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Grocery Store Guide

Content by: Jamie Rinaldi RD LD

There are pros and cons to every food available in the grocery store. Use this basic guide to educate yourself and clients in navigating the grocery store effectively. The best choice is an informed choice.

Grocery Store Guide


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Among the most cringe-worthy food shopping advice is “shop only the perimeter.” This concept presumably was born due to the presence of fresh produce, dairy products, meats, poultry and fish on the walls of most supermarkets, while the cookies, candies, and chips in the middle isles. There are many foods to limit or avoid in the edges of the store, but also an abundance of nutrition options in the center aisles.

Consumers need a more detailed food shopping strategy!

The perimeter is a great source of nutritious food. It is where you find fresh produce, lean meats, seafood, eggs, and dairy foods. It is also the location of the bakery with all its varieties of white bread and confections, ready-to-eat meals (some healthful, some not), and the heavily processed meats and cheeses, croutons and crisps for salads, sugar-laden puddings and yogurts, and other items that provide more preservatives and artificial ingredients than they do nutrients.

In the breakfast aisle there are many sugary cereals, bars, breads, and shakes devoid of fiber. However, there are also 100% whole grain cereal, bar, and bread options high in fiber and low in sugar. Furthermore, all nutritional shakes are not alike; there are many health-conscious brands such as Orgain and Bixby & Company.

The International section of the store indeed offers many processed, high calorie foods that don’t offer much nutritional value, like most of the tortillas. There are also nutritional powerhouses: beans, salsa, whole grain pasta, tomatoes, quinoa, canned fish, and red rice, to name a few.

Consumers may expect nutrition professionals to bypass the snack aisle, but there’s more than cheese curls, saturated fatty chips, and cookies on the shelves. The best options are nuts and nut butters, seeds, healthified chips and popcorn, rice cakes, raisins, and nutrition bars with minimal ingredients.

We’ve been advised in the past to avoid canned and frozen foods due to the additions of sugar, sodium, and other preservatives. However, there are many nutrient-dense foods in these sections of the grocery store that do not have unwanted additives. Broth-based canned soups low in sodium contain multiple vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And surprisingly, canned and frozen produce are often superior to fresh as they are packaged when nutritional content is at its peak and hence is retained. Meanwhile, fresh fruits and vegetables start degrading from the time they are harvested, due to dehydration and oxidation, as they have been removed from their water source and are in the open air.

The condiment aisle is full of high fructose corn syrup, salt, and other undesirable food constituents. There are also heart-healthy olive and canola oils, yogurt-based salad dressings, no sugar added sauces, vinegars, and brown and dijon mustards.

Thinking about the frozen dessert section of the store evokes visions of ice cream sandwiches, pudding pops, pie crusts, and other guilty pleasures; however, there is a growing population of healthful alternatives. Greek yogurt bars, frozen fruit smoothies and popsicles, and non-dairy ice creams high in protein and fiber are increasingly taking up space in supermarket freezers.

The beverage aisle is not without its good and not so good choices. Sodas, teas, and juices loaded with sugar are not ideal. Seltzers, sparkling waters, spring waters, plain teas and coffees, and beverages sweetened with stevia are preferable options.

Next Steps:
1. Download the PDF guide for a comprehensive list of nutritious foods in each aisle of the grocery store.
2. Make a shopping list!

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