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  • Brian Tully, MS, EP-C

Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping and Dining Out

(As printed in Leland Magazine)

Even the best intentions will fall flat without a plan. For many us trying to get and stay fit, the eating component can be the hardest part. There are basically two places your food is going to come from…the grocery store or dining out. The challenge of making the right choices on either path can be overwhelming. With this month’s article, I plan to offer some helpful tips for both the grocery store and dining out that will help keep you on track.

Navigating the Grocery Store

Work the Edges

In almost every grocery store you will find that the inner aisles are where the processed foods are located. This is where all the boxed, bagged and canned foods live; basically the non-clean foods, which in most cases equates to the foods to avoid or at least limit. Many of these items are filled with unhealthy additives and chemicals to preserve shelf life. Do your body a favor and limit or even skip the inner aisles and instead stick to the outside edges. Here you will find all your clean foods such as meat, seafood, produce and dairy.

Look High and Low

Did you know that some of the worst foods tend to be placed at eye level on the shelves? It’s an awful trick for those of us on a quick shopping run. Some manufacturers actually pay extra to have their products at eye level to increase sales. This is good for them, but bad for you and me. When navigating the shelves look high and low to find some more of the healthier options.

Less is More

Remember the basic equation of “Less Packaging = More Nutrition”. Another simple equation to commit to memory is “Fewer Ingredients = Healthier Food”. Review the nutrition labels on any packaged products, before you buy. A good rule of thumb is to pick the items with 5 ingredients or less. As the list of ingredients gets longer you typically see ingredients that are harder to pronounce, which typically means the items were created in a lab. This most likely means the product is filled with stuff your body doesn’t want or need. Or better yet, pick the food items without an ingredients label…like an apple…one ingredient, no label.

Terminology Tips

Whole Grain vs. Multi-Grain: Whole Grain indicates that the whole grain (the bran, germ and endosperm) has been used…this is a great choice. Multi-Grain indicates that more than one type of grain has been used, but none of them are necessarily whole grains and there is a chance that these grains were stripped of all their nutritional value.

Low Fat and Low Sugar: This doesn’t always mean it’s healthy. Low fat products are often loaded with sugar to make up for taking out the fat and vice versa.

Organic: Organic foods are foods produced without the use of pesticides and chemicals. Most organic foods found in your local grocery stores can be a little bit more expensive. One way to save some money on organic produce is to shop local farmer’s stands and markets (be sure to ask though). To save a couple of dollars, there are times when you can skip organic. A good rule to follow is to go organic if the skin is thin or edible. If the food item contains a thicker skin (not edible) this will provide a better barrier to pesticides and chemicals.

Go Organic: Apples, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes, pears, nectarines, peppers, celery, potatoes, and carrots, all lettuces and greens such as kale, collards, mustard, swiss chard, and spinach

Save Some Money: Avocados, pineapples, bananas, corn, kiwi, mangoes, papaya, sweet peas, oranges, grapefruit, squash, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, cauliflower, eggplant, melons, and sweet potatoes

Healthy Tips for Dining Out

While it will usually be healthier to prepare your own food, let's be realistic...there will be times that dining out is part of the plan. No need to completely go off the deep end when it is; instead try your best to make some healthier choices using these tips.

  • Plan ahead by checking out the menu in advance for healthier options and then stick to the plan when you arrive; no need to follow the crowd

  • Ask for healthy substitutions (side salad or veggies instead of fries; dressing on the side; add grilled chicken to a salad, etc.)…most restaurants are more than willing to accommodate

  • Choose a balanced meal that includes protein and vegetables

  • Choose items that are grilled, broiled or sautéed instead of fried

  • Avoid cream sauce based dishes, these are loaded with calories

  • Skip the bread basket, appetizer and dessert…stay focused on healthier main meal if you are specifically focused on weight loss

  • Eat slowly and sip water throughout your meal

  • Stop eating when you feel about 80% full instead of when you are stuffed

  • Skip the empty calories from alcohol and soda; choose water

  • If portions are large you can share a main dish OR ask for a take out box as soon as your meal comes and box up half the meal right away for another meal

  • For a lighter option: choose an appetizer and a side salad for your meal

Remember it doesn’t matter how hard you work in the gym, if you don’t control what you put on your plate. Hopefully these tips will help guide you to make better choices and keep you on track. Of course, be sure to enjoy a treat meal every once in a while. You can still reach your goals and enjoy life at the same time. It is all about balance.

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