Your Healthy Guide to Grocery Shopping

Mother and daughter looking at list while grocery shopping

When it comes to healthy eating, one of the most important factors is the food we choose to bring into our homes. Program Director for Lifestyle Medicine Keri LeCompte shares tips for making healthy choices when navigating the grocery store.

When it comes to healthy eating, one of the most important factors is the food we choose to bring into our homes. While we all know that we should eat a balanced and nutritious diet, navigating the grocery store and making healthy choices can be challenging. 

We spoke with Program Director for Lifestyle Medicine Keri LeCompte about how to best approach grocery shopping. 

Keri is a double board-certified pharmacist and lifestyle medicine diplomat through the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. She also carries a certification through e-Cornell for plant-based nutrition education. Throughout her nearly ten years with Blue Cross, Keri has worked to bring lifestyle medicine initiatives, education and evidence-based programs to the members and providers we serve. Learn how to incorporate Lifestyle Medicine into your everyday life.

Here are some of Keri’s tips for making healthy choices when shopping for food: 

Make a list

Before heading to the grocery store, make a list of the items you need. This will help you stay on track and avoid impulse purchases of unhealthy snacks or junk food. Be sure to include a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and low-sodium spices.

Don’t shop when you’re hungry

When we shop for food while hungry, we are more likely to make unhealthy choices and give in to cravings. Be sure to eat a healthy snack before heading to the store to help curb your hunger and avoid impulse purchases.

Shop the produce section first

This is where you should focus your shopping efforts as these are the items that are typically the healthiest and most nutritious. “Start at the produce section and fill your cart with as many fresh, whole foods as possible before moving inward,” says Keri. 

Don’t hesitate to stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables

Produce starts to lose nutritional value as soon as it is harvested. Frozen vegetables and fruits are often more nutrient-packed than fresh fruits and vegetables because they are frozen soon after harvesting. “Frozen fruits and veggies are a great staple to have for weekday breakfast and dinner prep,” says Keri. 

Try shopping online

You can find a variety of bulk whole grains and non-perishables online that you may not be able to easily find at a local grocery store and often more affordable. Keri says she will often purchase black, green and/or red lentils, bulgur, rye berries, sprouted oats, farro, beans, nuts, and seeds online. Farmers To You is a great online option. While you may not be able to find bulk options at this digital farmers’ market, you will find local products, as well as an 8% discount to Vermonters. 

Read nutrition labels

When shopping for packaged foods, be sure to read the labels carefully. Find more tips for looking at labels below. 

Tips for Reading Packaging Labels

Nutrition fact labels are incredibly important to look at while grocery shopping. Determining whether something is cart-worthy is simple with these tips:  

The shorter the ingredient list, the better! 

When reading the ingredients on a label, if there are more than a handful of ingredients, try to avoid that item. Fresh fruits and vegetables don’t have labels at all which means they are a whole food.

Avoid ingredients you don’t recognize

“If the ingredients listed sound more like something from a chemistry lab, that’s a good indicator to put it back on the shelf!” says Keri. It’s also a best practice to avoid foods with trans fat, added sugars, and high sodium content (20% or more daily value). 

The 5:1 Rule

For every 5 grams of carbohydrate listed, there should be at least 1 gram of fiber. “If the carbohydrate count is 25g, you would want to see a fiber content of 5 grams or higher to identify a whole grain food,” says Keri. 

Look for the word “WHOLE” in the ingredient list

If the first item in the ingredient list states “whole,” the product is likely whole grain. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Look for items like brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa, and oats. Avoid refined grains like white bread, pasta, and rice, which are low in nutrients and can cause blood sugar spikes.

When looking at the nutrition fact label, you should also check for allergens, best by, and use by dates. 

Pro-Vermonter Tip: Join or shop at a local co-op! 

Co-ops are community-owned businesses that operate democratically, with members sharing in the decision-making and the profits. By joining or shopping at a co-op, you can support local agriculture, have access to healthier, sustainable food, and build community. Most co-ops will offer special member benefits as well! 

Find a co-op near you below. 
Brattleboro Food Co-op, Brattleboro
Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op, Hardwick
Caledonia Food Co-op, St. Johnsbury
City Market / Onion River Co-op, Burlington
Hanover Co-op Food Stores, White River Junction
Hunger Mountain Co-op, Montpelier
Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Middlebury
Morrisville Food Co-op, Morrisville
Plainfield Food Co-op, Plainfield
Putney Food Co-op, Putney
Rutland Area Food Co-op, Rutland
Springfield Food Co-op, Springfield
Upper Valley Food Co-op, White River Junction

Navigating the grocery store can be challenging, but with these tips, you can make choices that will benefit your health in the long run. Once you are comfortable with what you are looking for and where to find it, shopping will become much easier.