Five Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping

Dear Miranda,

Q: I find the grocery shopping experience overwhelming lately. There are so many products and aisles and I don’t have time to read labels. I become so frustrated that I just go pick up fast food because I want to get in, get out and eat.

How can I find healthy items and fast?

– Jordan

Dear Jordan,

A:  Proper nourishment these days seems like a YP’s most challenging task. The week flies by and you realize that you’ve been picking up take-out at 8pm every night and have nothing left in your fridge. Sound familiar? With mounting pressures at work and home, the last thing on your mind is food prep.

However, the cycle that you are stuck in is keeping you from feeling maximum energy. This is one of the YP’s biggest complaints — lack of energy. Eating high-calorie, low nutrient meals deprives your body of the fuel it needs to get you through what you have to do in your day.  You get stuck in a rut because you don’t have the energy to think of picking up food and making it, but the ironic part is that if you would begin this new routine, you would have more energy to do it and it wouldn’t feel like work.  

I am going to share with you my ‘Five Tips on Health Grocery Shopping’ to get you started:

1. Think Colour: Red, yellow, orange, green, purple and blue. Veggies and fruits with these colours give your body the blast of antioxidants that will protect you from free radical damage and fuel up your cells with power. 

I also recommend to my clients that they look closer at the PLU codes (price look-up). These codes that can be found on the little stickers directly on the produce tell a lot about the nutrition of the item.

Let’s use a pear, for example. If you see a four-digit number beginning with the number 4 (4416), it’s a conventionally grown pear with pesticides and chemicals. If it’s a five-digit number beginning with the number 9 (94416) it is an organic pear. If it starts with an 8 (84416) it’s a genetically modified pear (GMO). Try to reach for organic first, sometimes it can cost more, but I have seen great sales on organic produce. Try to avoid all GMO produce.

2. Fast Fuel: Although you may not have much time to read labels, it is important to be able to distinguish between what is a good fast snack and what isn’t. To stay on track with your health, you should always try to reach for a snack that is closest to the whole source that it was derived from. For example, reach for a bag of raw almonds, rather than an almond nut granola bar with sugar as the second ingredient. Raw almond butter would be much better than a sugary nut mixture with milk chocolate. It may take a little extra time to familiarize yourself with certain brands, but it’s worth it in the long run.


3. Prepared Foods: It sounds like you might be a bit more familiar with this section. It’s important to know that not all prepared foods are created equally. Some grocery stores use poor quality oils, preservatives, sugar and a ton of salt in their pre-made offerings. Some actually soak their lettuce leaves in monosodium glutamate (M.S.G), a neurotoxin, to preserve the colour. Gag! And yes, even if you take the skin off the BBQ whole chicken you are getting way more sodium then you should be having. So the question is: How do you know as a consumer what you are getting? Generally, I say that if a grocery retailer displays ingredients and is made to order in the store it will be more nutritious. If you aren’t sure, ask what’s in the food, it’s your right as the customer. Some of my favourite spots for prepared foods are Pusateri’s (Toronto), Whole Foods and The Big Carrot (Toronto).  They use clear labelling and quality ingredients.

4. Unhealthy Items in the Health Food Section: I do encourage everyone to check out the great variety of products in the health section of grocery stores, but it’s important to know that just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. For example, there is often a great selection of protein bars, but some have added double the amount of sugar. I see a great variety of gluten-free, dairy-free items now which is great, however many are connecting these terms with healthy. A gluten-free cookie can have the same or more sugar as a regular cookie.

5. Quick Scan: You don’t have to read the entire ingredient list to know if it’s not good for you. Give it a quick scan and if you do not recognize three or more of the ingredients, chances are you should be putting it back on the shelf.

Many nutritionists offer grocery store tours to educate on key points to look at when shopping. Take advantage of this service. Spending a couple of hours learning some new ideas can completely change the way you shop, cook and eat.

Miranda offers private and group grocery store tours at various grocery retailers in the GTA. For more information email