Grocery stores aren’t as innocent as they may seem. They’re actually designed to influence your choices, from where foods are placed on the shelves to those impulse buys at the register. “It’s a business and they need to move it and want to sell as much as possible,” said New York City nutritionist Nicolette Pace.
To stop wasteful spending and an expanding waistline, here are six ways to shop smarter at the grocery store:
1. Go in armed with a healthy grocery list. If you’re aimlessly snaking through the aisles, you’ll end up with a bigger bill, and you’re going to buy a lot of stuff that you don’t need, pointed out Pace. “Go in well prepared with a list and not when you’re hungry or anywhere near mealtime,” she said. “Everything in that store is designed to make you hungry and make you buy.: Sticking with your list can help you fend off temptation and unnecessary impulse buys.
2. Pick fruits and vegetables in five different colors. Eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Choosing produce in a range of colors ensures you’re getting a variety of those disease-fighting nutrients. For example, white fruits and vegetables, such as bananas and cauliflower, contain anthoxanthins, which help with blood pressure regulation, while the indoles (naturally occuring plant chemicals, or phytochemicals) in broccoli may help protect against certain types of cancer. Aim for a mix of fresh, in-season produce, along with frozen fruits and vegetables. “Sometimes frozen is your best bet over fresh,” said Pace. “You have longer storage time.”
3. Middle aisle foods should contain no more than five ingredients. Processed foods tend to lurk in the middle aisles of the grocery store, so beware. “If it has names on the ingredients’ list that are hard to pronounce or are five or six syllables long, chances are it’s a dirty food and has a lot of stuff in there that you don’t really need,” said Pace. If you’re picking up foods from the middle aisles, aim to choose items with no more than five ingredients to reduce the amount of processed gunk you’re consuming, suggests Pace.
4. Stick with 100-percent whole grain carbs. Whole grains lower your risk of heart disease, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes, as compared to refined grains, such as white flour. But since some whole grain products have higher amounts of sugar than you’d imagine, check the label and make sure sugar comes up as ingredient number three or four (or later). One easy way to make sure you’re getting healthy whole grains: You should be able to see the actual grain in the whole grain products you buy, such as with steel cut oatmeal, quinoa and barley.
5. Choose frozen foods wisely. Frozen dinners, even the low-calorie ones, are loaded with sodium and starch. Instead, stick with frozen foods that haven’t been messed with, such as vegetables, fruit, seafood and lean chicken breasts, which you can use to whip up a healthy meal at home.
6. Buy water, tea or coffee only. They’re the healthiest ways to hydrate. Steer clear of sugary drinks, such as soda (including the diet version), which are directly linked to weight gain and diabetes. The artificial sweeteners in diet drinks actually stoke cravings for sugar and mess with your metabolism. “Sweeteners are up to 600 times sweeter than sugar,” explained Pace. “By eating them, you are priming your taste buds for sweet but then you aren’t getting the energy from the calories.” Over time, that can cause your body to burn fewer calories and gain weight.
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