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Smart Cart: Rules for Successful Grocery Store Shopping

(As published on TheTownDish.com, July, 2011)

Running to the grocery store can sometimes feels like a chore. In many cases, it is - you have the goal of getting in and out of there as soon as possible, spending as little money as possible and, hopefully, not forgetting anything. But, as we feverishly browse the aisles selecting the next week's groceries does nutrition come to mind? It should! Remember, you can choose fresh, healthful food at home only if you buy it and bring it home in the first place!

Shopping nutritiously does not have to add that much time to your trip. All you have to do is come up with a plan of action and know what to look for in low-fat, high-nutrient foods. So... take a breath, concede to the fact that you may need to spend a little extra time at the grocery store, and use the following plan of action:

Shop the outer perimeter of the grocery store first.

This is where most of the fresh and nutrient-rich foods are kept. Try to buy seasonal and/or local fruits and vegetables, these are the freshest. The fresher the produce, the higher the nutrients.

Know the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Knowing what to look for is half the battle. Here are some pointers on what to should go in your cart and what should stay on the shelf:

When it comes to fats, limit saturated fats (fatty meats, butter, high-fat dairy) and cholesterol. Avoid trans fats (hydrogenated oils) typically found in crackers, baked goods and stick margarines. Instead, opt for monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, avocados), polyunsaturated fats (corn and sunflower oils, nuts), and Omega-3 fats (fish, flaxseed, walnuts).

Aim for more fiber- these fill you up and keep you full longer. High fiber foods include whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. 25 grams of fiber or more per day is a healthy goal.

Try to limit your salt or sodium. High amounts of sodium can be found in deli meats, snacks like crackers and chips, canned vegetables, sauces, gravies, soups, and many other prepared foods.

Stick with nutrient-rich foods like fruits and veggies, whole grains, fat-free and low fat dairy products and poultry, lean meats and fish.

Learn how to read the nutrition label. Knowing how to read this handy label found on the back of many foods can help you to determine if the food is cart-worthy. Ignore all the claims that food manufacturers blaze across the front of the package and flip it over to get the true picture.

First, look at the serving size. This is sometimes the tricky part. If you eat two servings, remember you have to double all of the nutritional information that you find below on the label.

Then, look at the calories. This part goes hand-in-hand with the next part. You have to make sure that the calories come with enough nutrients to make the calories worth it. If any food has more than 400 calories per serving, that is generally too high!

Limit these nutrients: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. Avoid Trans Fats altogether if you can.

Make sure that there are enough of these nutrients: Potassium, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Calcium and Iron.

When looking at the % Daily Value column, here is a quick tip: 5% or less is and 20% or more is high. Just remember which nutrients you want more of and which you want to limit.

Come in with a game plan.

Shop from a list. This way you will stay focused and avoid spontaneous purchases. You can even do your research on healthy items before-hand to identify healthy choices and avoid standing in the aisle looking at labels all day.

Avoid shopping when you are hungry. Need we say more?

Don't be pressured by displays, samples or discounts. Keep your eye on the prize. It is hard to avoid the flashy and the fun items sometimes, but these items, many times, are not worth it nutrition-wise.

So... This article should get you on your way to healthier grocery shopping. BUT, if you are looking for more tips, and you think a guided tour through a grocery store with a registered dietitian would benefit you, check out our Supermarket Tours. These tours, held at local grocery stores, provide you with ample practical information for making healthy choices in the supermarket. Visit us online to learn more or to register.

Last Updated: 9/7/2012