Cart Smarts

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2013

Eating right and staying healthy starts at the grocery store.

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Grocery shopping nowadays usually comes with a collective sigh.

People don’t know where to start or what they’re putting in their cart and end up paying more than they planned. A trip to the store doesn’t need to be this stressful. Attack your grocery shopping with the goal of leaving with a cart full of healthy foods designed to boost your health.

Dry Foods: Quick Energy

Dry foods refer to anything you can keep on your shelf and doesn’t require refrigeration, except sometimes after it’s opened.

Many carbohydrate sources are found in pastas/rice/cereals. Look for the words “whole grain” on as many items as possible. Whole-grain carbohydrate sources have been shown to provide long-lasting energy. The fiber in these products can also help keep calorie counts down for those trying to lose weight.

Shopping for dry foods can be difficult because most of the snacks, junk food and greasy sides are here. When looking at sauces for pasta/salads/sandwiches/etc., follow  two rules:

First, look at the saturated fat content and try to keep it low. Sauces can hide oils and fats easily, but you can make sure the ones you do consume are healthier, such as olive oil or sunflower seed oil. Second, keep sauce usage to a minimum, as most only add unwanted nutrients to foods, like sugars and fats.

Lean meat provides an excellent protein choice and helps build and repair muscles.

Once you get to the chip/snack food aisle, take a step back and control your salty desires. The advice here is simple: Minimize chips and sugars while maximizing nuts, popcorn, and granola bars.

Produce: Keep it Colorful!

Foods from the produce department should make up half your meals.

Fruits and vegetables are always jam-packed with micronutrients, fiber and carbohydrates to give you energy. Many people don’t realize cooking down their fruits and vegetables can destroy some of the nutritional value of the food.

Try to eat raw from this department as often as possible to maximize vitamin and mineral absorption. Knowing this, frozen, canned and cooked fruits or veggies are still better than your typical side dishes of french fries, chips or cheese-loaded anything.

The micronutrients in spinach, bananas, mushrooms, oranges, blueberries, etc., can have the same effect as a sports drink. The same electrolytes found in sports drinks are naturally found in produce. Plus, a lot of produce is mostly water, so it’ll help rehydrate you as well.

Pick as many colors possible. Yellows, reds, greens, dark greens, whites, oranges, purples, blues and the list goes on.

Use your nose and smell the product. This is usually the best test to see if the food is ripe. If you’re shopping for the next week or two, grab some produce that isn’t ripe yet and let it ripen at home.

Finally, sale items in this department usually coincide with when the produce is in season. This is the best time to eat these foods. Take advantage of the pricing and maybe even try something new.

Meat: How Lean Can You Go?

The meat aisle is usually the most expensive.

The most important thing to realize about protein is it builds and repairs muscles, but isn’t a primary source of energy. That’s why meat should complement a  carbohydrate source.

Remember that protein is in almost all foods and when combined the right way can be just as beneficial as a cut of meat. Animal sources of protein have the full amino acid profile.

The amino acid profiles of plant-based foods are missing just a couple of the essential amino acids. So if you mix that food with another one with amino acids, you now have a food with the same quality of protein as meat. Examples are peanut butter and bread or green beans with almonds.

Lean protein is the best and gets the highest ratio of protein to fat. The leanest options are usually turkey, chicken, pork and fish. Most meat products are labeled with the ratio of fat in the product. When you look at ground beef and see “80/20,”  this means it’s 80% meat and 20% fat. Aim for the products marked “93/7.”

Chicken should be skinless whenever possible, as skin adds unneeded cholesterol to your diet. Fish can be great even if it’s high in fat. It has a lot of protein but also high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These are unsaturated fats that help promote healthy joints and heart health.

Dairy: Made for Athletes

This department includes foods that are packed with protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, riboflavin and many other nutrients, while keeping sugars and fat to a minimum.

Milk blends protein and carbohydrates with natural electrolytes such as calcium to promote muscle growth, recovery and performance. Whey protein, which is found in milk, is a great recovery protein as it’s readily absorbed by muscles and will get used faster than other proteins.

You’ll also find some of the best snacks here. Cheese, yogurt and eggs are amazing options for protein. Cheese is like concentrated milk, but it can be high in saturated fat. Try to find low-fat options; the label will say it’s made with skim milk.

Yogurt has active, healthy bacteria which promote gut health. The bacteria in your gut help break down all foods and need the probiotics and prebiotics found in yogurt to stay active and healthy. Eating yogurt can help aid digestion issues such as inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea.

What makes eggs so great is their concentration of nutrients; high protein and B vitamins are all packed into a little egg. They do come with a disclaimer though: lots of cholesterol.

Frozen Food: Always There

Many people say frozen foods are the pitfall to healthy grocery shopping. It’s unfair to classify all frozen foods as unhealthy.

They can usually be quickly prepared and consumed and today that’s a huge deal.


Don’t fall into the lazy routine and cook something frozen just because you don’t want to spend the time.

The frozen foods to buy are usually the ones that are entrees or almost a full meal, give or take a side dish. Aim for high protein and low fat (more specifically low saturated fat). If you look on the label, aim for no higher than 30% of your calories coming from fat and 15 grams of protein or higher.

Fruits and vegetables flash frozen at their peak ripeness still have all the nutrients as the fresh versions. Frozen fruit is great in smoothies, and vegetables are good as quick side dishes. Frozen yogurt provides all the benefits of regular yogurt while being a healthier, lower-fat, higher protein option than ice cream.

Frozen meat saves money, but requires you to thaw it ahead of time. Make sure you thaw in sealed containers overnight in the fridge to keep the meat and all the other foods in your fridge, safe.


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