This is a topic that I’ve been wanting to discuss for quite some time. Especially since most people seem to struggle with nutrition and it’s typically where people go wrong in terms of meeting their health and fitness goals. I also just became a certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, so it seems like the right time to talk about “surviving the grocery store.”
Most grocery stores are laid out the same way with healthy foods and products around the perimeter and all of the junk food and processed food in the middle. As a former marketing professional, I can tell you that this is done on purpose. That way you have to pass through all the tempting food with colorful packaging to get to the healthy and more nutritious food.
Here are some rules to stick to while grocery shopping:
Rule number one is never, ever, ever go to the store when you’re hungry. I know we’ve all been there when you make a ton of impulse purchases, because you’re “hangry” aka so hungry that it leads to anger or frustration. So try to have a small meal or a snack or a protein shake before you hit the road. Having a protein shake is one of my favorite tricks before going to the store or dining out, because I’m less likely to binge.
Rule number two is to stick mostly to the perimeter of your local grocery store. There are always exceptions to the rule, but this is generally true. Companies pay top dollar to be in more convenient areas of the store. Ever notice why there is always junk food at the cash register as well? Companies also pay a lot of money to be located there for last-minute decisions and moments of weakness while shopping (refer to rule number one so that you can stay strong during your trip to the store).
To elaborate on this, the bakery might appear to be on the “perimeter,” but it’s not. It’s location is also a marketing ploy to get you to smell that freshly baked bread, bagels, fried chicken, Chinese food, etc. right when you enter the store. So keep walking and make your way to the true perimeter of the store where they keep the fresh veggies, fresh fruit, and lean meats. The healthier choices might seem like they are “out of your way,” but you’ll get some extra steps in and a little extra exercise while making better food choices as well.
Rule number three, eat the rainbow. Look for colorful fruits and vegetables. Try to find out what’s in season and/or local. Those will be the freshest and the cheapest. Ever notice how certain fruits like strawberries and blueberries are insanely expensive during the winter? There’s a reason for that. They aren’t fresh and a lot of preservation took place to get them to the store before going bad. Buying local is always the best, when possible, and if you’re curious about which fruits and veggies to buy organic, then check out this list.
Rule number four, look for protein. Protein is essential for cell repair, muscle repair, cell function, and almost all functions in the body. Not to mention, that it helps you feel more full throughout the day, because it takes your body time to break it down. So if you eat meat, then look for lean meats like turkey, chicken, lean cuts of pork, lean ground beef, tuna, salmon, etc. If you don’t eat meat, then you can grab some eggs, greek yogurt, etc. or if you’re truly vegan or vegetarian, then look for lentils, beans, peas, hummus, tofu, plant-based protein powder, etc.
Rule number five, look for healthy fats. Fat typically gets bashed a lot. The wrong kind of fat, typically added to foods, is bad for you, but fat that naturally occurs in plants and animals can be good for you. Examples include: olive oil, hemp seed oil, flax-seed oil, coconut oil, flax-seed oil, pumpkin see oil, fresh avocado, unflavored and unsalted nuts, unflavored and unsalted seeds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, natural peanut butter, and other natural nut butters. Healthy fats can also be found in eggs and some dairy foods.
Rule number six, look for whole grains. Carbohydrates get bashed all the time and it literally drives me crazy! Especially with all of these “keto diets” popping up. Your body and your brain NEED carbohydrates and the glucose it extracts from carbs to survive. Ketosis can be dangerous if not monitored or supervised by a medical professional. Anyways, that’s a whole different discussion, so look for whole grains, not processed grains. Bread is not the enemy either. Processed grains that are mass-produced and found in most bread are bad for you, yes. However, if you find breads that are made with whole grains, spelt, ancient grains, etc. That kind of bread, real bread, is very good for you. Other whole grains include; steel-cut or rolled oats, brown rice, wild rice, barley, quinoa, wheat berries, etc.
These rules can be hard to follow, but like anything else, it takes practice. Another hurdle is reading and interpreting food labels. They can be misleading. So ignore all of the marketing on food packaging that says things like, “All-Natural” or “Healthy” or “Whole Wheat” or “Sugar-Free.” Flip those food packages over and go straight to the ingredients.
So I guess you could say rule number seven is, ALWAYS read the ingredients label. Ingredients are where manufacturers have to admit what’s in there to get approved by the FDA, USDA, etc. Look for whole foods with the fewest ingredients and that is close to its original state (aka minimal processing). Buy organic or local if possible and look for minimal to no packaging. Words or phrases to avoid include; hydorgenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose or corn syrup listed separately, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and other preservatives or additives, food coloring (red #40, yellow #5, etc.), words starting with malto such as maltodextrin or maltitol, sucrose or sucralose, “Made with Real Fruit,” or “Fortified with,” and the list could go on and on.
The grocery store can be a tricky place and it baffles me as a fitness professional that we manufacture our own “food” and actually eat it. When nature truly gives us everything we need to survive and has done so for hundreds and thousands of years. The stuff that some of these companies make shouldn’t even have earned the right to be called food.
Speaking of which, food is truly the most abused substance in our society, but nobody really talks about it, because we all need to eat to survive. However, some of us eat to self-medicate. Click here to read my story on how I overcame self-medicating with food and over-eating.
Good luck out there and feel free to message me if you need help with self-control, fitness, nutrition, reading nutrition labels, or anything health and fitness related at firstname.lastname@example.org.