"Many supermarkets have turned the perimeter into a tempting gourmet market," says David Grotto, author of 101 Optimal Life Foods. Sure, you'll still find fresh produce, lean meats and dairy products there, but you'll also face "imported cheeses, fancy desserts and calorie-laden prepared foods," Grotto says. No aisle should be off-limits. After all, plenty of good-for-you items, like canned beans and whole grains, are buried in the midsection of the store. And even the junk-food aisle has heart-healthy dark chocolate bars. A better tactic? Stay focused by eating before your trip and come armed with a well-edited shopping list.
Not all fiber is created equal, says Keri Glassman, author of The O2 Diet. Healthy shoppers stick to foods with naturally occurring fiber (found in produce and whole grains) instead of the fortified variety (found in junk foods like enriched toaster pastries and cheese puffs). That's because fiber, which helps you absorb nutrients, is only as good as the company it keeps, says Oregon-based registered dietitian Jeanine Stice. If the product has nothing much to offer beyond sugar and empty calories, there are no benefits to absorb. Another caveat: Exceeding 35 grams of fiber a day may "interfere with nutrient absorption," says Stice.
We're hit with a riot of information every time we pick up a product. There are head-scratching ingredient lists (think: ascorbic acid*) and chirpy claims (Fat-free! Whole grains! All-natural!). Smart shoppers ignore the front of the package -- it's just advertising -- and go straight to the side panel, says Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat. And they don't get hung up on words they can't pronounce. "They look for food that's high in good stuff like fiber, protein and nutrients, and low in sugar, sodium and fat," says Dr. Michael Roizen, co-author of YOU: On a Diet.
*Surprise: Ascorbic acid is actually the chemical name for vitamin C.
"Not only is it lower in total fat, but most of its fat is the good kind: heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and cancer-fighting CLAs," says registered dietitian Lisa Drayer. The percentage of grass-fed meat offered in supermarkets has doubled over the past few years, but be sure to read the fine print: "Look for 'grass-finished' or '100 percent grass-fed,' meaning the farm hasn't fed the animal grain (which cancels out nutritional benefits), to ensure you're getting your money's worth nutritionally," says Jo Robinson, founder of eatwild.com. And, of course, it's important to eat even grass-fed beef in moderation.