What is on a healthy grocery list?
Even if you don’t make an actual, written grocery list and just have a list in your head, you need to know what things should be on it and what things should not. If you think about this ahead of time, you will be more likely to choose products that enhance your wellness rather than hinder it.
Most healthy foods are found on the perimeter of the grocery store. In other words, most of your food dollars should be spent on fresh, whole foods and very little should be spent on packaged, highly-processed foods.
Here is a general idea of what should appear on your healthy grocery list:
1. Fresh or frozen vegetables
These should include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, as well as a variety of colorful vegetables like green broccoli, red beets, orange squash and white cauliflower and mushrooms. The more colorful your grocery cart, the healthier your meals will be.
Canned vegetables are not the best choice, especially if they have added ingredients, but they are an okay choice if they fit better in your budget or the veggie you are looking for is not available in the other forms. There is some concern about the BPA found in the can linings being a health risk, so look for cans with a BPA-free label.
2. Fresh or frozen fruit
This is another way to get some colorful foods and fiber into your grocery cart, as well as to satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way. Choose fruits when they are in season when you can and if you are watching your weight, focus on lower glycemic fruits like apples and berries.
As with vegetables, canned fruits are not the best choice, but if you buy them, be sure they are packed in their own juice rather than sugary syrup, which lowers their health benefits.
3. Lean meat, fish, and poultry
Choose leaner cuts of fresh meat (not processed) and look for poultry that has not been treated with hormones or other chemicals. Free-range, grass-fed and organic are all things to look for when purchasing these protein foods.
Fish is a healthy food, but be aware that much of it has been contaminated with pollutants, so choose carefully and read labels. Salmon that is caught in the wild is preferable to farm-raised products, which have been shown to have higher concentrations of harmful contaminants.
4. Low-fat dairy products
Since toxins are concentrated in the fat of animals, purchasing fat-free or low-fat versions of milk, yogurt and cheese can help you reduce the toxins your body has to deal with.
If you buy organic, this is less of a problem, and some health experts believe that full-fat versions are better because of the balance of fat, carbohydrate and protein. There are also fat-soluble vitamins stored in the fat, which would not be available in fat-free version.
If you buy yogurt, be sure to choose the plain version and add your own toppings to avoid all the sugar and other additives that make the yogurt less healthy.
5. Organic eggs
Eggs are one food that I would suggest you always buy organic. Healthy chickens will produce healthy eggs and healthy chickens are those that are allowed out of cages into the sunlight and fresh air and fed a healthy diet. You will notice that organic eggs have a tougher shell, sturdier, darker colored yolk and taste better. If you can’t afford organic, at least choose free-range versions.
6. Healthy fats such as olive oil
There is some controversy about which oils are best, but choosing olive oil and other cold-pressed oils that have not been treated with chemicals is best. If you buy butter, choose organic, since non-organic butter has 20 times the pesticides of plant foods.
Keep in mind that fats that are solid at room temperature are saturated and should be used sparingly.
7. Whole grains and products made from them
Oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, quinoa and brown rice are just some of the whole grains that you can buy. You may have to retrain your palate to appreciate whole grain pasta and other products, but it can be done and will benefit your health.
8. Nuts and seeds should be on your healthy grocery list.
Nut butters are included in this category, and be sure to choose the “old-fashioned” versions and those without added sugar.
Seeds, such as chia, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds add flavor, texture and nutrition to your diet. Flax and chia can be freshly ground and added to salads, cereal or yogurt.
9. Legumes such as beans, lentils and split peas
These can be purchased dry or some varieties in cans, but either way they are an inexpensive source of protein and fiber.
10. Spices and herbs such as turmeric, cinnamon, basil and parsley
Don’t underestimate the nutritional value of herbs and spices. You can buy fresh herbs or dried versions, or seeds to grow your own.
Spices such as turmeric and cinnamon have proven health benefits, so figure out ways to add them to your favorite dishes.
Here is a general idea of what should NOT be on your healthy grocery list (or at least should be limited):
1. Soft drinks such as soda and fruit punch due to high sugar content and empty calories.
2. White flour and products made from it due to lack of fiber and too many simple carbohydrates.
3. Processed meats such as lunch meat, hot dogs and bacon due to high sodium content and potential to cause cancer and have been implicated in a higher risk of Altzheimer's Disease.
4. White sugar or products made from it (candy, cookies, ice cream etc.), due to negative effects on health and empty calories.
5. Frozen dinners due to high chemical content, including MSG, should not be on your healthy grocery list.
6. Boxed dinners or “helpers” due to high sodium content as well as other chemicals and preservatives.
7. Most canned soups, stews and pasta meals due to high sodium content as well as other chemicals, including MSG.
8. Most snack foods, such as chips and cheese balls due to lack of nutrition, high sodium content and empty calories.
9. Processed cheese such as American or “cheese” in a jar due to high level of preservatives and other chemicals.
10. Foods with hydrogenated oils such as some types of peanut butter, margarine and baked goods due to trans-fat content.
Research has shown that making a list before you go shopping will help you spend less time and money in the grocery store. How much better it is if you make it a healthy grocery list!