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The Supermarket Rules

Surprising advice may make shopping diabetes-friendlier

With nearly 39,000 products in the average grocery store, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed while trying to make good choices. Many of those I work with fall into the trap of following outdated or meaningless grocery shopping “rules.” Have you heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the store? That’s one rule that I believe should be broken. Here’s why, plus three more “rules” I’d like to change.

Rule #1: Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. Stay out of the middle. 

The idea was to guide you to an abundance of fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products, and for you to avoid the processed foods stores tend to put in the middle aisles. However, this rule does nothing to steer you away from the bakery or from two saturated fat landmines – fatty meats and full-fat dairy. Nor does it take you down the aisles where nuts, canned beans, lower sodium soups, oats, quinoa, and other whole grains can be found.

My advice: Fill your cart the way I suggest you fill your plate: Nearly half your cart should have non-starchy vegetables like spinach, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli. Divide the rest of your cart space between non- or low-fat dairy; lean meats, fish, beans, or other protein-rich foods; fruit; and grains (mostly whole) and starchy vegetables like peas, corn, and potatoes. Feel free to slip in a small treat. I always say that a good diet with a little pie is still a good diet and a bad diet with some broccoli is still a bad diet.

Rule #2: Avoid food products that contain more than three ingredients.

 I don’t believe that the number of ingredients necessarily indicates the wholesomeness of that choice. My favorite canned vegetarian black bean soup has thirteen ingredients, and I’d consider it part of a healthful meal plan. On the other hand, some corn chips often have only three ingredients, but I still don’t recommend them.

My advice: It’s more important what the ingredients are than how many there are. Instead of counting them, read the food label to determine the food’s value. Consider comparing the Nutrition Facts of several brands to find one that fits your needs.

Rule #3: Don’t eat it if you can’t pronounce the ingredients. 

Some easily pronounced ingredients like lard or added sugar are potentially less healthful than other ingredients with a lot of letters or syllables. For example, cobalamin may not sound like a tasty ingredient, but many nutrition experts recommend it to all adults over age fifty. Cobalamin is vitamin B12. Older adults frequently have trouble absorbing naturally occurring vitamin B12, so we recommend they get it in fortified foods or vitamin supplements. For another example, alpha- and gamma-tocopherol are nothing more than two forms of vitamin E and are often used to keep oils and fats from going rancid.

My advice: Eat a variety of foods, focusing on your whole diet instead of individual ingredients. If an ingredient worries you, find information from a reputable source such as a registered dietitian or the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Rule #4: Don’t buy anything with more than five grams of sugar per serving. 

It’s impossible to tell from this one fact if the food is nutritious or if it contains added sugars, naturally occurring sugars, or a combination. Additionally, since blood sugar levels may be affected by carbohydrates other than sugar, knowing only the amount of sugar in a food will not indicate how your blood glucose will respond.

My advice: Try to worry less about naturally occurring sugars like the twelve grams in a cup of milk or the fifteen grams in a small apple; pay attention to the total carbohydrate in your foods instead. Find this information on your food labels or at the USDA’s database.

Don’t forget your shopping list and enjoy the trip down the aisles!

From The DX Archive, check out Jill Weisenberger’s recipe for a well-stocked pantry and a well-stocked refrigerator.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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