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Week 4 – The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels

This is the forth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, and are documenting what you eat and measuring your portions. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”

Week 4 – The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels

This blog is really a metaphor for “buy healthier food”. Unless you go by the name “Old MacDonald” or  have a pig named Arnold (look it up millennials) you probably procure most of your food from the local grocery store.  The grocer has gone through a health driven transformation in the last several years and premium stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Fresh Market, and Earth Fare seem to be on every corner. And our heritage stores like Harris Teeter and Kroger offer heathy alternatives for practically any type of food. Healthy options are all around you and there is no excuse in these days to make questionable healthy buying decisions in your favorite supermarket. Today we are going to talk about making those choices.

Making a List: A good shopper, like a boy scout, is always prepared. That means make a list. Plan ahead, take the time to put a list together, and stick to it. Survey the refrigerator and document what you need. Need broccoli? Write it down. Chicken breast? Put it on the list. Doritos? Well you can leave that one off. You obviously get the idea, I am sure you have made a shopping list before. The real point is this list acts as a shield against impulse buys and in store choices. It tells you exactly what to buy. Get what’s on your list – nothing else. No extras jumping into your grocery cart, no grocery gimmicks out to get you. Just you, your cart and that list!

Part of making a list is making is a plan for the week. How many people are you shopping for? Is your spouse out of town? Are the kids staying at a friend’s house this weekend? Are you dining out Friday night? Without planning it’s very easy to “over purchase” and therefore overcook (and as a consequence overeat) during the week. Map out as best you can the true needs of the household and shop accordingly.

Be in control. Create the list. Stick to it.

Shop the perimeter:  You’ve probably noticed that most grocery stores have their produce, meats, and daily along the outer rim of the store. The store does this to provide vendors external access to their butcher shop (normally in the back) and refrigeration sections which are easier to maintain on the perimeter of the building. Coincidentally this is also the types of food you’ll want to have on your grocery list: fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and some dairy products.

Now obviously we all need to venture in to the inner jungle to procure personal hygiene products, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and the like, but the goal here is to stay away from the Snickers and Corn Doodles on aisle 6. If you must go down an aisle, enter and exit at the same end. There is rarely a reason to wander the entire aisle. Get in, get what you need and get back to the safety of the perimeter.

Focus on filling your cart with fresh produce (after all you’ll be eating 5-9 servings daily), lean meats like chicken breast and 93%+ fat free beef, eggs & egg whites, Greek yogurt (very high in protein), skim milk (or milk alternatives like almond milk), and cottage cheese. These will become your staples as you evolve to your new eating habits and you’ll find them all on the perimeter of practically every grocery store known to man.

Don’t Go Hungry: Never go to the grocery store hungry. You crave everything in those shiny boxes and buy things you do not need. And if your blood sugar drops, you’ll find it harder to make good decisions or follow your list. So before hitting the local supermarket be sure you are well fed. If you can’t go directly after a meal have a satiating snack (nuts or even a good protein bar is a great choice).

Never let your hunger influence a buying decision in the grocery store. Be strong and resist the temptation. Even if you are hungry buckle down and stick to your list. You’ll be home soon enough and able to munch on much heathier options.

Read the nutrition label:  A supermarket is really just one giant marketing campaign filled with packages that are essentially a billboard for the manufacturer to persuade you to buy food you don’t need. They bombard you with meaningless terms like “reduced fat” and “healthy choice”. Do yourself a favor and ignore anything on the front of a box except the description of what’s contained inside. Frosted Flakes. Got it. It’s corn flakes with a coating of sugar. That is all you need to know. You don’t need an overgrown cartoon tiger telling you it has 25% less sugar.  25% less than what? That’s meaningless, not (as Tony would say) Gr-r-reat.

Make your buying determinations based on fact and data. These are usually on the back of the package in small type – the nutrition label and ingredients. This label is mandated by (in the US) the FDA and is where the truth about the product is revealed.

  • Ingredients
  • Nutrition information (e.g. calories, grams of fat)
  • Suggested serving size

How much sugar. Any protein. Serving size. Very important stuff that tells you exactly what you are buying. As a rule, anything with an overabundance of sugar or ingredients that you can’t pronounce goes back on the shelf. What’s most important here is that you are in charge of your food choices. Don’t be “sold” by pretty packaging or too-good-to-be-true claims. Do your homework, know what you are buying, and be a critical consumer.

Also watch for those products that are highly processed. These products typically are so over processed that the healthy vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients are removed along with the unhealthy or dangerous stuff they are trying to filter out. As a result, manufacturers fortify these products by putting synthetic representations of these healthy items back it. For example, many advertise products that are “high in fiber”. It may even actually have legitimate higher fiber content. However, the fiber has been added and is not natural. The processing stripped the natural stuff out, so manufacturers must add it back in. The fiber may actually come from wood pulp or plant roots. The added nutrient is not the same as the real thing. Same story with milk. Pasteurization degrades the nutrients resulting in a loss of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E. Calcium and other minerals are also impacted (milk can actually weaken bones instead of strengthening them). Then they fortify with artificial substitutes derived from coal tar and other petrochemicals.  Stay away from processed foods.

So make that list. Hug the outside of the store like a NASCAR driver. Snack before you hit the supermarket. Buy stuff in bags instead of boxes. And read the label. Remember everything that comes off that shelf will at some point find it’s way into your belly. Be sure it belongs there.







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