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Smart Supermarket Shopping

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Is the supermarket a place where you listen to elevator music while dragging your feet through aisle after aisle in boredom? Or is it a chance to fill your cart with choices and maybe get handed a free sample while you shop?

Despite the music, supermarket shopping can be interesting. Before you grab a shopping cart and head for the aisles, check out these tips for smart and healthy supermarket shopping.

Best Times to Shop

You can go to a supermarket almost anytime you want — many are open 24 hours. Choosing a time and place for your food shopping can help you shop smarter.

Here are some thoughts on when and where to shop:

Make a List and Use It (Mostly)

You have thousands of foods to choose from in a supermarket, so it's easy to get tempted or forget something you really need. Making a list saves time in the store. Also, plan the recipes that you want to make in the next few days and list the ingredients you'll need.

By making a list, you will:

But even with a list, you need to make some decisions at the supermarket. It helps to think like a chef. A good chef makes lists of ingredients, but also looks over the meats and produce for what's freshest and what's a good deal. So if a recipe calls for red onions but they look bad or the supermarket doesn't have them, the chef chooses another kind of onion that looks best. Or if a certain fish is freshest, the chef might choose it over the type of fish on the shopping list.

Label Lingo

A big part of smart shopping is selecting healthy foods. Food labels, also called Nutrition Facts labels, are printed on all packaged foods and are posted near produce, meats, poultry, and fish. These labels let you compare different foods to see how they differ in fat, calories, protein, and other ingredients. For example, you can compare the serving sizes of two cereals you like, see how much fat is in frozen pizza, or find out how many carbohydrates are in a bag of cookies. You also can check to see if a food contains important vitamins and minerals.

Smart shoppers are especially careful about the health claims on food packaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides whether manufacturers can call their foods "healthy" or "low fat." However, it's up to shoppers to put these claims in perspective for their own nutritional needs and eating habits. For example, "reduced fat" cookies might not actually be low in fat. They're just required to have less fat than the regular version of a particular cookie — and that original version may be much higher in fat than other cookies.

Here are just a few of the terms you might see while you shop:

Get the Most From What You Buy

By planning to make recipes and keeping a grocery list, you've already helped guarantee that you'll use the foods you buy.

More tips to help you get the right nutrition and avoid wasting food:

Do things that will help you enjoy food shopping, such as picking a new and interesting ingredient or spice to try each week. Food shopping is something you'll do for the rest of your life, and it will quickly become second nature to you.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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