A key step for losing weight, keeping the weight off, and staying healthy is learning how to buy the right foods at the store. This will ensure you have healthy choices at home. Avoid regularly bringing chips or cookies into the home. Instead, having to go out to buy an unhealthy treat gives you more time to make a conscious decision about eating that food. It is fine to include these foods in your diet, but you don't want to eat them mindlessly.
If you buy large amounts or bulk packages of a snack food, divide it into smaller portion sizes and store what you will not use right away.
When you buy protein, choose:
- Lean ground turkey or chicken and skinless turkey or chicken breasts.
- Lean meat, such as bison (buffalo) and lean cuts of pork and beef (such as round, top sirloin, and tenderloin). Look for ground meats that are at least 97% lean.
- Fish, such as salmon, whitefish, sardines, herring, tilapia, and cod.
- Low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
- Legumes, such as pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Canned beans are convenient but if you have the time to prepare them from scratch, dried beans are much cheaper. Look for low-sodium canned goods.
- Soy proteins, such as tofu or tempeh.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Buy plenty of fruits and vegetables. They will fill you up and provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs. Some buying tips:
- One medium-sized apple has only 72 calories.
- 1 cup (130 gram) carrots has only 45 calories.
- 1 cup (160 gram) of cut up cantaloupe melon has only 55 calories.
- For canned fruits, choose ones that are packed in water or juice, not syrup, and have no sugar added.
Frozen fruits and vegetable can be good choices as long as there is no added sugar or salt. Some benefits of frozen fruits and vegetables include:
- Can be as nutritious or sometimes more nutritious than fresh as long as they do not contain added sauces.
- Will not go bad as quickly as fresh.
- Easy to prepare. Bags of frozen veggies that steam in the microwave can be ready in under 5 minutes.
BREADS AND GRAINS
Choose healthy breads, cereals, and pasta, such as:
- Whole-grain breads and rolls (read the label to make sure the first ingredient is whole wheat/whole grain.)
- All bran, 100% bran, and shredded wheat cereals (look for cereals with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving.)
- Whole-wheat or other whole-grain pasta.
- Other grains such as millet, quinoa, amaranth, and bulgur.
- Rolled oats (not instant oatmeal).
Limit refined grain or "white flour" products. They are much more likely to:
- Be high in sugar and fats, which add calories.
- Be low in fiber and protein.
- Lack vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients.
Before you buy food for the week, think about your schedule:
- When and where will you be eating over the next week?
- How much time will you have to cook?
Then, plan your meals before you shop. This ensures that you have what you need to make healthy choices throughout the week.
Make a shopping list. Having a list reduces impulse buys and ensures that you will purchase all of the ingredients you need.
Try not to go food shopping when you are hungry. You will make better choices if you shop after you have had a healthy meal or snack.
Think about shopping along the outer aisles of the store. This is where you will find produce (fresh and frozen), meats, and dairy. The inner aisles generally have less nutritious foods.
Know How to Read Food Labels
Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts labels on food packages. Know what the serving size is and the amount of calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates per serving. If a bag contains 2 servings and you eat the whole bag, you will need to multiply the amount of calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrate by 2. People with special health needs will need to pay extra attention to certain parts of the label. For example, if you have diabetes, you should note the grams of carbohydrates in the food. People on a heart healthy diet will need to pay attention to the amount of sodium and saturated fat. Nutrition labels also now include the amount of added sugars. Use this knowledge to make healthy choices. Two words on food labels that can be misleading are "natural" and "pure." There is no uniform standard for using these words to describe foods.
Two words on food labels that can be misleading are "natural" and "pure."
Some other tips for reading labels and buying healthy foods are:
- Choose tuna and other canned fish packed in water, not oil.
- Check the label for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" in the list of ingredients. These are unhealthy trans fats. The closer to the beginning of the list these words are, the more of them the food contains. The label will give the total trans fat content, and you want this to be zero. Even foods that are listed as having zero grams of trans fats may have traces so you still should also be sure to look at the ingredient list.
- Carefully read the label of any food that claims it is a weight-loss product. Even though these words are used, the food may not be a healthy choice for you.
- Know what "lite" and "light" mean. The word "lite" can mean fewer calories, but sometimes not much fewer. There is no set standard for that word. If a product says "light," it must have at least 1/3 fewer calories than the regular food has, but it may still not be a low-calorie or healthy option.
Obesity - grocery shopping; Overweight - grocery shopping; Weight loss - grocery shopping; Healthy diet - grocery shopping
Gonzalez-Campoy JM, St. Jeor ST, Castorino K, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for healthy eating for the prevention and treatment of metabolic and endocrine diseases in adults: cosponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists/the American College of Endocrinology and the Obesity Society. Endocr Pract. 2013;19(Suppl 3):1-82. PMID: 24129260 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24129260/.
Hensrud DD, Heimburger DC. Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 202.
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. Food labeling & nutrition. www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition. Updated September 18, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Updated December 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.
Review Date 8/20/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.