Shopping Smart Aisle by Aisle After Your Weight Loss Surgery

By Brian K. Davidson, Sarah Krieger

Smart eating for your post bariatric surgery requires smart shopping. This means purchasing foods that are healthy, convenient, and good, which can take a little time and may make you feel totally overwhelmed. You will need to compare items and make notes.

To make shopping easier, as you prepare the meals you have on your weekly menu, make notes of brands you like. You may find that other people in your family are willing to help out with the weekly shopping if you have a detailed list complete with brand names.

The best buys for your nutritional buck are nutrient-rich foods. These are foods that give you a lot of nutrition for fewer calories. It often has nothing to do with how much a food costs. Even though many fast foods and processed foods are inexpensive, they cost you a lot in terms of health and weight gain. When grocery shopping for nutrient-rich foods, follow these tips:

  • Look for foods that are as close to their original form as possible. The more foods are processed, the more vitamins and minerals have been stripped out of them. They also often lack the fiber of their less-processed counterparts.
  • Look for foods that are in season. Strawberries in December are going to be expensive and probably not very good. Buy frozen or wait until June.
  • Look for locally grown foods. Fruits and vegetables that have been shipped across the country have lost many of their nutrients en route. When was the last time you visited your local farmers market? Not only is it fun, but you can’t get better vegetables and locally produced products.

Visualize your grocery store. What do you see around the outside edge of the store? Generally, it’s produce, dairy, meats, and frozen foods. Now visualize what you see in the middle. That’s where you find chips, cookies, soda pop, and processed foods. Get the drift? Focus most of your shopping around the edge of the store and shop smart on the inside aisles.

In general

  • Buy foods that are the least processed you can find.
  • Shop with a list.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry.
  • If possible, shop alone. Focusing on healthy foods and buying just what you need is easier without the influence of a spouse or child with a sweet tooth.
  • Just because a food claims to be a healthy choice, doesn’t always mean it is. The fronts of boxes and packaging are meant to sell items to consumers. You have to read labels!

Produce

When it comes to buying produce, knock yourself out! Just don’t get carried away. Purchase only what you need and will eat for the week. Experimenting with fruits and vegetables you haven’t tried before may introduce you to a new favorite healthy food. Look for seasonal and locally grown foods. Some produce is good eaten raw, and you can keep an eye out for produce packaged in microwavable bags to let you quickly cook vegetables for a side. Don’t forget about frozen fruit and vegetables. These items can be useful later in the week when you may have eaten the fresh produce you purchased.

Try to buy produce in a variety of colors — green, red, yellow, orange, and yellow. The more color you incorporate, the more vitamins, minerals, and fiber you give your body (without many calories!).

Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy. They’re also loaded with calories, so eat smart. One-eighth of an avocado is 45 calories (the same as a teaspoon of oil).

Meat, poultry, and seafood

Meat, poultry, and seafood are generally along the back wall of the grocery store.

  • Look for the words round or loin (tenderloin, ground round, sirloin) when purchasing meat. These terms indicate lean cuts of meat.
  • Fish is always a good option unless it’s breaded or fried. Fatty fish (salmon and mackerel) are particularly good for you because of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats.
  • Go ahead and purchase poultry with the skin. It retains more moisture if cooked with the skin on. Just be sure to pull it off before eating.
  • When purchasing ground turkey, be sure to get ground turkey breast. Some ground turkey has the skin and dark meat ground into it.
  • Meat and fish in pouches or cans are a real time saver. They also tend to be lower in sodium than deli meats.
  • Remember that you can also get protein from beans, tofu, and dairy like cottage cheese.

Dairy

The dairy aisle can be confusing. What exactly is lowfat? Is butter better than margarine? Follow these tips:

  • Look for cheese and cream cheese that has less than 75 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving.
  • Look for trans-fat-free margarine to use on a daily basis. You can use butter occasionally, but do it sparingly.
  • Drink 1-percent or fat-free milk. If you’re used to whole milk, this may take a little getting used to, but hang in there and it will grow on you.
  • When buying yogurt, look for the fat-free variety with no added sugar. Greek yogurt is a great product, having twice the protein of other yogurts. It can also be used in the place of sour cream in many dishes.

Grains and cereals

Grains and cereals can be very confusing. How can sugary cereals be whole grain? Are all breads labeled whole wheat healthy? The truth about whole grain is really pretty simple.

When purchasing bread, crackers, English muffins, pastas, and cereals, look for products that say 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat. If a loaf of bread just says whole wheat, it’s white bread with caramel coloring added to it. And sugary cereals labeled whole grain may have a little whole grain but the majority is still made of white flour. 100% is the key that ensures you’ll get some good vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. If in doubt, look at the ingredients. If you see the word enriched, put it back!

Center aisle staples

Thought you should focus on the perimeter of the store, you have to forge into the center aisles for some foods.

Many of the fats are located in the center aisles. Since oils, salad dressings, and condiments comprise much of the fat in a typical diet, knowing what you’re buying is particularly important.

  • Buy regular salad dressings with no more than 100 to 150 calories per 2-tablespoon serving. And remember that you don’t have to eat 2 tablespoons; 1 is often sufficient. If you have GBP, you may get dumping syndrome from eating full-fat salad dressings.
  • Reduced-fat dressings should have no more than 100 calories per 2 tablespoons. It’s still important to measure.
  • If you must use mayo, look for reduced-fat or fat-free versions. If you only like full fat or the salad dressing kind, measure it carefully and use sparingly.
  • Use olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil when you can in place of other oils. These oils are healthy, but still loaded with calories, so use sparingly!
  • Remember that trans fats are bad for you. Even though the label may say trans fat free, look for the word hydrogenated in the ingredients. If you see this word, put it back!

What about canned goods? They can be great timesavers. Contrary to what many people believe, they can also be very healthy. Vegetables for canning are picked at their peak and processed quickly; they aren’t sitting on a truck for days at a time. However, canned beans, soups, and vegetables can be high in sodium. When possible, buy reduced-sodium brands. Rinse canned beans and vegetables and add back a little water before heating to serve. Doing so greatly reduces the sodium content. Purchase canned fruits that are canned in their own juice or water (not syrup).

Focus on broth-based soups instead of cream-based soups. They are much lower in calories and fat. Homemade soups are super easy to make yourself and let you control the sodium and calories. You can put all the ingredients in a crockpot before you leave the house in the morning and have soup ready when you come home.

Frozen foods

Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great go-to food for those nights when you get in late and need to put a healthy supper on the table quickly. Like canned vegetables, these frozen alternatives can be very healthy. Avoid any that are breaded or have cream or cheese sauce on them.

A plethora of frozen dinners are on the market. Many of them claim to be healthy, and some actually are. The trouble is that many are often too low in calories and pasta heavy to be satisfying, sometimes having less than 200 calories and leaving you hungry later.

When checking the ingredients in a frozen meal, apply the same principles to frozen dinners that we applied to your menu. Does it have protein, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, a little fat (usually not a problem), and lowfat or fat-free dairy? If you’re lucky, a typical frozen meal may have whole grains, a dab of vegetables, and a little protein. You can always pump up the calories and nutrition by adding a salad or another vegetable, a piece of fruit, and 30 minutes after the meal, a glass of milk. Look for meals that have 200 to 300 calories, less than 5 grams of saturated fat, less than 600 milligrams of sodium, and more than 15 grams of protein.

Don’t forget to watch the sugar! Manufacturers sneak it into everything — ketchup, spaghetti sauce, bread, salad dressings, peanut butter, and the list goes on and on. You have to look at the ingredients and look for words that indicate sugar, like dextrose, cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, and so on. If one of these words appears in the first three ingredients, avoid that food.