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The Metabolism Booster's Guide to Food Shopping

Grocery shopping is one of the greatest ways to jump-start a healthy eating regimen — that is, of course, if you're planning ahead for the excursion, making nutritious choices, buying foods that you'll realistically eat, and understand how to pair those foods together into snacks and meals.

How not to go grocery shopping

There's a time and a place for grocery shopping, and it's not wise to go on a whim without a plan. You may make impulse purchases based on clever marketing techniques or whichever foods you're craving. How many times have you grabbed a candy bar as you're checking out at the cash register?

With that in mind, here's what not to do when it comes to grocery shopping:

  • Never go hungry: When you're hungry, your hungry hormone, ghrelin, has a way of dictating to your brain what you must purchase. If you don't have the resolve to resist, you may be walking out of the store with jumbo bag of your favorite cookies. Remember, when you don't get enough sleep, your ghrelin is elevated as well, so keep that in mind being heading to the grocery after a sleepless night.

  • Don't go without a list: Once you get into the store and navigate the aisles, you may forget why you came in the first place.

  • Skip specialty stores for basic items: Sure, you want to check out the new Italian market that opened up in your town. That's not a reason to do all of your food shopping there. You'll end up spending a lot more money and buying foods you'll try once but end up tossing in the trash. Instead, peruse and go in for a specific item you know you can't get anywhere else.

Forget about "only shopping the perimeter"

Be smart about grocery shopping — in every aisle of the store. The advice to only shop the perimeter (or outside) of a supermarket is outdated.

Where did this advice come from in the first place? Fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and dairy are typically stocked around the outside of your supermarket, whereas boxed and processed foods are in the center.

You need to be wary of a few perimeter departments, though. For example, the deli counter and freezer sections also line the edges of a store; these are stocked with the exact opposite of fresh foods, often with options loaded in sodium and preservatives.

You need to hit up the middle of the store for the aisles containing beans, whole grains, cereals, pastas, nuts and nut butters, oils, and spices.

Making a budget-conscious grocery list

A grocery list created with a healthy mindset helps you stay on track when navigating the supermarket aisles, where temptation abounds. You'll spend less money and waste less food since there's less risk for impulse buys.

Here are three steps to make the best list (and minimize multiple trips to the grocery store):

  • Take inventory of what's already in your kitchen. It can be very frustrating when you're at the store and you can't remember how much cereal you have left in your cupboard.

  • Think about foods you might have thrown out and the nutritious foods you can replace them with.

  • Organize your list based on grocery store section so you get everything (produce, condiments, dairy, etc.) at once.

Be supermarket-savvy to shop for metabolism-boosting foods on any budget:

  • Store-prepared meals, pre-mixed marinade or rubs, pre-cut and washed fruit and veggies will cost you extra for the labor.

  • Individual serving sizes of foods often charge you extra for the packaging. Get a set of air-tight containers and portion out items on your own.

  • Don't shop by brand. With store or generic versions, you often get an identical product for less.

  • Out-of-season fresh fruits and veggies are pricier due to lower supply. Remember, frozen or dried fruits and veggies are just as nutritious and last longer than fresh.

Understanding food labels

Two-thirds of Americans read food labels, but that doesn't mean they understand them. Here are some claims found on labels and what they mean:

  • "Good source" of vitamin, mineral: Must have 10 percent of USDA's daily allowance.

  • "High source" of vitamin, mineral: Must have 20 percent of USDA's daily allowance.

  • Low Fat: Must have 3 grams or less per serving.

  • Reduced Fat: At least 25 percent less fat than its original version.

  • Lite (refers to fat, calories, sodium): Must have 50 percent less sodium or fat, 1/3 fewer calories than original version.

  • Low sodium: Must have less than 140 milligrams sodium per serving.

  • Lean meat: Less than 10 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated, 95 milligrams cholesterol (per 100 grams).

  • 100% whole wheat: Made with real whole-wheat flour.

  • USDA Organic: Must have 95 percent organic ingredients.

And here are some claims to be wary of:

  • "Natural": Not regulated by FDA, the word is used for marketing to evoke ideas about the product that it's fresh and minimally processed. Look at the number of ingredients — the more there are, the less "natural" it likely is.

  • "Multigrain": Simply means there is more than one type of grain. Doesn't mean it's whole grain. Check ingredients to see if a whole-wheat product is among the first three.

  • "Made with Real Fruit": No regulation on how much fruit is needed to make this claim, so the fruit content could be just one blueberry or a drop of juice. Check ingredients to make sure it doesn't contain high-fructose corn syrup.

Here's what you need to know about the food label to make metabolism-boosting choices:

  • Serving Size: The amount of food that equals one serving is listed by weight or portion. Similar foods use the same measurements, so you can make comparisons.

  • Servings Per Container: This is often overlooked. You need to multiply all nutrition facts by this number to get total content in the package.

  • Calories: Check to see if a serving fits into your allotment for a snack or meal. 

  • Fat: Limit to foods that have less than 30 percent of calories from fat.

  • Saturated Fat: Don't consume more than 10–15 grams per day.

  • Fiber: Choose high-fiber foods like whole grains and cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

  • Sugar: Not all sugar is detrimental to your waistline. Sugar can be natural or added, but unfortunately the label doesn't distinguish between the two. Choose mostly natural sugars from foods like fresh fruit, whole grains, and milk. Less than 200 calories per day should come from added sugars.

  • Percent Daily Value: This is based on a 2,000-calorie diet — you may need more or less. In general, 5 percent or less is considered low, and 20 percent or more is high for all nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. So if it has more than 20 percent of saturated fat or sodium, it's a product to place back on the shelf.

Once the nutrients check out for you on the Nutrition Facts label, take a look at the ingredient list.

Check the order of ingredients. Ingredients must be listed in order of most to least quantity, so the closer to the top of the list, the more of it there is in the product.

Here's a great rule: If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it. Some experts suggest you only eat food products that contain five ingredients or fewer, which indicates that the food is less processed.

You might see some foods that list calories, saturated fat, sodium, nutrients, etc. on the front of the package. Don't be too lazy to turn the food package over and look at the full picture.

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