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Common knowledge suggests that the healthiest way to shop is to stick to the perimeter of the supermarket where fresh produce, fresh meats, breads, bulk bins, and dairy are often located. But skip over the heartland of the store and you’ll miss out on countless nutritional gems, including numerous whole grain foods. Don’t let outdated wisdom keep you from stocking up on nutritious pantry staples. Learn our expert tips for healthy shopping below, then weave throughout the center aisles with conﬁdence!
Gone are the days of just rice or pasta with dinner. Today’s grain options include “ancient grains” like quinoa, amaranth, teﬀ, millet, sorghum, and farro, as well as lesser-known foods like buckwheat, freekeh, black rice, and bulgur. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp or read the terms on the package closely to ensure that you’re getting a whole grain. The word “whole” is a good sign, while words like pearled, enriched or degerminated indicate that the grain has some of its healthful bran or germ missing. If you need to get dinner on the table quickly, see if your grocery store carries some of the new instant or quick cooking whole grains, which have been pre-boiled by the manufacturer so that they cook faster. Or look for a whole grain pasta, virtually all of which boil in less than 13 minutes.
Sprouted whole wheat ﬂour and white whole wheat ﬂour are great replacements for all-purpose ﬂour in most recipes, due to their mild ﬂavor and lighter color. Spelt ﬂour, if you can ﬁnd it, is another favorite among the Oldways WGC team. Too short on time to create your own baked goods from scratch? Look for pancake mixes, muﬃn mixes, and other baking mixes that have the Whole Grain Stamp or list a whole grain (such as “whole wheat ﬂour”) as the ﬁrst ingredient.
When seeking out nutritious snacks, look for products that are made primarily with whole grains, nuts, seeds, or fruit. Toasted nuts, (unsweetened) dried apricots, baked whole grain crackers, plain popcorn, and fruit-and-nut trail mix are all healthy snack options. When reading the ingredient list, note that the most prominent ingredients are listed ﬁrst. So if a sweetener (such as high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, or evaporated cane juice) is high up on the ingredient list, it might not be the most nutritious option. The Whole Grain Stamp, which shows how many grams of whole grains are in one serving of a product, is also another helpful tool for comparing which snacks oﬀer the most whole grains.
Whole grain options are the norm in the cereal aisle, from granola to oatmeal to ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. Once you’ve doubled checked that your cereal is made with whole grains, sugar is the main thing to watch out for. Compare labels between diﬀerent cereal varieties and diﬀerent brands, and work your way towards ones that are less and less sweetened. You can always add a drizzle of honey or a handful of raisins to your bowl at home.
Canned beans should be a staple in every pantry, as their presence can mean the diﬀerence between a sad, starchy side dish and a hearty, rib-sticking entrée. A can of chickpeas, when tossed with pasta and tomato sauce, can act as “tiny meatballs.” A can of black beans can join almost any leftover roasted vegetable as a taco ﬁlling. When shopping for canned beans, look for low-sodium or no-salt-added options, and be sure to give them a quick rinse at home (which can remove up to 40% of the sodium). Canned tomatoes (look for no-salt-added options) are also a staple of many weeknight recipes and are good to have on hand for soups and sauces. If the oils are nearby, extra virgin olive oil is one of our favorites for both drizzling and sizzling.
When fresh is not an option, don’t fear frozen, canned, or dried fruits and vegetables. Seek out single ingredient fruits and vegetables (rather than ones that come in a cheesy or sweetened sauce) and sprinkle them into your meals throughout the week. Frozen broccoli in particular is a staple in my house and gets tossed in everything from omelets to pasta dishes. In addition to fruits and vegetables, more and more stores are starting to oﬀer individually quick-frozen whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa.
Do you have a favorite strategy for grocery shopping? We’d love to hear! (Kelly)