starting with “malto-“ (maltodextrin), made with/contains real fruit, and fortified with.
Additives, preservatives, artificial colors
More than a few ingredients on the label
Also, these days it is important to wash your hands before leaving your house to go grocery shopping, wear a mask to the store, bring hand sanitizer with and use it as needed, and make sure your cart has been sanitized before you shop.
Safe and healthy eating everyone!
This month’s question to ponder:
How could improved nutrition improve wellness in other dimensions of your life?
Berardi, J. (n.d.) Grocery store techniques for fat loss. Precision Nutrition. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/grocery-store-techniques
Zelman, K. (n.d.) 10 tips for healthy grocery shopping. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/10-tips-for-healthy-grocery-shopping#1