Eating healthy starts in the grocery store. What you do or don’t put in your cart can determine how well you stick to your diet. By leaving sodium, fat, and sugar-filled junk on store shelves, and bringing home fruits, vegetables, and foods that are full of fiber, you won’t have to engage in as many food fights with yourself at home, and you’ll make it easier to make it a healthy choice when your stomach is growling.
So what, exactly, should be in your grocery cart and pantry? The best and worst choices are listed below. Next time you’re headed to the grocery, take this list with you and you’ll be sure to be stocked with the good stuff by the time you get home.
WHITE AND BROWN BREADS
Enriched white breads are highly refined and lack the nutrients of whole-grain breads. The bran and germ have been removed from white bread for longer shelf life, and with that, also gone are the fiber, iron, and B vitamins you need. And just because bread is brown or is labeled “wheat” doesn’t make it healthy. Be sure to check the ingredients panel. The first ingredient should include the word “whole,” which means that they include the entire seed. Whole grains have been proven to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
CRACKERS, COOKIES, AND CAKES
These are filled with calories and added sugar and fat that will pack on the pounds. Plus, they don’t have the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. If you must have a snack, choose versions that are labeled low-fat, whole-grain, or reduced sodium. For more on what these labels mean, read this article.
Even if it’s labeled 100 percent juice, it’s best to avoid it altogether. Sure, there are vitamins and minerals, but they’re full of calories and sugar, and devoid of fiber that will fill you up and keep you satisfied. It’s harder for the body to register “I’m full” when you drink your calories. Instead, choose water, milk, or other calorie-free beverages.
The regular versions are packed with sugar and a meal’s worth of calories. And while the diet versions are free of calories, ingredients like “caramel color” and phosphoric acid aren’t doing anything to help your weight-loss and healthy-eating goals.
OILS AND BUTTER
Avoid butter and lard and margarines that contain trans-fats. They’ve all been linked to increased risk of obesity and heart disease. Instead, choose oils (like canola, olive, and grapeseed). What to spread on your toast? Choose a vegetable-oil-based spread like Promise, which contains significantly less saturated fat, and is almost always cholesterol-free.
Whole milk, cheese, and yogurt are packed with sugar and fat that you don’t need. When looking for milk, choose skim or 1% versions, or try other nondairy milks like almond and soy milk. Try low-fat cheeses and sour cream. With yogurt, choose brands with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. Or better yet, buy plain Greek yogurt and sweeten it by adding your own fresh fruit.
Soups will fill you up and warm you up on a cold day. But the wrong bowl pack on the pounds. Avoid cream of anything soup, like cream of broccoli or New England clam chowder. Instead, look for broth-based soups with less than 150 calories per serving, less than 3 grams of fat, and less than 149 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Sure, they’re convenient and the portions are measured out for you, but they can be filled with calories, fat, and sodium. Avoid any product with more than 500 calories, 10 grams of fat or and more than 500 grams of sodium per serving. And be sure to check the serving size before you dig in. Lots of meals that look like they’re a single serving are actually two.
Avoid any fruity mixed drinks. They’re full of sugar and calories, and will wreak havoc on your waistline (and your head if you enjoy too many). Choose beer, wine, or spirits instead. Studies have shown that one to two drinks per day may actually reduce risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Red wine has antioxidants that have been linked to heart health; beer offers protein, B vitamins, and a bit of soluble fiber.
Nuts come packed with fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and have been linked to lower risk of heart disease. Avoid nuts that are roasted or coated in oil and that have other added sugars and fillers. Avoid highly processed nut butters with a laundry list of preservatives and fillers like sugar, soy lecithin, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Look for raw, ground, or dry-roasted nuts that are free of fillers and preservatives.