If diet and nutrition have a sizeable impact on your health, then the grocery store is an opportunity where if you improve your habits, your health will follow. Supermarkets have a wide selection of foods. Healthy, unhealthy and in between are all there. The foundation of food you build your diet around will greatly affect your health, so having good shopping habits is a must.
Going grocery shopping is not just about walking up and down each aisle putting whatever you want into your shopping cart. You need to make smart choices about what foods you buy. You need fruits, vegetables, bread, snacks, breakfast foods, lunch choices and dinner meals. All of these products have a wide array of choices you can make. Should you buy white or whole wheat bread? Should you buy eggs or egg beaters? Knowing how to separate truly good foods from marketing hype can help you make the right choices at the store.
The base of our food has traditionally been meat, even before supermarkets came along. We no longer have to hunt and now we can choose between many options. Since meats are associated with high amounts of saturated (bad) fats, you should buy the meat that isn't. Examples of these are poultry, fish, and lean cuts of beef. Eggs have also been a concern in the past because of their cholesterol and fat content. They now make (real, not egg beaters) eggs that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol by feeding hens better diets.
Since dairy comes from animals, it is also associated with high levels of saturated fat. Most dairy products come in whole, low fat and fat free varieties. Whenever you can, try using low or fat free products since they contain less saturated fat than whole versions. If you really want to try something new, use soy products. You can find soy milk, soy cheese and even soy chocolate that taste similar to the real thing. They contain unsaturated (good) fat, are low in saturated fat, and are free of cholesterol. A moderate intake of soy protein is also good for the heart.
Grains are also a huge part of our diets. Going carb-free is not a good idea because you need carbohydrates for energy. Exercise, moving around and simply staying alive are all intensive activities that burn a lot of calories. If you distinguish between the good and bad carbs, your diet will be healthier.
Good carbs are those that take longer to digest and because of this, you will be full and eat less. Good or complex carbs are found in 100% whole wheat breads, bagels and pasta, oatmeal, some cereals and vegetables. These foods are also high in fiber which will also keep you full. You should stay away from bad or simple carbs because they are quickly digested and leave you wanting more. They are found in foods such as cookies, sodas, candy, most junk foods and white breads.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should be on everyone's shopping list. They are low in calories and very high in nutrients. Buying produce that is in season or grown locally will be the cheapest and healthiest. The longer produce is stored in a warehouse and the further it needs to be transported means less nutrients and higher costs.
Snacks are more important than you may think. Snacks can help you spread your calories more evenly throughout the day. They will help you eat more between meals and shrink the size of your main meals. This will keep you from getting hungry and help your body more efficiently use the calories you give it. Not all your snacks have to be healthy. You have to enjoy your food, so if you want a snack to be chocolate or cookies, get those. Snacking turns unhealthy when instead of eating one serving, you eat three or four.
If you buy unhealthy snacks, make sure you balance them out with healthy ones too. Fruits, nuts, peanut butter and seeds are all great examples. Good snacks are low in sugar and high in healthy calories: unsaturated fats and complex carbs.
The Bottom Line
While the items listed above are only a foundation, you should apply these principles to all the foods you buy. High amounts of vitamins and minerals, unsaturated over saturated fat and complex over simple carbs. If you stick to these guidelines, you will buy healthier items and make healthier foods.