Woman shopping for produce

Shopping for healthy foods seems simple enough — buy whatever says "low fat," "zero trans fat" or "all natural," right? Wrong.

Be a smart shopper

With the start of the new year, it's time to start changing the way we eat — which begins at the grocery store. Many brands use fancy packaging and deceiving words to get you to think their product is actually healthy, when in reality you may as well be buying a carton of ice cream. Educate yourself on food labels, nutrition facts and what brands do to be able to use the words "can help reduce cholesterol," plus learn what aisles to avoid and which ones to spend most of your time in.

Tip: Never shop hungry. Always shop the perimeter first and the inner aisles at the end.

Supermarket logistics

The healthiest foods in the grocery store are always located on the outer edges. Hit the produce section first — stocking up on the freshest, most natural ingredients in the store. Next, head over to the meat department where you can load up on fish and other high-protein meats, such as chicken and beef. Finally, make your way around to the dairy and eggs. For eggs, organic and cage-free are the healthiest, and the color of the shell makes no difference. For dairy, stock up on Greek yogurt (which is higher in protein and lower in sugar than regular yogurt), natural low-fat cheese (such as feta or mozzarella) and 1 percent or nonfat milk (recommended by nutritionists due to the lower calorie and fat content).

Be aware of food labels

Food labels can be deceiving and can mislead the consumer into thinking their product is healthy. Everything must be approved by the FDA, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways around it. Making generic statements or zoning in on one healthy ingredient that the food may contain are just a few examples. Most bread says "whole wheat" or "multigrain," but unless it says "100 percent whole grain," you may only be getting a small amount of nutrition mixed in with a bunch of fillers.

Check out these 5 misleading claims on food labels >>

Read the nutrition facts

Some key things to look at are the serving size, grams of fat and sugar per serving, vitamins and minerals, and the ingredients.

  • Tip: Stay away from junk foods and foods targeted for children. Always shop with and stick to a list to avoid the temptations of candy bars, potato chips and other high-fat, high-calorie items.
    Serving size — Look at the serving size and how many servings the product has. It's very easy to overlook this. Did you know that a serving of ice cream is only half a cup? Most of us fill our bowls to the tip top, which is probably about two cups worth. Manufacturers are able to manipulate the serving size to make their product appear healthier for you.
  • Grams of fat and sugar per serving — Always check these two items before buying. A product may be low in fat or even be fat free, but that doesn't mean it doesn't contain sugar. Sugar converts to fat if it's not burned off — remember that!
  • Vitamins and minerals — These are necessary to feeling good and looking your best each day. Look at the percent daily value to see how much you're getting from that food. The goal is to get to 100 percent every day. Keep in mind that percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet, so adjust as needed.
  • Ingredients — Anything that can't be pronounced is never a good thing, nor is anything that is artificial, such as high-fructose corn syrup. As a general rule, don't buy anything with more than five ingredients as the food is too processed and no longer good for you.

More on healthy eating

6 Healthy eating myths — debunked
5 Simple tips for healthy eating on the go
Healthy eating tips to lose weight and get in shape


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Comments on "How to shop for healthy foods at the grocery store"

Liz January 28, 2013 | 1:16 PM

Great post! The other claim to look out for is 'low sugar' or 'reduced/less sugar' which can be very misleading. It's definitely important to understand what you're reading on a label. I found this site to be helpful with explaining food labeling terms.

Lauren January 10, 2013 | 1:38 PM

I too have eaten way too much icecream in one sitting only to realize a serving size is 1/2 a cup. These are great tips! thanks for sharing!

Jennifer January 10, 2013 | 8:47 AM

I have never been duped by ice cream labels that list their servings as a half cup. Most cereal brands are also guilty of the same manipulation as they list their serving sizes as one cup when most of us eat twice this amount in an average sitting. I agree with the article and Michelle that it is so important to read the label information on the foods we consume.

Michelle January 10, 2013 | 7:04 AM

Excellent advice! I follow every single one of these tips when I shop for food so I am ahead of the game. I always shop around the edges of the supermarket and try to avoid the inner aisles as much as possible. I also agree that it is important to read labels carefully and pay close attention to serving sizes.

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