If dieting is a constant struggle, then the grocery store is probably the most important battlefield. In fact, a grocery store is a dietary war zone, with unhealthy food options around every corner. The shopper’s job is to navigate his or her cart through a store that, as far as your health is concerned, is loaded with ticking time bombs and booby traps. Victory can only be attained if you leave the store with healthy foods in the cart and avoid the yummy, but unhealthy, traps. Since the grocery store is a battlefield, we can approach our shopping trip in two phases: the prep and then the battle itself.
Be physically prepared for battle. A soldier goes through intense basic training before being deployed. Physical training is the first phase of training in a soldier’s career.
Prep Rule 1 – Do not go to the store hungry!
It has been shown that hunger while grocery shopping will cause you to crave unhealthy options. Going to the market on an empty stomach is like trying to engage in combat with a broken arm. In both scenarios you are at a clear disadvantage. Be mentally prepared before you head to battle. A great soldier, no matter what level of experience, would never head into any battle without knowing the enemy. Intelligence is obtained before battle. Prior to an invasion, there is intense technical planning.
Prep Rule 2 – Design a grocery list around a healthy menu before going shopping.
Your grocery list will help you to stay on track and budget.
Secure the perimeter of the battlefield first. The outside aisles of a grocery store are usually the safest places to begin shopping. Generally speaking, they contain the healthiest food options. Think about the outer perimeter of a grocery store layout. It typically contains fruits, vegetables, fresh meats, seafood, and dairy products. During your next shopping trip, lace up your boots and patrol the outside aisles of the store first.
Avoid the center of the grocery store. It is the heart of the battlefield.
Central display aisles are the most dangerous places to be in a grocery store. Only seasoned soldiers that are appropriately armed would put themselves right in the middle of gunfire. The middle aisle zone contains foods that are processed and not fresh. Processed foods are typically high in fat, carbohydrates, sodium (salt) and preservatives. If you must enter the center aisles, spend as little time there as possible and retreat to the perimeter quickly. Only experienced and confident shoppers can venture into those dangerous center rows and emerge free of the baggage of unhealthy foods.
A Shopping Soldier’s Tour
Shop the safety of the perimeter. Our first stop is the produce aisle for healthy fruits and vegetables. Remember that fruits and vegetables should provide about 50% of your food intake. Imagine the rainbow when choosing produce to ensure that you are getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. Accomplish this by putting as many colors into your cart as possible. Buying fresh produce that is in season is a great way to save money. If not buying fresh vegetables, frozen is another affordable and convenient option that we will visit on the way out of the store. Also, do not forget that fruits and vegetables make great snacks. Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, helping you feel full in between meals. Before leaving the vegetable aisle, you might want to check out the yogurt-based salad dressings that are usually in the chilled section next to the lettuce. Yogurt-based dressings are much lower in fat content and still taste great!
Leaving the fresh fruit and vegetables behind, we set our sights on adding protein to the cart.
Proteins will be found throughout the remainder of our trip. Generally speaking, white proteins are healthiest. Some examples of healthy, white proteins include chicken, turkey, lighter cuts of pork (such as tenderloin), fish (of all colors), tofu, eggs and egg whites, beans, and low-fat dairy options. One of these low-fat proteins should be present at every meal, so plan appropriately. Discover these items and add them to your cart as your mission continues. When entering the refrigerated meat and seafood sections of the store, choose some of the healthier proteins mentioned above. If choosing amongst red meats, select ground beef that is greater than 93 % lean, and find cuts that are from the loin, sirloin, and round. If stopping at the deli counter for cold cuts, choose turkey, chicken breast, and ham. Opt for low-sodium versions, which most companies now offer.
Those scary center aisles. Take cover!
Please do not forget that we want to spend as little time as possible down these rows.
When you select canned tuna, salmon or sardines, ALWAYS make sure it is packed in water, NOT oil. These go great in a salad. Other healthy foods, such as unsalted nuts and seeds, can be found nearby. Almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds make a great snack that is high in fiber and healthy fats. When eating nuts, don’t forget a small handful is a healthy portion size. If choosing peanut or almond butters, look for those with no added sugar or oils. Beans can be found, perhaps, in the next aisle over. They are a healthy protein source for both meat eaters and vegetarians. Beans are loaded with fiber and extremely affordable, at less than one dollar a can. If you purchase dried beans, soak them overnight and cook the next day. Dried beans are very economical, costing less than twenty-five cents per serving. Down the soup aisle there are now many companies that offer low-sodium, light or low-fat versions. Read the labels carefully and look for soups like vegetable and lentil that can be a quick and easy meal when you are busy. Avoid soups with “cream or creamy” in the name, as these will be higher in calories.
Now, retreat back to the safety of the store’s perimeter.
The next stop will be the dairy department, where shoppers can also find protein-rich eggs and egg whites. In order to meet your calcium needs, you should consume three servings of non-fat, or low-fat, dairy every day. Dairy also provides protein. Greek yogurt is especially high in protein. When choosing any type of yogurt, select a low- or non-fat, plain yogurt. You can add your own fruit, thus eliminating the added sugar of the flavored varieties. Light yogurt versions use artificial sweeteners, which will also help to reduce the total calories. Even if you are lactose intolerant, chances are you can still tolerate yogurt or kefir because the lactose is already broken down. If you can’t tolerate milk, lactose-free milk is a good choice. Soymilk is a great, non-dairy alternative that also contains protein. If choosing almond milk, be sure to purchase plain rather than the vanilla-flavored variety. When selecting cheeses, choose reduced-fat versions. Cheese can be enjoyed as a snack, and also counts towards your calcium intake. Pre-wrapped cheese sticks are a convenient way to pack an on-the-go snack for your busy workweek. We will end our tour by heading down the frozen foods aisle. For those on a tight budget, or if a preferred vegetable is not in season, try the frozen version. Frozen vegetables are a better option than canned, because the canning process adds quite a bit of sodium. Too much sodium intake can raise blood pressure and cause weight gain. A smart shopper who reads labels may recognize that some frozen produce contains higher amounts of sodium compared to fresh. This is due to the way it is brined while freezing. But, generally speaking, the frozen version is still preferred to the canned option.
As you head toward the checkout line, your cart should be filled with fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins. Be proud, and recognize that eating these foods will help with weight loss, along with countless other health benefits! And give yourself a pat on the back for winning the battle!
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