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Smart Grocery Shopping

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

The average supermarket contains 45,000 different items. Forty-five thousand different items. With the conflicting nutrition information we see through various media, and the clever way products are packaged and labeled, a simple trip to the grocery store for foods that should provide us health and nourishment can be a very confusing, frustrating activity.

If you are clear on what you need for optimal nutrition, and you keep from being misled by fancy packaging and misleading labels, you will save time and confusion. The following are some things to get you started as you make your way to the grocery store:

  • Fill most of your cart with items on the outside of the store

Most grocery stores are set up with the whole, unprocessed foods on the outside of the store. Most packaged, processed items will be on the shelves on the inside of the store. Of course, not all products in this area are heavily processed, but many of them are. Be sure to check the labels.

  • Fill your cart with plenty of produce

Produce should be your first stop. If possible, look for organic. You may decide to pick up some of these items at your local Farmers Market, but many grocery stores carry some products that are locally grown as well. The more full your cart is with produce, the less room you'll have to add extra processed foods once you face them.

  • Get your protein

Your next stop will likely be the meat section. Meat section is a loose term since you'll also find your chicken, turkey, fish, bison, ostrich, pork, and other sources of protein. Look for "free-range," "grass-fed," "free of hormones," "wild," etc. If you've heard mixed messages about protein intake, be sure to keep checking the nutrition site for additional articles that will be coming out in a series on protein. If you are a vegetarian, other protein sources may need to be considered.

  • Choose your dairy and eggs wisely

The topic of dairy could be a series of articles by itself, and will be addressed in the future. A few quick points: Look for hormone-free, and organic if possible. The choice of skim, 1%, 2%, or whole milk is a topic of debate. Assuming your not consuming a lot of unnecessary sugar in the diet, having milk with some fat in it is probably wise. However, this requires more space to discuss than is available here. Look for eggs from free-range chickens, or at a minimum, those that have a higher amount of Omega-3s. Eggs are one of the best whole-food sources of protein, and a great way to start your day. Yogurt can be a source of a lot of extra sugar. Be sure to check the labels. The other common dairy product is cottage cheese, which is a great source of protein if you are not lactose intolerant.

At this point in your shopping trip, your cart should be about half-full, which leaves the freezer section and the rest of the inside shelves. You'll also likely have a "health food section," but keep in mind that not all foods in that section are appropriate for each individual's meal plan. Over time, we'll add more advice about other various food products on the blog. I would also strongly encourage you to register for the Nutrition-Smart Shopping Tour at your local Life Time Fitness. Your Nutrition Coach or Personal Trainer will guide you through your local grocery store and help answer some of the more individual question you may have. The event will take place each quarter. Space is limited, so be sure to register soon. Happy shopping!

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