You may have heard that shopping the outside of the supermarket is a healthy grocery shopping strategy, but is that really true—and what else should you know?
When you enter the grocery store, your initial instinct may be to just…go for it. You grab a cart and head straight into the heart of the supermarket, plucking non-perishables off the shelves and tossing them in with the rest of your bounty in an effort to get back home as quickly as possible. Plus, let’s get real — the center of the store tends to be where many of the most delicious treats are found.
If you’re planning your grocery trips around what’s healthiest, though, you may want to reconsider your approach. The good news is that there’s a fairly easy rule of thumb you can use to navigate the supermarket while maximizing the nutritional value of the items you’re purchasing. It’s as easy as sticking to the perimeter of the store.
The Benefits of Shopping the Outside of the Store
This logic, according to sports dietitian Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, is “rooted in the fact that many foods in their whole form — including fruits and vegetables — tend to be located outside of the standard grocery store aisles. By shopping only this section, you’re certainly likely to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables, which the majority of Americans are not eating sufficient amounts of.”
When navigating your way around your supermarket’s perimeter, Lydon recommends that you focus on variety. Mix up your selection of produce, proteins, and dairy to maximize dietary diversity. A healthy variety of nutrients is ideal for overall wellness, but especially for gut health. Jones notes that fresh fruits and vegetables should be the real highlight of your trip around the outside of the store.
The Pitfalls of the Practice & Why It Pays to Venture into the Interior Too
It’s not all healthy around the perimeter, though. “While ready-prepped foods and bakery items can have a place in any healthful diet, their positioning takes away from the clout of recommendations to only shop outside of the aisles,” Jones says. “Often, a store’s bakery breads are still mass produced and some packaged breads may contain more protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, as well as fewer ingredients.”
Related Reading: What You Need to Know About Processed Food
And while sticking to the outside of the grocery store is a good general mindset, it is worth venturing into the aisles for more than just these potentially healthier bread options. In addition to non-perishable chips, cookies, and other snacks, you’ll find nut butters, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, frozen fruit, canned tomatoes, beans, lentils, and olive oil in the middle of the store. Per Lydon, these nutrient-dense items should be pantry staples for anyone sticking to a healthy diet…especially since, according to Jones, they make it easier to consume nutrient-dense foods when you’re busy or on the go.
“Shopping the inside of the grocery store isn’t cheating — it’s shopping smart,” Lydon adds. “Fresh foods are more perishable and can contribute to food waste. To minimize food waste and make meal planning more accessible and realistic, aim for a balance of fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable items.”
Related Reading: The Best & Worst Canned Food to Buy, According to Nutritionists
As with most things, navigating the supermarket to maximize healthy meals for you and your loved ones is all about balance. Lydon notes, however, that shopping near the perimeter is especially beneficial for anyone who is watching their sodium intake because of medical conditions like high blood pressure.
An added perk? You’re bound to cut some serious time off your average grocery shopping trip by sticking to the outside of the store and staying out of the aisles!
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