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5 Ways to be the Ultimate Nutrition Gatekeeper in the Grocery Store

Jill Castle, MS, RDN
January 3, 2019 . 3 min read

Chocolate-coated granola bars? Fruit juice cocktail? White bread? These aren’t necessarily the foods that will get you or your family closer to being healthy. Yet, roll down the aisles of the grocery store, and you’ll be inundated with hundreds of food categories and options. The variations on a single category (think cereal) can be overwhelming.

As the nutrition gatekeeper of your family, how do you decide whether you’ll grab food and take it home, or whether you’ll skip it? I’ve got a few tips to help you along the way:

1. Don’t rely on the front of package information. This is the “advertising space,” where the promise of good things will appear, like 100 percent whole wheat, whole grain, heart healthy, or all natural. While 100 percent whole wheat is a good indicator that the product is healthy, whole grain, on the other hand, can mean as little as 10 percent of the product is made with whole grains.

2. Look to the back of the package. To find the real nutrition story, look on the back of the package at the Nutrition Facts Panel and the ingredient list. Together, these tell you exactly what the product is made of (ingredients) and the amounts of nutrients it offers (Nutrition Facts Panel).

Ingredients: the first ingredients make up the bulk of the product, as they are listed in order of weight, heaviest first. In the case of bread, the first ingredient will be flour. For example, a whole wheat bread will have whole wheat flour as the first ingredient. Candy will have sugar as the first ingredient.

Nutrition Facts Panel: This box provides information on the nutrients provided in the food, as well as the contribution of nutrients to your diet, listed as a percentage called the Daily Value (DV). Foods with 20 percent DV are considered high sources of a nutrient, and foods with 5 percent DV are considered a low source. For a run-down of what you should be looking for, read this overview from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

3. Fresh is great, but have a back-up plan. Hit the produce aisle, and fill up your cart! You can’t go wrong in this section of the grocery store. Try planning your meals around seasonal produce and items on sale (they are often the same), as produce can get pricey. Add a few back-ups to your cart also, as produce doesn’t last forever. Frozen items, like frozen fruits and veggies, or canned fruit in 100 percent juice are nice to have on hand at the end of the week when fresh fruits and veggies aren’t so fresh anymore.

4. Watch out for the sugar traps. You know where the obvious sugar is lurking—the candy, cookie, and soda aisles, the bakery, and the freezer section of desserts. But where will you find the hidden sugar? It’s hovering in the cereal aisle, granola bar section, juice aisle, and yogurt case. Use your common sense: if a granola bar is encased in chocolate, leave it out. If yogurt is neon-colored and topped with sprinkles, leave it out. If it’s not “100 percent juice,” it’s not juice—it’s juice with added sugar.

5. Shop the middle aisles too! You’ve heard it before, “shop the perimeter of the grocery store,” but this can be misleading. It suggests that there is nothing worthwhile in the middle of the store, which is untrue. The middle aisles are loaded with healthy food! You’ll find healthy fats such as olive and canola oil, nuts, and seeds. And whole grains such as oats, whole wheat flour, brown rice, and barley. Without the middle aisles, you’d miss out on beans, canned tomatoes, and healthy cereals. So don’t skip this section, but make sure to watch the ingredients, and stick to food options that showcase whole grains, healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients your family needs.

Shopping “healthy” is important, as it sets the parameters for food available to your children at home. Remember, what you bring home from the grocery store will be eaten!

 

See Jill Castle in action as she shows you the best and worst grocery store products!

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