A guide to navigating the grocery store to find the healthiest options

Mapping the supermarket
Published January 10, 2020

While the supermarket can be a wonderful place full of culinary potential, it can also be very overwhelming and confusing – especially for health-food newbies or those who are adopting a new healthier lifestyle.

Toronto-based nutritionist Julie Mancuso shares her top tips for navigating the supermarket so you can make healthy choices and stick to your budget.


1) Don’t shop hungry

“The first tip may be the most obvious, but it’s important nonetheless,” Mancuso says. “Don’t set foot in the supermarket when you’re hungry because you’ll likely end up buying many more groceries than you would if you were satiated.”


If you’ve eaten before your grocery trip, you’ll also be less inclined to make an impulse purchase of some unhealthy quick fix to tide you over until you get home, Mancuso says. “This is particularly important for those who have clearly defined health goals such as weight loss.”


2) Make a list


A list will help keep you from buying more than you need. “Typically, people who overbuy groceries tend to overeat,” she says. “The more food you see in front of you, be it laid out on the dining room table or in your kitchen pantry, the more likely you will overeat.”


You can use a plain old piece of paper to make a list or any number of grocery list apps on your phone.


3) Stick to the outside perimeter


“Generally speaking, and with only rare exceptions,” Mancuso says, “the outside boundary has healthier food: vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc.”


4) Get familiar with the organic and healthy aisles


“Though often more costly, many foods found here can help sustain healthier eating habits.”


5) Read labels


“There are many products that contain hidden sugars, additives and preservatives,” says Mancuso. “These should be avoided as much as possible if you have one eye on health. For example, some gluten-free products – while gluten-free – may contain high amounts of sugar, which should never form a part of wholesome eating habits.”


A quick rule of thumb, she adds, is to not buy products that contain ingredients you can’t pronounce. “Chances are that foods that have a long list of difficult-to-pronounce and obscure words have been concocted in a food lab and engineered to be delicious at the expense of nutrition and health.”


6) Buy foods that don’t have labels


“Fruits and vegetables are two examples. They both don’t have nutritional labels because they don’t need them. They’re healthy and we all know it.”


7) Buy fresh or vacuum-sealed meat and buy fresh or flash-frozen vegetables

8) Avoid bottled sauces, dressings and condiments


“Even though they may appear healthy, the vast majority of these are brimming with sugar, the cumulative effects of which can be disastrous, often sabotaging your goals little by little,” Mancuso says. “Instead, give healthier sauces a shot, typically found in the organic and healthy food section at each supermarket. Just make sure you read the labels, even here. Ideally, you want the grams of sugar to be less than five grams per serving.”