As registered dietitians and personal trainers, we’ve noticed that our clients often unknowingly make mistakes at the grocery store that ultimately sabotage their healthy-eating routines. Here are just a handful of common grocery store mistakes along with some easy solutions:
Mistake #1: You go to the grocery store following a workout.
It seems logical to hit the supermarket at a time when you want to restore depleted glycogen stores as fast as possible, but after a workout you're probably more hungry than usual. When you're hungry, everything is more appealing and you'll buy foods that aren't ideal for your healthy eating plan. This happens even if you know better! For years we've avoided shopping while hungry, but when we were on vacation recently, we headed to the store after a long run and we were ravenous. We left the store with all sorts of unhealthy foods, like cookies and even processed cheese (gulp!). We regretted it later.
The Fix: Either carry your post-workout snack or meal with you or head directly for that meal after your workout. Go to the grocery store another time, or at least wait until after you've eaten! And if you MUST go food shopping, plan exactly what you will buy before you enter the store.
Mistake #2: You forgot your grocery list.
This means you no longer have a game plan, which in essence means everything is "game." Yep, the Chips Ahoy, the Cheetos and the Entenmann's cake may all end up in your cart.
The Fix: If you left your list at home, sit in the car (or simply stand at the entrance of the store) and take a couple of minutes to rewrite your list before you start shopping. The time spent is well worth it! Include healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, non-fat dairy products, whole grains, eggs, legumes and lean proteins. By focusing on all of the healthy foods, you won't think about including the foods that aren't so healthy.
Mistake #3: You mosey through the store.
It's fun and relaxing to spend time in the grocery store (We love it—after all, we're in the business of food!), but the longer you stay there, the more likely you are to buy food that you will soon wish you hadn't.
The Fix: Shop quickly and as though you are on a mission (you are!). Stay focused on your list so you can get your items and move on. Be sure to shop the perimeter of the store, where you'll find produce, lean meats and the dairy case. For the remaining items, only go down the aisle of the specific item you need. Pssst… this works! Tammy was in California last week and her daughters leisurely led the way aisle by aisle and they ended up with far too much junk in the cart. This week, they were back on track, only shopping the perimeter of the store—and coming home with healthy items. Phew!
Mistake #4: You avoid frozen produce and assume it's not as nutritious as fresh.
Despite good intentions to prepare a nutrient-packed meal with plenty of vegetables, you often find rotten or wilted produce in your fridge and your plan is thwarted. In the past, this happened to us, too, and we can tell you it completely derailed our healthy eating plan.
The Fix: Stock up on frozen produce—it stays good for up to a year! Frozen is just as healthy as fresh and, in some instances, is even healthier and contains more nutrients than fresh because it's frozen immediately after being picked, meaning the nutrients are intact. Fresh produce, on the other hand, may have traveled for two weeks from the farm to the grocery store and lost nutrients over time and during exposure to heat or light. We love frozen veggies—they taste great, are always in season and accompany nearly every meal we make. And best yet, we never have to worry about them going bad!
Mistake # 5: You fall for the claim on the front of the food package.
Have you ever picked up a food because the label on the front says "healthy," "organic," "all-natural" or "low-calorie," but pay no attention to the Nutrition Facts Panel? Often we find that our clients are duped by clever marketing. For instance, a popular cereal boasts, "lightly sweetened." There's no FDA regulation for this claim. (The FDA regulates the use of "sugar-free," which means the food contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving, and "no added sugars" or "without added sugars," which mean that no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient was added during processing.) You would expect a "lightly sweetened" cereal to have a few grams of sugar. Not so! Most of these cereals have upwards of 14 grams (3-1/2 teaspoons)! Compare that to 1 gram of sugar in Cheerios.
The Fix: Read the Nutrition Facts Panel. It's the only way to know what you're actually getting. And be sure to pay special attention to the serving size on the nutrition label.
Mistake #6: You buy a food simply because it's organic.
This is one of the most common mistakes we see. Just because a food is "organic" doesn't mean it's healthy or that it's good for you. Organic cookies are still cookies. Organic chocolate…still chocolate. Organic ice cream, well you get it.
The Fix: Even when you buy an organic food, read the nutrition label. Make sure that food is not loaded with sugar, artery-clogging saturated fat or bloating and bad-for-your blood pressure sodium.
Mistake #7: You pay no attention to salt.
Salt makes you hungrier, thirstier and it increases cravings. Plus, when you eat a lot of salt, (think soy sauce, deli meats, canned soup, processed foods, restaurant meals, fries, chips) the body responds by holding on to water to dilute the sodium and maintain it at the proper concentration, which is why you weigh more and look bloated with a distended stomach. Plus, too much salt increases your risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
The Fix: Again, it comes down to reading labels. To help avoid the risk of high blood pressure, keep your sodium intake to 2,400 – 3,000 mg or less per day. (The American Heart Association recommends no more than 3,000 mg of sodium per day for healthy adults. (Refer to pg. 172 of the ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals Manual).
Mistake #8: You buy granola for breakfast thinking it's a healthy choice.
Although granola can be healthy, it typically is packed with sugar, calories and, in many cases, hydrogenated oils. One small bowl can set you back upwards of 600 calories and 12 teaspoons of sugar!
The Fix: Go for whole grain, unprocessed oatmeal or high-fiber, low-sugar, whole-grain cereal. Then add your own berries or fresh fruit.
Mistake #9: You purchase a food that normally wouldn't be considered healthy because the label claims it's "made with real fruit."
Unfortunately, a bottle of juice or a box of fruit snacks with photos of fruit on the label doesn’t mean it contains fruit (think Pop-Tarts). Many products with this claim contain no real fruit at all and instead contain food dyes and nearly half of their weight in sugar. Eek!
The Fix: Plan on getting your fruit servings from the real deal. If you don't see actual pieces of fruit as you eat, don't count on getting fruit from the food.