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You may know how to spend money, but do you know how to shop?

I was thinking about this the other day, and it may sound a little rude, but do we really know how to buy groceries in an economical way? In light of the fact that most people don't really cook anymore, convenience foods have become the norm. Are these items cheaper, of course they are, but at what cost to your health and well being. It's time to learn how to shop!

Shopping with a list when you go to the grocery store can save you time and money. It also can help you make more nutritious choices and avoid impulse buys. If your budget allows, you want to include foods that contain a robust amount of vitamins, minerals, good fats, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which are valuable for overall your health and well being.

In an ideal situation, focus on whole, unprocessed foods to ensure more nutrients and fewer less additives, like unwanted sugar. That said, not everyone has access to a fully stocked grocery store nor do they always have the budget to buy large amounts of whole foods. In these situations, you may need to get more creative.

Consuming a wide variety of whole fruits and vegetables will help ensure you obtain the essential nutrients your body needs to feel and perform at its best. Choosing whole foods, instead of juices or sauces, will provide the added benefit of fiber.

Dried fruit, particularly ones that are made with added sugar, offer concentrated amounts of nutrition but higher amounts of sugar. Check labels to assess how these foods may fit into your meal plan. Here are some types of fruit and vegetables to add to your list:3

  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale. Aim for 1 1/2 to 2 cups per week.

  • Red and orange vegetables such as peppers, red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes. Aim for 4 to 7 1/2 cups per week.

  • Beans, peas, and lentils such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, edamame. Aim for 1 to 3 cups per week.

  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, squash. Aim for 4 to 8 cups per week.

  • Other vegetables such as mushrooms, onions, cabbage, cauliflower. Aim for 3 1/2 to 7 cups per week.

  • Fruits such as apples, kiwi, bananas, melons, grapes. Aim for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups per day.

Dairy contains significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium which are vitamins and minerals responsible for strong and healthy bones, reduced risk of osteoporosis, and reduced risk of bone fractures.4 Aim to consume 3 cups of dairy products per day.3

Without dairy products in your diet, it is more challenging to consume the levels of these nutrients necessary for bone health. However, if you are plant-based or cannot tolerate daily careful planning can help ensure your bones stay healthy. There are several fortified dairy alternatives available.

Before you start adding dairy alternatives to your shopping cart, it it's important to note that not all alternatives are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients that mimic the nutrient profile of animal milk. Read the nutrition labels before making any decisions.

Eggs are a highly nutrient-rich source of protein. They contain vitamin D (necessary for calcium absorption), phosphorus, vitamin A (important nutrient for your eyes, skin, and cells), and B vitamins. Eggs also provide riboflavin, selenium, and choline—nutrients vital for brain health.5

Consider adding hard and soft cheeses, cottage cheese, milk, cream, yogurt, and kefir. Some dairy products contain probiotics which provide further benefits for overall health. When choosing dairy products like flavored yogurts, be conscious of added sugars.

Breads, cereals, and grains provide fiber and many nutrients, especially in their whole form. Choosing whole grains for the majority of your intake in this category is a wise choice for your overall health. Consuming whole-grain bread, cereal, and grains may reduce your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The fiber in these foods can also contribute to healthy digestion.6

Whole grains contain all three different parts of grain which are the bran, endosperm, and germ. The bran is the outer layer and contains fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. The germ is the core of the seed where growth occurs. This part of the grain is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.7 And the endosperm contains the starchy part of the kernel below the bran and is what refined flours are processed from. The endosperm is naturally low in vitamins and minerals.8

Dietary guidelines suggest consuming 3 to 5 ounces per day, but recommendations vary based on needs.3 Some foods in this category to add to your healthy grocery list include:

  • Barley

  • Amaranth

  • Kamut

  • Rye

  • Brown rice

  • Oats

  • Quinoa (a seed that's generally treated as a grain)

  • Whole-grain bread, cereal, and pasta

Choose whole-grain flours when baking or cooking to boost the nutrient content of your meals. Look for whole-grain options of pre-made bread, cereal, crackers, and other products when possible. Keep an eye on the labels for added sugars and refined starches.

Meat, fish, and tofu as well as other plant-based meat alternatives provide protein. Animal-based protein also contains essential nutrients such as iron, B12, zinc, and more. Protein is an essential macronutrient your body needs to function, responsible for the building and repair of your body's tissues.7

Protein is necessary for the building and maintenance of muscle mass, which is necessary for daily functioning and healthy aging.9 And, it's responsible for creating enzymes and DNA, helping the immune system function properly, and helps you grow.10

Fish is high in healthy fats as well. Aim for two servings per week of fish and seafood. Fatty acids such as omega-3s are vital for heart health, cancer prevention, and cognitive functioning.11

Meat alternatives such as tofu can help plant-based eaters obtain protein. It's essential that vegans plan their intake carefully since most plant-based proteins lack some of the essential amino acids. Consuming a wide variety of protein-rich plant foods can help ensure you get enough.12

Here are some protein-rich foods to add to your healthy grocery shopping list:

  • Meat and poultry such as chicken, beef, turkey, and pork. Aim for 23 to 33 ounces per week.

  • Seafood such as shrimp, salmon, halibut, crab, canned tuna packed in water. Aim for 8 to 10 ounces per week.

  • Nuts, seeds, or soy products such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, tofu. Aim for 4 to 6 ounces per week.3

Keep in mind that these dietary recommendations are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your individual needs may vary.

Nutritious pantry staples that can help you craft delicious, healthy meals at home include shelf-stable foods belonging to the other food groups. Some ideas of what to keep on hand include:

  • Canned vegetables and fruit such as diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce for baking, canned fruit in water or juice, marinated or pickled vegetables.

  • Canned and dried beans and legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans.

  • Low-sodium broth or stock such as chicken stock, beef stock, fish stock, vegetable stock.

  • Oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil.

  • Flours such as whole wheat, rye, oat, almond, spelt.

  • Dried herbs and spices such as cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, rosemary.

  • Condiments such as mustard, tamari, low-sodium soy sauce, salsa, vinegar, garlic-chili sauce, curry paste, hot sauce.

Snacks are best when they serve as small meals, meaning they are balanced in terms of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Well-balanced snacks can stave off hunger and help you reach your nutrient goals. Not everyone enjoys snacking, so if you prefer to eat the standard three meals per day, that's OK as long as you are hitting your body's nutrient requirements.

Here are some ideas for nutritious snacking:

  • Yogurt

  • Guacamole

  • Cheese sticks

  • Dark chocolate

  • Dried fruit

  • Nuts and nut butters

  • Olives

  • Pickles

  • Popcorn

  • Seeds

  • Whole-grain crackers

  • Protein powder, shakes, and bars (check labels for added sugars)

  • Hummus, tzatziki

  • Carrots, celery, cucumber, grape tomatoes

  • Whole fruit

Cheers and happy hump day!

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