Stocking your kitchen with healthy foods — and keeping junk food out of the house — is key to meeting your health and weight-loss goals. But navigating the grocery store when you’re trying to lose weight can seem like a losing battle. How do you keep all of the tempting treats out of your cart? And what sort of foods should you buy?
Follow these grocery-store tips to make sure you stay on track with your health goals and stay away from unhealthy foods.
- Never shop on an empty stomach. We’ve all gone to the grocery store hungry and come home with bags full of food we wouldn’t normally buy. To avoid impulse purchases, plan your trips to the supermarket in advance and make sure you have time to eat beforehand.
- Always have a list, and stick to it. Never go to the store without a list, or you’ll wind up grabbing whatever looks good. To make your trip to the store easier, arrange your list by section according to the layout of your supermarket. Use a smartphone app to keep track of the foods you buy most often and keep your list with you at all times, so you’re never at the store unprepared.
- Do most of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store. This is where you’ll find your fresh produce, meat, and often the bulk foods. As much as possible, steer clear of the center aisles — which contain mostly processed foods.
- Get in the habit of reading ingredients. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, or it doesn’t sound like food, leave the product on the shelf. Avoid foods with artificial ingredients and additives like high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, and sulfites. As a general guideline, the fewer ingredients a food has, the healthier it is. In fact, the most healthy foods — like fresh fruits and vegetables — don’t even have labels.
- Beware of product packaging. Remember that food manufacturers are in business to sell products, and their packaging is designed accordingly. While there are certain rules that dictate what manufacturers can and can’t put on their packaging, not everything is regulated, and some labels can be misleading. The term all natural isn’t defined by the FDA, and words like multigrain or light may not always mean what you think they mean. Also watch out for descriptions like no sugar added, lightly sweetened, or made with real fruit, which may be open to interpretation. When in doubt, refer to rule #4.
- Splurge on single-serving packages of veggies, bagged salads, or pre-cut fruits and veggies. If conveniences like these get you and your family to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, then they’re worth the extra expense. Pre-packaged servings will also help you control portion sizes when you’re trying to lose weight.
- Buy in bulk. The bulk food section typically has healthy snacks and staples like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, brown rice, and quinoa — often at lower prices than packaged versions of the same foods.
- Order online. Many grocery stores offer free delivery with a minimum purchase, and will save your past orders or favorite items to make reordering easy, allowing you to avoid the store — and the temptations — completely. And with all that time you save, you might be able to get in a quick workout!
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on March 3, 2017