Aisle by Aisle Tips to Grocery Shopping 

November 21, 2016

If you’re responsible for the grocery shopping in your household, it can be both overwhelming and exhausting- but it doesn’t have to be.  When you’re armed with these simple tips, you’ll soon discover how manageable it can be! 

Before you head out…

First of all, make sure you schedule some time during the week to map out your meals and snacks. It's important to make a list and never go to the grocery store without one. If you shop listless, you will likely spend more money and buy unnecessary items. Extra credit: Arrange your shopping list by aisle to save time. For example, lump produce items together. 

Second, have a snack beforehand. Hungry customers tend to buy more pre-made meals and snacks which cost more and typically aren’t as nutritious. 

Third, consider purchasing eco-friendly, reusable grocery bags or boxes. I use the kind that fold out into a box shape with handles. Three large boxes fit in a standard sized grocery cart. I love not worrying about things falling over in the trunk! 

Fourth, familiarize yourself with these top ingredients to avoid: artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharine, and sucralose / food dyes, especially Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 / mycoprotein (Quorn brand foods) / and partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats). 


You want to spend most of your time here. Check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 on your smartphone to know which produce items are worth going organic and which may be OK to go conventional. If the signs aren't well marked, look at the oval sticker on the item to know if it’s organic, GMO (genetically modified organism), or conventional. If the code begins with a “9” it’s organic, “8” GMO (although I’ve yet to see this), and “4” is conventional. When you get home, make sure to wash your produce well to remove unwanted pesticides, dirt, sand, etc. Check out Wellness Mama’s guide to cleaning fruits and vegetables. 

Aim for a variety of colors. 

Choose a vegetable or fruit you’ve never tried or prepare it differently. You’d be surprised as to how different a vegetable, like carrots, can taste when roasted with a touch of olive oil and pinch of salt! 

When choosing salad greens, go for the dark green variety like spinach, kale, beet greens, arugula, etc. The darker the color, the more nutrition! 

Grocers use a term called FIFO, which means, “first in, first out” so be sure to look in the back of racks, shelves, etc. for the freshest produce. Don't be afraid to ask if a new shipment is in the back. 

Eggs, Meat, & Seafood

Eggs- “Pastured” and “100% cage free” is best. Refer to the post, “What Color is Your Egg?”

Poultry- look for the terms “free range” and “hormone and antibiotic free”. Ideally “pastured” is best but sometimes hard to find. 

Red Meat- If your food budget allows, go for “Grass-Fed”. If not, look for leaner cuts that include the terms “loin” or “round” i.e.: pork tenderloin or sirloin steak. When purchasing ground meats, pay attention to the numbers. 80/20 means 80% lean and 20% fat so you’d be better off with the 93/7 version. 

Fish- Aim for the “wild caught” variety if you can. If you’re choosing the “farmed” version, make sure you ask the buyer where it’s sourced. Also, be sure to choose fish and shellfish that containlow levels of Mercury like domestic crab, Atlantic Haddock, shrimp, scallops, and salmon. 


Cheese- It’s OK to go for the full fat/regular version. Steer clear of the fat-free version as you will note on the ingredients list that it contains a lot of unwanted chemicals, fillers, preservatives, etc. It’s best to buy a chunk of your favorite and shred/slice yourself. Yes, they even add anti-caking chemicals and mold inhibitors to packaged shredded cheeses. 

Yogurt- Yogurt can be loaded with excess sugar so your best bet is to choose the plain and then add your own flavors by adding chopped fruit and a dash of local honey or 100% Vermont maple syrup. 

Butter- “Grass-fed” butter is nutritionally superior to the conventional grain fed variety as it contains vitamin K2 (important for bone and arterial health), beta carotene, omega-3’s, and heart healthy CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). For more, refer to my post on butter vs. margarine. 

Milk- Choose hormone and antibiotic free. If you can find it, pick up the cream top version. Cream top milk varieties are pasteurized but not homogenized, leaving a nutrient rich top. If you are lactose intolerant or avoid animal milk for other reasons, an unsweetened almond milk may be a good choice. 

Bread/Cereal/ Crackers/etc. 

Bread- To my patients, I like to say “Buy the bread that goes bad the quickest.” This means buying fresh bread, freezing it, and using it when you need it. Many of the breads and bread products you will find in the middle aisles can contain unwanted preservatives and various forms of sugar (typically HFCS as it’s the cheapest). Breads that are better on blood sugars are sourdough, rye, and pumpernickel. 

Cereal- Hot cereals like whole grain oats, barley, or buckwheat are good options. 

Crackers- Baked, whole grain crackers are best. Look for the least number of ingredients and ones you’re familiar with. 

Frozen Section

Here’s where you can load up on fruits and vegetables. Some of my patients are surprised to know that frozen can sometimes be better than fresh! Just make sure you buy the kind without added sauces/seasonings which contain forms of sugar and salt. 


Read ingredients list. Avoid products with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), and mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), to name a few. For salad dressing, pick up your favorite bottle of vinegar and cold-pressed olive oil for a flavorful zero-sugar, zero-sodium dressing. 


Go for unsweetened tea, coffee, and sparkling water. For sparkling water, you want the ingredients to be simply “carbonated water, natural flavor”. Many varieties have added artificial or real sugar. 


I hope these tips help you during your next visit to the grocery store. Happy and healthy shopping!