When you’re grocery shopping, your goal is to stock up on healthy food and only buy what you truly need. The store’s goal, on the other hand, may be to get you to buy as much as possible! Faced with enticing free samples and displays filled with junk food, you’ll need to be prepared for temptation. Here are a few tips to keep you on course one aisle at a time.
Check with your doctor about the right diet for you.
Let yourself be seduced here; fill your cart with plenty of colorful produce. Aim to try something new each week—an exotic fruit or a vegetable you’ve never seen before—even if it costs a little more. You might discover a new healthy passion. Likewise, prewashed, ready-to-eat produce like salad mixes, baby carrots and broccoli/cauliflower florets may seem like a splurge, but not if they get you to grab them instead of chips when you’re craving a snack. (Admit it: would you pinch pennies so vigorously in the snack-food aisle?)
If convenience is all-important, go for skinless, boneless poultry cuts. You’ll save some calories and fat by choosing white meat over dark, too—but don’t sweat the difference if you’re planning to broil or grill; most of the fat will drip off anyway. For ground chicken or turkey, make sure you’re getting lean breast meat without skin added (read the label).
In the fish department, white-fleshed fish has the fewest calories, but omega-3-rich salmon or tuna are healthy choices too. Ask which fish is freshest (or check the Date Packed if it’s precut); reject anything that looks suspect or smells fishy. Frozen fish is just fine—just be sure to thaw it properly: overnight in the refrigerator.
Make red meat a special-occasion rather than daily purchase, since it’s higher in saturated fat. Look for cuts with “loin” or “round” in the title, and select well-trimmed cuts with the least visible fat. Choose ground beef labeled “90% lean” or higher.
Opt for fat-free/nonfat or 1 percent milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream. If you’re buying soy, almond or rice “milk,” check the label to make sure it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D and scan ingredients for added sugars (hint: vanilla and chocolate have them). Try lower-fat cheeses like part-skim mozzarella, Jarlsberg or reduced-fat Cheddar. If you choose full-fat cheeses, go for those with strong flavors—feta, blue, Parmesan or aged Cheddar—a little bit goes a long way. If you buy butter, plan to use it sparingly; if you prefer a buttery spread, read labels to find one that’s free of trans fats.
At 72 calories, a large egg is a good source of protein. Fat-free egg substitutes (mostly egg white) are an even better calorie bargain if you’re trying to maintain weight; they’re only about 30 calories per 1/4-cup serving.
Stock up on plain frozen vegetables (skip ones with sauce or butter) so that you’ve always got some veggies on hand. Most are frozen right after picking to preserve nutrients and flavor, so you don’t have to feel like you’re compromising anything when you pick frozen over fresh. You might also find some “healthy” frozen entrees—great fallback meal insurance, if you like how they taste (check labels to ensure they’re really healthy, and watch the sodium). If you buy juice concentrates, make sure they’re 100 percent fruit juice concentrates; if you like to keep healthier frozen treats on hand (e.g., low-fat and/or sugar-free ice milks, yogurts and/or sorbets), look for single-serving packages that help you keep an eye on portion sizes.
While these sections can be a minefield of temptations, there are plenty of healthy staples to be found. Choose whole-grain pastas and brown rice, as well as “quick” whole grains like whole-wheat couscous, quinoa and quick-cooking barley. Look for canned fruits packed in water or their own juices, and vegetables canned without salt. Try canned beans, water-packed tuna, canned salmon and sardines—and reduced-sodium soups based on broth or beans.
With salad dressing, focus on flavor. “Reduced-fat” and “fat-free” dressings often contain similar amounts of calories. Consider interesting vinegars, which add calorie-free flavor to just about anything; try balsamic, sherry and apple cider vinegars.
Seek out cereals labeled “whole-grain” (with whole grains as the first ingredient). Check the label to avoid added sugars. In the snack section, smart options include whole-grain crackers, whole-wheat pretzels, brown rice cakes, whole-grain crispbreads and popcorn.
Look for breads, English muffins, bagels and rolls labeled “100 percent whole-wheat,” with at least 3 grams of fiber apiece (the first ingredient in the list should begin with the word “whole”). Whole-wheat versions of pita and flour tortillas can usually be found here, too, along with corn tortillas; keep them to a 7-inch diameter or less.
Be wary of “fat-free” bakery treats, which often have as many calories as—or even more than—their “regular” counterparts. Don’t waste your calories and carbs on anything that doesn’t taste fabulous.