Simple Strategies for Smart Supermarket Shopping

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Smart grocery shopping is key when transitioning to and maintaining a “real food” approach. The supermarket can be a stressful, agonizing experience if you don’t have strategies in place before you get there, and if you don’t have a plan of attack, you may be tempted to toss items into your cart from your past life :) This is probably why the “Grocery Store Tour” service I offer is so popular with my clients. In order to be healthy, grocery shopping is something we have to do on a regular basis. Alike the “unbrainwashing” that needs to take place from former, destructive dieting tactics (like counting calories and eating low-fat,) your grocery shopping will also need a makeover.

Similar to eating, my advice for grocery shopping is to keep it simple. The food industry spends dollars and dollars and more dollars on research to learn how to manipulate us to buy their products. Displays at the end of aisles, treats in the check-out lanes and flashy signs revealing sale items are there to lure you into purchasing the items they want you to purchase. Food manufacturers don’t blink an eye targeting your children too, by strategically placing “kid-friendly” processed junk at their eye level with popular cartoon characters on the packaging. Here are my suggestions for bypassing their sneaky tactics and keeping it simple:

1) Spend most of your time in the produce section. If there’s one thing you can do to improve your overall health, it’s to eat more vegetables and fruits. Pick out fresh avocados and salad veggies like broccoli, kale, cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, zucchini and carrots. Low-sugar fruits like raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are also good along with my favorite starchy veggie; sweet potatoes.

2) Stick to the perimeter of the store. In general, foods from the center aisles are refined and processed. You’ll find the fresh foods like produce, meat, seafood and eggs when you shop the perimeter. This is because real food spoils, so it does not have a long shelf life. Only brave the middle section for oils, fats or sweeteners —better yet, stock up on these “inside aisle items” online (and save money, too!) so that you don’t have to be tempted. The less you have to browse the middle aisles, the better! And do note that food marketers are aware of this healthful strategy, so beware of their junk on special displays at the ends of the aisles.

3) Buy what you can online. You’ll save money (markup is unbelievably ridiculous when you factor in the fixed and variable expenses that stores factor into the product price including employee salaries, cost of rent, utility bills, etc.) Not only will you save money when you purchase directly from the manufacturer, but you’ll also save time at the grocery store. You won’t be as flustered or intimidated (has anyone seen the wide spread options of butter and peanut butter options these days!?) and you’ll be able to take your time reading labels. In addition, I try to make it easier for you by providing links to what I buy since I’ve already done a lot of that legwork.

I purchase the following products online: Olive oil (this AMAZING olive oil, sparkling mineral waters in bulk (I like Perrier, San Pellegrino and La Croix), nut butters (peanut, almond), coconut oil, coconut milk (the cans are better for you than the refrigerated cartons!) flax seeds, almond flour, coconut flour, cashews, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, this organic, toxin-free coffee, dried beef sticks, dried salmon sticks (YUM!) and stevia (I keep the packets in my purse.) And, of course, you should always have high quality, absorbable vitamin and mineral supplements on hand, and should never resort to buying these from a store (even a health foods store. Again, the markup is ridiculous and you’re very likely getting a much lower quality product, not to mention the unknown quality control (e.g. probiotics should be refrigerated — mine are directly shipped with a cold pack to ensure quality.))

4) Look at labels and aim for a small number of (pronouncable) ingredients. For instance, your peanut butter label should have 1-3 ingredients: peanuts, and maybe oil and/or salt. It can be surprising how many basic food items are loaded with preservatives, trans fats and nasty sweeteners.

5) Don’t fall for deceptive marketing. My favorite example is the peanut butters that are labeled “cholesterol free.” You will never find a peanut butter that contains cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in animal products, so peanut butter is naturally cholesterol-free. Don’t fall for flashy terms like this and others like “fat-free,” or “helps lower cholesterol” on the front of packaging. In fact, Cheerios are known to have a label that says they lower cholesterol, when they are, in fact, the very culprit that raises it (despite what you may have heard.) DON’T fall for this type of marketing! Notice when catchy phrases on the outside of packages catch your eye, and don’t even give those items a second glance.

6) Make a list and stick to it. Simple, but oh-so helpful. Planning meals and snacks ahead of time will help you get in, get the necessities and get out. But always feel free to throw in a few extra fresh fruits and veggies!

7) Don’t shop on at empty stomach. You’ve heard this before, but it’s a good tip for good reason. The biochemical response when you are hungry is for your brain to tell you to seek out sugar (your brain is really smart and knows that when you are hungry, your blood sugar levels are low, and the quickest way to raise them is sugar!) Be a smart player of this grocery shopping game, and get some protein, healthy fat and carbs (PFC!) in your system before you start.

8) Assume that anything you put in your cart goes into your mouth. We’ve all had those moments where we put a few items into our cart that we really don’t plan on eating. How well does that work? It doesn’t. Fill your cart with items you feel good about nourishing your body with. When in doubt, leave it out.

You have the power to determine what goes into your shopping cart and consequently, in your home and in your body. You can get past those tricky marketing strategies by sticking to your list, grazing the perimeter of the store and spending most of your time in the produce section, reading your labels and not falling for catchy terms. If you need more help, schedule a coaching appointment, and if you’re in the twin cities area, I’d love to take you on a Grocery Store Tour.

About Cassie Bjork, RD

Cassie is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian, Nutrition and Fitness Expert and health coach, who is passionate about exposing people to healthy nutrition with real food. Cassie focuses on debunking rumors, diet myths and fads and teaches how to eat healthy by breaking down research-based material into practical forms that can be implemented into any lifestyle.

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Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet.