You have probably heard the saying “shop the perimeter” before. Health experts often recommend that grocery shoppers eager to purchase the healthiest foods should stick to the perimeter of the store. This is because fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grain breads, and meat and seafood are typically located on the outer edge of the store. While all of these foods are great examples of healthy food staples, it is important to remember that this is not meant to be a hard and fast rule. Like many rigid nutrition “rules”, this one is meant to be bent.
There are many nutrient dense foods located on the inner aisles of the store. In fact, some frozen foods may be more fresh and affordable than their non-frozen counterparts. For example, frozen spinach is much cheaper than fresh and is optimally flash frozen at its peak freshness. Talk about a double win! After reading this blog, you will be equipped with the knowledge to identify the hidden healthy food gems that are located in the inner aisles of the grocery store.
Beans are a low fat, fiber rich source of protein. They are considered "heart healthy" because they are a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They are also recommended for people with diabetes due to their low glycemic index. Additionally, beans are a great source of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamin A and folate.
Tip: Ideally, you will want to buy the beans that come in a bag and cook them yourself. But, if you are looking for a more convenient method, you can buy the canned variety. Just make sure to get the reduced sodium or rinse thoroughly in water to rid excess sodium.
Fun Fact: After soaking dry beans (preferably overnight), drain the water off and give them a good rinse with fresh water. This rids the enzyme called raffinose which is responsible for the “unwanted side effects” of eating too many beans! If you don’t have time to soak dry beans overnight, put them in a pot of boiling water for about an hour then rinse for the same effect. (Soaking helps soften the bean so the actual cooking process is quicker. Do not add salt to beans until after they are fully cooked-adding salt too soon makes them tough).
Fresh fruit can get expensive, especially if it’s out of season. Frozen fruit, on the other hand, is priced fairly consistently throughout the year. It is usually cheaper than fresh fruit. (Hint: stay away from most canned fruit!-see below) As mentioned with spinach, fruit is also flash frozen at its peak ripeness. This means that vital nutrients are “locked” in the food, rather than sitting on a shelf and losing some of its nutrients.
Tip: look for plain fruit that doesn’t have any added sugar or other ingredients. Or stick to canned fruit in its own juice as opposed to light or heavy syrup. Frozen fruit is also good to throw into a smoothie.
Grains such as whole grain rice, couscous, and quinoa are excellent sources of fiber and protein. Fiber moves through your digestive system slowly, leaving you feeling full longer. Plus, soluble fiber also aids in digestion and has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Most adults should aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day, so including these grains should help you meet that goal.
Tip: Read the ingredient list to make sure there are no added ingredients such as sugar or thickener.
Be sure that “whole grain” (and it’s variations like whole wheat, etc.) is listed first in the ingredient list, as some manufactures simply use caramel coloring so the items just “looks” brown.
We’re talking about peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, you name it! Nut butters are a great source of protein as well as heart healthy (unsaturated) fats. These fats have been shown to decrease risk for cardiovascular disease as well as increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied).
Tip: Looks for all natural nut butters with no added ingredients. The nut butter ingredients should only be nuts and salt. Although, you can usually find no salt added varieties as well. Smucker’s is one brand that most stores carry that doesn’t contain any added sweeteners. Choose regular PB over low fat PB. Why? Compare the nutrient labels and you will often find that the (healthy) fat has been replaced with sugar! This goes for salad dressings as well. Always check the USDA food label to know what is really in the food.
Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are known as a healthy dietary fat. MUFAs have been shown to decrease inflammation, lower risk of heart disease, lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Additionally, MUFAs may also help improve insulin levels and blood sugar control, which is ideal for people with type 2 diabetes.
Tip: look for an olive oil that is stamped with the date it was pressed on. This will ensure that you’re getting the freshest olive oil possible, which is crucial to receive the associated health benefits.
FAQ: What about coconut oil? Although coconut oil does have some positive health benefits, they are minimal compared to olive oil. Most of the research that backs the health claims of coconut oil uses medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in their purest form. As you can imagine, this is not the version we see on the shelves. For more info about coconut oil, check out our blog.