Navigating the Grocery Store

Have you stopped to think about how many foods we have to choose from at any given grocery store? So many choices can make it anxiety driven for some.

1950s Grocery Store Aisle

In a typical American grocery store there are over 40, 000 food stuffs to choose from? Take the cereal for instance. How many choices come to mind? Just walk down the cereal aisle with a small child and you'll be ready to head home for a nap after "Momma, can I have this... or this... or that?" Not just cereal, how does one navigate through this abyss of food?

Here are a few ideas that might make it a little less daunting. 

  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.  The perimeter is where most, if not all stores, display fresh perishable items. Think about it. Around the perimeter you'll find some configuration of produce, dairy, meat counter, frozen items.  

  • Down the aisles is where we find most processed boxed or canned items with a longer shelf life. If you must venture down the aisle look for whole foods with little or no added ingredients that have little or no processing such as whole oats, rice, or pasta.

  • Take the time to check! The food labels and ingredients list provide very important information in making an informed decision. In defense of the food manufacturer, the ingredient additives are things that prolong the shelf life, give the food a particular mouthfeel, flavor enhancement, or a richer more appetizing color. Are these food grade additives going to hurt us? The short answer is no, not in small quantities and not when these particular foods are consumed in moderation, or what we dietitian types like to call sometimes foods. The long answer is there are many additives that when consumed in larger quantities we don't know the health ramifications. So why risk it? There are better choices available we just need to take the time to find them.

  • Now let's discuss the nutrition label.  I'm not a huge fan of how the food label is displayed because it is confusing for so many. The food label first highlights macronutrients that may be of interest when calculating calories per day. The percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. So for instance if it reads total fat at 20% that means that the calories given in one serving of this product is 20% of the overall 2,000 calorie standard per day. It's important to look at serving size because that can be tricky. The standards may not be based on a typical serving. Check out the food labels on some of these juice drinks for instance. It may only give you the information for say 8oz when it's a 16oz bottle. Serving size is important to look at if you are inclined to keep track of these numbers. 

  • At my age, I am not consuming 2,000 calories per day and calculating macronutrients. That being said, to me the most important thing to look at when choosing foods is the ingredients list. My rule of thumb is less than 5 ingredients. Plain language that doesn't require a degree in chemistry to decode. The ingredients are listed from greatest to least. So if the first ingredient is sugar, well then it may not be such a good choice.  The ingredients list is the best way for us to discern our choices.  

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