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Grocery Basics: The Store Tour

Last week, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help give a supermarket tour at Pathmark with a Corporate Dietitian from The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. While it was my first time participating in a store tour, it was reminiscent of some of my lessons focusing on label reading, cost effective purchasing, and buying seasonally.

There were a few things about this tour that were unique. The tour group consisted of members of the Joslin center for diabetics. Education is a large part of Joslin’s mission and care process. Participating in a store tour to learn how to “shop smart” is just one way that members are able to actively manage their condition.

Throughout the tour, we emphasized the importance of dietary fiber, determining appropriate carbohydrate and sugar allowances, and debunking health claims on certain products (for example, natural whole wheat bread versus enriched wheat flour).  Overall, the knowledge and interest of each participant was motivating, making it a great experience! The tour not only addressed individual concern related to diabetes, but also general dietary instruction that everyone should follow. I’ve listed some highlighted points from the tour- and a few additional tips- below.

1. Have a shopping list of staple items. Most people have about 10 items that make a regular appearance on their grocery list. Typically, these items are versatile ingredients that can be used several ways. A few might include bread, milk, eggs, cheese, and so on. Framing your shopping list and menu plans around these staple items is a great way to handle your budget; however, always allow for some extra wiggle room to change up your weekly menu.

2. Shop the store’s perimeter first. This is where the fresh items are showcased. Typically, you will find the basic food groups- fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and grains- in their natural state. On the other hand, the center aisles are laden with highly processed food “products” that contain added preservatives and additives. Focusing on the perimeter of the store before hitting the center aisles will not only help increase health potential, but also prevent unnecessary impulse buys.

3. Buy seasonally (and whole, whenever possible). There are so many advantages to buying seasonally. Utilizing seasonal produce is cost effective, enhances the nutritional benefits in meals, and adds fresh, timely flavors to dishes. See the Fruit and Veggies More Matters website for a complete guide on seasonal and all-year round produce.

4. Know your way around each food group. Grocery shopping can be overwhelming, costly and time-consuming. That’s why it is absolutely crucial to have a guide that helps you wisely and effectively navigate the maze.

Fruits & Vegetables: 

  • More really does matter! The greater the variety, the better your chances are of improving health status, increasing fiber intake, and motivating weight loss.

Tip: The more color on your plate, the greater the nutritional value of your dish.

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious, if not more so, than some fresh fruits. They are packaged at peak freshness and contain their highest nutrient potential.

Meats, Poultry, Fish, Beans, & Nuts:

  • Lean white meats that are low in saturated fat and sodium are your best options. Turkey and chicken are the healthiest naturally. In packaged lunchmeat, roast beef and ham are better if offered in low fat, low sodium varieties.
  • Choose leaner cuts of whole meat, look for “loin” and “round” on the label. In addition, “choice” or “select” grades of beef are healthier than “prime” meats.

Note: limited servings of meat is recommended for those with high blood pressure and cholesterol.

  • Increased consumption of fish is recommended, especially for those with high cholesterol and blood pressure. Fish, especially salmon, tuna, and halibut, contain an abundant amount of omega 3 fatty acids, which aid in limiting bad cholesterol, increasing good cholesterol and, in turn, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease

FYI: The USDA recommends at least two servings of fish per week).

  • Beans, specifically black and cannellini are always on my staple grocery item list. Like fish, beans are high in polyunsaturated fats, which contribute to their healthful and nutrient-rich quality.

Tip: If purchasing canned beans, be sure to rinse them well to rid of the excess salt from preservatives.

  • Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein and good fats. Purchasing the unsalted variety (raw or roasted) of both is best in limiting sodium intake.  These items are high in calories; use them moderately as snacks or salad toppers.

Milk, Cheese, Butter & Eggs:

  • Go for skim or low-fat milk. If you are a fan of richer milks, try soy or almond. Both have added benefits that can help lower your lipid profile.
  • Butter, cheese and yogurt can be tricky. These products may be highly processed or contain traces of trans fat. Be mindful of serving sizes.

Note: Steer clear of hydrogenated spreads and sugary fruit preserves in yogurt.

  • Many dairy items are fortified with vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Calcium. Functional foods that boast nutrient-rich potential are typically beneficial to your health; however, health claims usually leave room for masking potentially detrimental components.

Remember: check the ingredients list before purchasing.

  • There are few health stipulations related to purchasing eggs (besides buying from a Grade A source, of course); however, using egg whites or egg substitutes are recommended for a heart-healthy diet.

Bread, Cereal, Pasta, & Rice:

  • Choose whole grain, multi-grain and whole wheat over your refined grains when it comes to bread, cereal, pasta and rice. Look for whole oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, amaranth, quinoa, kamut, and millet in the ingredients list.

 Remember: ingredients are listed in descending order by weight; therefore, the whole grains should be listed first.

  • Focus on the fiber content of grains.  As a rule of thumb, purchase foods with a higher amount of fiber than sugar.
  • The refined grains in white breads offer little nutritional value. They are digested very quickly and in turn, spike blood sugar. As mentioned briefly above, look out for enriched wheat flour. This basically means the bread is a processed product that was at one point refined of all its mineral-rich nutrients.

Think: less ingredients on the label means the food is closer to its natural state.

Oil & Dressings:

  • Fats from oils can benefit your health, but overall, they should be used sparingly. Canola and olive oil are your best choices. They contain monounsaturated fats that aid in lipid reduction and help prevent atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Avoid palm and coconut oils; these are high in saturated fats.

Tip: Choose light or fat-free salad dressings and be mindful of your servings.

5. The center aisles. Truthfully, we could live off of the foods located around the perimeter of the grocery store, but that does not mean we necessarily have to do so. The aisles of the grocery store primarily consist of convenience goods, but they’re not all bad. Stocking up on pantry items, like canned goods and frozen foods, can make meal preparation that much easier, especially when you are pressed for time. Use convenience items, literally, at your convenience. Reliance on convenience items can take a toll on your shopping budget.  Also, frequent consumption of ready-made foods, tends to replace time spent on cooking.

Never hesitate to ask a grocery store employee questions; they are trained to help guide you in the right direction. For more information on heart-healthy shopping, check out the American Heart Association.

 

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