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Food

This Is What a Healthy Grocery List Looks Like

Follow these simple rules of thumb when you go food shopping to make sure your diet is a healthy one.

Woman with a shopping list for groceries at the market
Photo Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Many experts still claim that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is the key to a healthy diet. Not four, not six; five is the magic number. Can this really be?

This view is increasingly being challenged in by researchers. One of the five-a-day plan’s flaws is, ironically, that it has become so ubiquitous after governments and school systems used it as a slogan to encourage healthier eating. Marketers wasted no time in launching themselves onto the bandwagon, without paying much attention to the underlying science or what really comprises a “portion.”Thus, even people who pay attention to the health implications of their diet are thoroughly confused. Is marmalade a vegetable? A packet of raisins? Chicken soup that contains vegetables? Are frozen and fresh vegetables equivalent?

The World Health Organization’s recommendation is to eat 400g (a little less than a pound) of fruits and vegetables per day. Dividing this into five yields a reasonable portion size, but retailers tend to simply make up a figure for what a portion size should be, completely ruining what was supposed to be a “scientific” system.

Worse, it is a major intellectual exercise to set up a daily or weekly meal plan on this basis, even though you can supposedly count off the servings on the fingers of one hand. To simplify healthy eating, this article presents some no-nonsense tips on improving your nutritional intake now you’re able to make the best decisions: the weekly trip to the supermarket.

You won’t need a calendar or pocket calculator to follow this advice, nor do you need to throw out the habits of a lifetime over the course of one day. Like any lifestyle change, slow and gradual means painless and sustainable – trying to accomplish everything in one heroic effort will just use up all your willpower, and you’ll be back where you started within a few days.

Determine Your Menu When You Shop – What Ought to Be in Your Shopping Cart

It’s an established fact that people who go grocery shopping while hungry buy more and less healthy foodstuffs. Munching on a granola bar or an apple before you will help you make more considered choices and avoid impulse buying. The principle behind shopping for a healthy diet is to choose healthy options, buy enough of the right stuff, and then use these ingredients to cook meals that won’t be a chore to eat.

You might be a meticulous menu planner who knows exactly what you need, but most of us probably just figure out what we’re going to cook as we stumble along through the week. However, the following guidelines can be useful.

The average adult needs, per day:

  • almost 1 pound (400g) of vegetable matter
  • 2500 calories, depending on many factors
  • 2 ounces (55g) of protein
  • water when thirsty

That is pretty much it. If you eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables, your need for fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals will be taken care of automatically. If you do the multiplication, a family of four is supposed to eat a whopping 24 pounds (11kg) of fruit and vegetables per week! Yes, seeing it all together at once will be intimidating, but here’s one way it can break down: a banana for breakfast, an apple at lunch, and a cup of cooked vegetables and a small salad at dinner. You don’t have to eat it all at once!

Vegetables are nutrient-rich but low in calories so you can assume that this daily ration will contribute only about 300 calories. The following amount of carbohydrates will contribute another 2000, leaving 200 to be supplied by oil used in cooking and other sources:

  • 10 cups of cooked white rice
  • 5 ½ pounds (2 ½ kg) potatoes
  • 1 pound (½ kg) dry pasta, or one medium pot full when cooked

By contrast, 4 large candy bars or 4 medium servings of French fries contain the same amount of food energy. Of course, most people don’t eat potatoes and vegetables exclusively, and calories from starch should make up only about 1/3 of a balanced diet.

For your protein requirement, the following foods can provide your 2 oz. Daily requirement:

  • 9 eggs
  • 7 oz. (200g) pork or beef
  • one mounded cup of uncooked kidney beans
  • 7 oz. (200g) cooked shrimp
  • 14 oz. (400g) halibut

As you can see, a healthy diet can comprise a huge amount of food. Nobody needs to go hungry to lose weight. Doing the appropriate multiplication for how many people you need to feed, and of course keeping in mind that nutritional requirements are dependent on body mass, you can figure out approximately how much of these staples you should be buying, cooking and eating per week. Please note that religiously paying attention to these numbers is neither necessary nor very scientific; these are only rules of thumb to guide your shopping decisions.

Go for the Freshest

Especially when it comes to fresh produce that’s out of season or imported, your supermarket’s “fresh” fruit and vegetables may have been picked anything from a week to months before they appear on the shelves. During this time, they may be preserved in a variety of ways, from picking them before they’re ripe to chemical treatments. Making friends with a local greengrocer, who’s willing to tell you where his product comes from, will mean getting the most nutritional value out of that pound of plant-based food you should be eating every day.

Eat Fewer, Healthier Fats and Less Sugar

Trans and saturated fats, typically formed when oil is kept at high temperatures for long periods, are extremely unhealthy for your heart and cardiovascular system. Margarine and store-bought mayonnaise are some of the worst offenders. I’m practically willing to throw a tantrum complete with screams and tears if I’m served a dish containing one of these at a restaurant – yes, you can taste the difference. Opting for healthier alternatives (say, butter and sour cream) will significantly decrease your odds of heart disease a few years down the line.

Fried snack food is equally bad, so replacing those potato chips with baked salty treats or mixed nuts, is an excellent step in avoiding these killer fats. Many sweet baked goods and cake mixes also contain shortening – learning to bake from scratch is not difficult and will also save you from ingesting the added preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, anti-caking agents and who knows what else.

Animal fat is also not particularly good for you, especially if you’re going to grill your meat at high temperatures. Choosing leaner cuts is more expensive, but so is a visit to the cardiologist. You can also consider eating more seafood, skinless chicken, eggs or low-fat cheese.

A vegetable oil such as canola is suitable for most purposes, but it’s also worthwhile to keep a bottle of more expensive extra virgin olive oil in the kitchen for dressings or any dish that won’t be cooked much.

Excessive sugar, particularly as found in manufactured food, is the major cause of weight gain and diabetes. Our bodies are in no way evolved to digest candy or soda, so not buying these at all is by far the more healthful option.

Learn About Legumes and Whole Grains

Lentils, dark-colored beans, and garbanzos are all great sources of healthy protein, fiber, and more nutrients than you would believe. Buying them dried and in bulk saves money and ensures that you’ll never be without an option for dinner. Some of these needs to be soaked overnight, while others can do without. They can form part of a salad, be served with some mixed vegetables, be dropped into soups for a little more body, or be served on their own.

Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and buckwheat have the reputation of not being easy to prepare or being less tasty than processed alternatives, but this is usually unfair. Including all parts of the seed dramatically increases the amount of protein, minerals, vitamins and fiber you take in.

Spend on Seasonings

It goes without saying that we all want to eat well, but this doesn’t mean frying everything in lard before smothering it in ketchup. A few basic condiments will help bring out the best in your food without you even trying hard. The following basics can certainly be granted a permanent place in your pantry or fridge:

Fresh herbs: cilantro, thyme, parsley, basil.

Ground spices: chili, ginger, garlic, pre-mixed curry powder, cinnamon, paprika and so many others.

Liquid flavorings: red wine vinegar, toasted sesame seed oil, honey, light soy sauce, lemon juice.

Seeds for flavor and texture: sesame, sunflower, flax, pumpkin.

Many of these, such as herbs and spices, have significant positive effects on the body even in tiny quantities. Experimenting with them will very rarely result in culinary disaster, while these lively flavors will add another dimension to otherwise boring vegetables without putting in too much of another dangerous additive: salt.

Include Raw Foods

Although it sounds faddish, including raw food in your diet significantly increases the amount of nutrition you take in. Lettuce, spinach, cabbage and other leafy vegetables can all be eaten raw, contain virtually no calories and provide unbelievable quantities of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other things your body needs. Throwing a salad together is very quick and can complement almost any meal.

Variety

Every vegetable doesn’t contain all the nutrients you need. Eating the same thing seven days a week is not only boring, but won’t provide you with all the nourishment, including micronutrients, that you need to stay healthy, happy and energized. Even if you or your family have a favorite fruit or vegetable, make a point of buying other types from time to time. If you can combine different types on the same plate, for instance by stir-frying zucchini and carrots together, or tossing half a dozen different vegetables into a rich soup, so much the better.

Making a Start Towards the Ultimate Healthy Grocery List

Now that we’ve discussed some basic guidelines let’s look at specific healthful foods that you can slot into your weekly grocery list.

Oatmeal, being a whole grain, contains a large quantity of fiber and absorbs cholesterol in the gut, before it can reach the bloodstream. Besides this, it contains significant amounts of several minerals, antioxidants and B vitamins. You can improve both the appeal and the nutritional value of this breakfast by cooking it with cinnamon or vanilla essence or adding fresh fruit.

Legumes: eating lentils, garbanzos or any kind of beans two or three times a week will improve digestion, lower cholesterol and contribute to weight loss.

Fresh fruit: Not just apples and oranges, but as wide a variety as you can find. When shopping, figure on ten pieces per person per week or choose larger fruit the whole household can share. Don’t forget to grab some berries (any type), which have some unique health effects.

Vegetables: The one thing that cannot be neglected in a healthy diet. Yes, six pounds per person per week seems crazy, but this quickly becomes easy when you discover new ways of preparing them. Try stir-fries, sliced raw and tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, in soups and stews along with some meat, or invest in a steamer.

Healthy proteins: The key here is to include as little fat as possible, and increase the amount of vegetable protein you eat. Beans and nuts are good choices, while leafy greens shouldn’t be overlooked. As far as cholesterol is concerned, the jury is still out about eggs.

Salad stuff: Humble ingredients such as cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, and tomatoes are all enormously rich in nutrients, easy to prepare, low in calories and the perfect accompaniment to almost anything, including just some wholewheat bread.

Superfoods: These ingredients are the superstars of the nutritional world. Although they might not occupy a regular place on your grocery list, including them from time to time will give your body a nutritional boost.

Avocados are jam-packed with healthy oils that benefit every organ from your heart to your skin and assist in the absorption of other nutrients.

Omega 3 and 6 are oils essential for optimal brain function and a strong immune system. Sources include free range eggs and certain types of seafood.

Leafy greens, such as bok choi, spinach, and kale. These have too many benefits to mention, but certainly, the available calcium alone makes them worthwhile to eat.

Asparagus: Extremely high in folate and vitamin K, while also supporting the kidneys.

Teas: Black, green, chamomile, mint, or any of several dozen popular varieties. Comprising exactly zero calories, they are all pleasant to sip after dinner and provide some nutrients to supplement the solid part of your diet.

Soy products: Whether tofu, soy milk or plain beans, this food is one of the most complete vegetable sources of amino acids and helps stabilize hormone levels, particularly during menopause.

Staying with It

Eating healthily is not about emulating a rabbit one day of the week and a pig the rest of the time, but of making small, consistent efforts that will bear fruit in the long run. You can still enjoy the occasional treat if you are mostly doing what you know you should. Above all, avoiding the worst processed foods and eating a variety of vegetables will have you looking and feeling better in less time than you would have thought possible.

Karen Reed is the Managing Editor at Positive Health Wellness.

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