The 5 Surprising Items in this Nutritionist’s Grocery Cart

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Being a nutritionist means that my diet must be perfect, right? Never do I overeat nor do I indulge in sugary desserts, and my grocery cart resembles a rainbow, always overflowing with brightly colored vegetables. Wrong! Following is a sneak peek into my grocery cart and some simple guidelines for making grocery shopping – and eating – more enjoyable. First of all, what exactly is the perfect diet? Hint: if I had the answer to that million-dollar question, I would be writing this post while sitting on a beach somewhere, collecting royalties from my best-selling book. Trying to eat perfectly healthy 100 percent of the time is not realistic for most of us. Better yet is to find that perfect balance, where you eat to nourish your body a majority of the time so that your body can handle occasional indulgences. I often recommend the 80-20 rule for eating – eighty percent of the time eat healthfully and the other twenty percent you can fudge a little (or have some fudge!). Of course, everyone is unique, and some people might need to be stricter than 80-20, but the concept is the same for everyone: don’t insist on perfection when it comes to your diet. The 80% While my cart isn’t literally overflowing with vegetables, produce does make up the majority of the contents. Weekly staples such as garlic, onions, celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, and kale are a must for soups and stews this time of year. I always buy a couple of bunches of kale to put into soups and smoothies, or to make into this delicious salad. Apples, pears, and avocado are also weekly staples, along with broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini for steaming, roasting or stir frying. This week I stocked up on acorn and butternut squash while they’re in season. I also hit the bulk section this week and stocked up on kasha (roasted buckwheat groats) and quinoa; dried kidney and pinto beans and red lentils; raw pumpkin seeds and raw almonds, and dried figs. I picked up some freshly ground almond butter (if your grocery store has a machine to grind your own nut butter, I highly recommend it for superior freshness and taste). Most weeks, I buy a whole organic chicken to roast. It’s such an economical way to buy meat – we get several meals out of it. And then I use the bones to make broth. For canned goods, I needed some coconut milk and canned beans (I prefer to cook my own beans, but I can’t always plan ahead for that). I hit the deli for some sliced turkey for sandwiches, grabbed a loaf of whole grain GF bread, and for snacks, tossed in some Mary’s Gone Crackers, a package of brown rice cakes, hummus, organic corn tortilla chips, fresh salsa, and a few Zing bars. Organic eggs and a bag of GF rolled oats almost completed my shopping list for this week, with the addition of… The 20% Potato chips, chocolate, butter, cream, and sausage. I don’t like to place “good” and “bad” labels on foods, but I do think there are good and bad versions of certain foods. It’s all about the quality (and of course, quantity). So I buy a brand of potato chips made of non-GMO ingredients that include potatoes, oil, and salt – that’s it. I love pure dark chocolate, but I also love Chocolove Almond and Sea Salt Bars and although it can be difficult, I do try to stick to eating a couple of squares at a time! I don’t eat much dairy, but I do love butter so I buy good quality organic pastured butter that has a more favorable fat profile than conventional butter. A few times a week, I enjoy drinking coffee with cream. Non-dairy creamers, even the healthier brands that don’t have artificial sweeteners and unhealthy fats, have long ingredients lists, so I prefer to pour a splash of organic cream into my coffee. My family loves sausage, so I buy a brand of chicken and apple sausage that is organic and has no MSG or added nitrites. The point is, no matter if you’re vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, or whatever, it’s important to include your favorite less-than-healthy foods in your diet – just do it in a mindful way. Choose quality products and pay attention to your portions. Here are a few rules of thumb I like to follow to help simplify grocery shopping and keep the focus on foods that nourish your body, promote health and prevent disease.
  1. Fill your cart with anti-inflammatory foods, such as fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. Ax the refined sugar, white flour, and highly processed oils.
  2. Include low glycemic-index foods in your meals and snacks, such as legumes, non-starchy vegetables, apples, pears, berries, nuts, and seeds.
  3. Ask yourself these questions: Do I recognize the ingredients? Can I imagine the food growing? Try to limit the foods that get “no” for an answer.
  4. To buy organic or not? An entire separate post could be written on this subject! There are many reasons to buy organic, but budget-wise, it may not be realistic to buy everything organic. For produce, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s pesticides in produce shoppers guide for the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 – this can help you prioritize the most important produce items to buy organic.
What items are in your usual 80%? What about your 20%? Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.