By Kathy Gregory, First Mile Care DPP Coach

At First Mile Care, we place a great deal of emphasis in our National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) classes on the planning and preparation of healthy meals. That starts in the grocery store, where you learn to make more conscious purchases.  

As part of the First Mile Care “Diabetes Prevention in Action” webinar series, I played tour guide in my local supermarket. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, my classes couldn’t all go to the market together, so I brought the market to participants via Zoom.  

We know that making action plans, whether it’s for exercise, eating, managing stress, or sleeping, helps you to be more successful in meeting your goals. I recommend you try different stores and test a variety of brands to find the healthiest choices available that you enjoy which are also within your budget. 

Here are my 10 tips for navigating your grocery store.


1. Keep to your list. By planning your menus in advance, it’s easier to buy only the items that you need rather than giving into temptation and making spontaneous purchases of items that perhaps you shouldn’t eat. In addition to keeping on track, you may also save money by not over-buying .


2. Shop on the edges. Stay on the perimeter of the grocery store as much as you can because that’s generally where most of the whole, fresh foods are found.  Processed foods satisfy your taste buds momentarily but are not nutritiously dense, which means your body will be asking for more food within a few hours. 


3. Balance your shopping cart. A healthy plate should be about 50% fruits and vegetables, and your cart should reflect that. When you get to the checkout line, at least half — if not more — of your grocery cart should be filled with fresh, whole foods and in a rainbow of colors and varieties.


4. Buy seasonal produce. When you’re planning your menus, do a quick internet search every month to see what’s in season. In general, in-season produce should be cheaper because it’s more plentiful. And by shopping for what’s in season, you may be inspired to experiment with new recipes for fruits and vegetables that you haven’t tried before.


5. Consult the experts. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) issues consumer guides to shopping for produce that are useful to bookmark on your smartphone and consult before selecting produce. The EWG Dirty Dozen of fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of pesticide residue. There is a companion list, the Clean 15, with the lowest pesticide residue.


6. Read labels. The rule of thumb for labels is five ingredients or less, if possible. They should be words that you recognize instead of dyes, fillers, preservatives, and chemicals. Obviously, you also want to look at levels of sugars, salts, fats, carbohydrates, and calories. Some First Mile Care participants find it helpful to use a smartphone app called Lose It! to read barcodes and get label information.


7. Choose proteins wisely.  If you’re going to splurge, do it in the meats section — it’s really an investment in your health. Chicken, turkey, beef — whatever animal protein you eat, make sure it’s a lean cut and preferably grass-fed, as many conventional farm meats and cuts are from animals that have been fed antibiotics and hormones. But not all protein is animal-based; you can get plant-based proteins in many vegetables, as well as beans, nuts, and seeds. 


8. Question product placement. Companies pay for eye-level product placement. If you look at the higher and lower shelves, you may find worthwhile brands to compare with the better-known names on the middle shelves. And bending and stretching can be part of your workout!


9. Make your life easier. The key to starting a new good habit is making it easy for yourself. And if something that holds you back is the effort involved chopping fruits and vegetables as part of your meal prep, buy pre-cut items. It’s easy to find bags of pre-cut carrots, onions, and herbs, along with pre-mixed salad greens and fruit salads. Buying a cooked rotisserie chicken in your market to de-bone at home can be a great time-saver and ensure you’re getting lean protein in your meals.


10. Make food shopping part of your activity routine.  When I go to the market, I dress in my exercise gear and wear comfortable sports shoes. I take water to stay hydrated. I make sure I’ve eaten before I go, so I don’t make impulse purchases because I’m hungry. And because I’m following a list, I walk more briskly and efficiently. I might even do a loop around the store before I begin shopping to get in extra steps.


In addition to the produce and meat sections I discussed above, I also visited the dairy section to talk about butter, milk, and yogurt. And I ventured into the inner aisles to look at salad dressings, oils, pastas and pasta sauces, broths, breads, granola, and even chips and peanut butter. 


Watch the video below and join me as I walk around my local supermarket. There are occasional video jumps and sputtering due to WiFi connection hiccups inside the store. Please note that if I make recommendations on certain products by name, this is strictly my opinion only. Neither First Mile Care nor I have any relationship with those brands. I hope you’ll find my “tour” useful and that you can apply my shopping tips the next time you go to the market.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!