Wanting to eat healthy or lose body fat takes more than just good intentions. In a culture where obesity is increasing, and ultra-processed high-carb food is the norm, you need a strategy for outsmarting the inherent pitfalls to a healthy diet. One step everyone can take is to makeover their pantry and fridge with whole, nutritious options. Having the appropriate ingredients on hand encourages better choices and allows you to outsmart that irrational drive to eat crap when under stress.
In addition to providing an essential ingredients grocery list, this article will address some of the common questions that arise when it comes to transitioning from the sad American diet to one that can nourish you and promote energy and wellness.
Here are foods to put on your list:
Leafy Greens can be added to salads or sautéed to liven up any meal:
- Chard (Swiss & Rainbow)
Salad Greens provide the base for colorful salads and can substitute for high-carb foods like bread or rice:
- Pre-washed Salad Blends
Fresh Green Herbs provide spice and flavor to cooked dishes:
Low-Carb Vegetables are great snacks and can be cut up for beautiful meals:
- Red, Green & Yellow Peppers
- Summer Squash
Cruciferous Vegetables are packed with cancer-fighting nutrients:
- Cauliflower & Broccoli
- Brussels Sprouts
Root Vegetables can be eaten roasted to serve as the carb portion of a meal:
- Sweet Potatoes & Yams
- Potatoes of All Types
- Turnips, Carrots, Parsnips
- Winter Squash
Dairy Foods are packed with nutrition and probiotics:
- Cheese (Full-Fat, Any Kind)
- Cream and/or Milk
- Sour Cream
Seafood is an excellent protein source that provides the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA:
- Fresh Filets of Wild Salmon, Tilapia, Cod, Halibut
- Canned Wild Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines
- Frozen Wild Filets
Animal Protein is satiating and provides all the amino acids in a digestible form:
- Pastured Beef (preferably organic)
- Free-Range Chicken & Turkey
- Free-Range Eggs
- Unprocessed Deli Slices (Turkey, Chicken, Ham)
Oils & Fats can improve absorption of nutrients and add texture and flavor:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Butter (from pasture-raised cows)
Condiments are your go-to for creating flavorful meals at home in a flash:
- Tamari (Look for wheat/gluten free)
- Miso Paste
- Vinegars (Balsamic, Apple Cider, Red & White Wine)
Nuts and Seeds are nutritious garnishes and can be the perfect snack when on the run:
- Almonds, Walnuts, Macadamia Nuts
- Pumpkin, Sunflower, Sesame, Flax, Chia Seeds
- Sugar-Free Nutbutters (Peanut, Almond, Cashew)
Lower Carb Fruits can be a snack by themselves or added to yogurt and other dishes:
- Melons (Watermelon, Honey Do, Cantaloupe)
- Olives & Avocado (often thought of as vegetables, these high-fat low-carb delights are actually stone fruits).
Higher Carb Fruits can be a healthy dessert or a staple in higher carb diets:
Citrus Fruits are delicious in their own right and provide flavor to recipes:
- Lemon & Lime
- Orange & Grapefruit
Dried Beans & Grains can act as condiments or serve as the basis for plant-based meals:
- Black, Garbanzo & Kidney Beans
- Lentils (Green, Red & French)
- Oats (Steel Cut Rolled)
- Heirloom Grains (Amaranth, Millet, Farro & Buckwheat)
Packaged Ingredients are often necessary to make flavorful dishes from scratch:
- Non-dairy beverages (Rice, Almond, Coconut Milk)
- Tomato Products (Paste, Crushed, Whole)
- Broths (Vegetable, Chicken, Beef)
- Honey or Maple Syrup
- Protein Powder (Whey, Pea)
- Canned Beans (Handy to have around, but not an ideal staple due to the BPA that cans are lined with. Same goes for canned tomatoes.)
- Almond Flour
Herbs, Spices & Other Flavorings can improve blood sugar and give a lift to any meal:
- Cinnamon, Cumin, Turmeric, Nutmeg
- Raw Ginger, Garlic & Onion
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Sea Salt
- Vanilla Extract
Frozen Fruit & Vegetables are a quick fix in a hurry or if it’s off-season:
- Broccoli, Cauliflower, Green Beans
- Blueberries, Mixed Berries, Strawberries
- Riced Vegetables (Read labels for sugar or other ingredients you don’t want)
Drinks should mostly be no-calorie:
- Sparkling Water
- Unsweetened Tea
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it gives you a starting place for stocking up your pantry and getting ideas for fresh foods to keep in your refrigerator. It is geared towards lower carb eating, however, if you are on a higher carb program, either to fuel athletics or because that is what you prefer, you can bump up your carbs by buying a greater variety of grains (rice, barley, bulger), higher carb fruits and vegetables (pineapple, mango), dried fruits (raisins, apricots, mangos), and healthier breads and tortillas (Ezekiel bread or corn tortillas).
Other common questions people have when building a shopping list are answered below:
How Important Is It To Buy Organic?
When it comes to animal products, it’s worth the effort to avoid animals that were grown with hormones, antibiotics, or in factory farms, in part to protect yourself but also because these animals are rarely treated humanely. Additionally, research suggests that organic and free-range dairy and meat is more nutritious, and in the case of meat, contains healthier fatty acid profiles than grain-fed animals.
If you’re able to source your animal products locally, you might be able to find a farmer who isn’t certified organic but produces small batch meat, dairy, and eggs from free-range or pastured animals. This can be a great alternative that supports the local economy and gives you a better quality product.
For fruits and vegetables, check the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce for suggestions on which foods are worth the organic investment. Of course, even then, it’s not always possible to find organic produce or fit it in your budget. It’s more important that you are eating a wide range of vegetables and fruit than to worry about avoiding pesticides.
What About Diet Soda—Is It A Good Alternative To Soda?
The issue with diet soda is that it contains artificial sweeteners and preservatives that may have unidentified negative effects in the body. For example, early research shows diet soda consumption may negatively alter the good bacteria in the GI tract. Additionally, some association studies show links between high diet soda consumption and increased body fat. At the end of the day, it’s about making the best choices as often as possible. Plain water is always the best choice, but drinking a small amount of diet soda on occasion is a better choice than sugar-sweetened beverages.
Public Health Organizations Recommend Low-Fat Dairy. What’s Best?
Due to the incorrect fear that saturated fat caused heart disease, it has been standard for public health organizations to recommend lower fat versions of dairy and meat. Now that we know saturated fat is benign, more research is showing health benefits of eating the full-fat versions. This is likely due to the fact that fat is important for satiety and a feeling of fullness.
Association studies show that people who eat full-fat dairy tend to be leaner than those who eat low-fat versions. Full-fat dairy is also linked with lower type 2 diabetes risk, likely due to the fact that the fat delays the absorption of the milk’s sugar, leading to a more moderate blood sugar response and insulin release. Additionally, the fatty acids in full-fat dairy are believed to have anti-inflammatory effects that lower the risk of disease and obesity.
Of course, if you opt for a low-fat diet to lose body fat (not our go-to recommendation, but can be effective), then choosing lower fat dairy will be necessary. The key is to make informed choices and realize that fat is not to be feared and including it can have benefits for health and weight management.
What About Soy or Tofu?
Soy is one of those foods that has a lot of pros and cons. On the upside, it’s a high-quality plant protein that provides an array of nutrients. And cultures that traditionally eat soy foods, like the Japanese, tend to be healthier than populations in the West.
But there are drawbacks to soy: It’s overwhelmingly a GMO crop in the U.S., and the low cost of production has resulted in soybean oil and soy protein being added to most processed foods, which means that if you have a diet high in these foods, you are eating too much of it. Soybean oil appears to be more obesogenic than fructose, a form of sugar that is thought to contribute to the current obesity crisis and the rise in metabolic problems. Additionally, some studies show regular soy consumption can disrupt hormone levels.
Common sense is warranted when it comes to soy. Choosing organic will allow you to avoid GMOs. Including fermented soy such as miso, tempeh, tamari and natto provides probiotics, and these are the foods that are traditionally eaten in Asian cultures.
Here Are A Few More Tips For Grocery Shopping & Healthy Eating:
1. Plan meals around protein, low-carb vegetables, and healthy fat. For example, if you choose eggs for your protein, they already contain fat, so that’s taken care of, but you need to add some veggies to round out your nutrition and provide fiber. Try hardboiled eggs in a salad or poached eggs with a sautéed leafy greens and peppers. If your protein choice is turkey slices, they will likely be low-fat, so eat them rolled up in lettuce with avocado or as part of a salad with nuts or balsamic and olive oil dressing.
2. Read ingredient labels for all packaged foods. Manufacturers are sneaking sugar into everything: Turkey burgers, deli meat slices, salsa, nut butters, etc.
3. Avoid getting sucked into front of the package claims. Being “gluten-free” or “natural” doesn’t make it healthy.
4. For healthy eating, choosing whole foods and preparing food at home does the trick. But if your goal is fat loss, you need to make sure you’re achieving a calorie deficit (taking in fewer calories than you burn daily). Eating healthy can help because it tends to improve satiety and energy levels, but it’s not the solution to fat loss.