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Mapping Out the Grocery Store

Mapping Out the Grocery Store

Written By: Cassandra Aviles on November 13, 2013

Updated November 2020. 

The grocery store is filled with hundreds of healthy options. Unfortunately, it's filled with just as many unhealthy options. Use these guidelines to help you put the healthiest products in your cart.

Tip 1: Stick to the perimeter

  • Fresh food such as fruits and vegetables, dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and bread are usually found around the perimeter of a grocery store. Less healthy, processed foods are found in shelved isles.
  • Buying a majority of your items from the perimeter of the store will allow for more whole food choices and less unhealthy, processed foods.

Tip 2: Read labels

  • When buying packaged foods, nutrition labels are the first thing you should look at. Always compare foods to find the healthiest option.
  • Avoid foods with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Instead, opt for foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and trans fats.
  • Aim for foods rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Tip 3: Don’t be fooled

  • The grocery store layout is designed to get you to stay longer and buy more.
  • Supermarkets start with flowers and baked goods upfront. This is due to the smell, which activates your salivary glands and makes you more likely to make an impulse purchase. They also put you in a pleasant mood which may make you more willing to spend money.
  • Ever wonder why the dairy aisle is such a hike? Supermarkets hide essential food products on the back wall so that you have to travel through the whole store to get to them.
  • The items the store wants the adult to buy the most are at eye level (expensive brand items).
  • The items the store wants children to see are at their eye level.
  • Sample stations slow you down and expose you to new products.
  • The most profitable area of the store is the checkout line. This is where after a few minutes in line you will give into temptation and buy a magazine or candy bar.

Tip 4: Know what to buy in each section of the grocery store

  • Produce
    • Opt for darkly colored fruits and vegetables to maximize your nutrient intake.
    • Choose whole fruit and vegetables over pre-chopped or pre-washed items.
    • Buy produce that’s in season.
    • Try to buy from local sources, such as farmer's markets.

  • Seafood
    • Choose omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
    • Pick wild fish over farm-raised.
    • If you are pregnant or nursing, avoid mercury-rich fish such as shark, tilefish, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, and other predator fish.

  • Meat and poultry
    • Look for greater than 90% lean cuts of meat with little marbling.
    • Choose select over fattier grades such as prime or choice.
    • Avoid discolored meat and poultry and look for firm, bouncy flesh.
    • Go for grass-fed products over corn-fed.

  • Dairy
    • Choose skim and low-fat varieties.
    • Select greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt for higher protein.
    • If possible, buy plain yogurt to avoid added sugars.

  • Bakery
    • Look for 100% whole wheat or grain on the label.
    • Choose items with whole wheat flour listed as the first ingredient.
    • Pick products with more than 3g of fiber per serving
    • Avoid commercially-prepared baked goods such as pastries, muffins, and scones.

  • Freezer
    • Select frozen fruit or vegetables that are unsalted or unsweetened.
    • Choose low-fat icecream or 100% fruit popsicles.

  • Aisle exceptions
    • Opt for whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, and oats.
    • Pick a high-fiber cereal with more than 3g of fiber and less than 7g of sugar per serving.
    • Choose canned vegetables and beans with no salt added.
    • Select canned fruit in extra light syrup or natural juice.
    • Buy all-natural nut butter and raw or dry roasted nuts.
    • Look for canned chunk light tuna and salmon.