A Healthy Shopping List

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place where temptation abounds, it’s in the gleaming, brightly-lit isles and counters of the local supermarket. Although we may go in with the intention of stocking up on healthy nutritious foods for the family, a lack of shopping savvy could result in a trolley full of empty calories. This article outlines the steps towards avoiding impulse-buying traps, creating a healthy shopping list and ultimately completing a successful shopping mission.



Avoid impulse buying


It’s best to side-step the sweet and chocolate isle, imported cheese counter and bakery sections unless absolutelynecessary. Don’t even look at the rows of intensely coloured0pt; font-family: Arial; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-font-weight: bold;"> sweeties at the check-out queue- rather grab the latest issue of Longevity magazine and read away. It’s also important to eat a hearty breakfast or lunch before heading out to do the groceries- shopping hungry will only force you deeper into temptation. If you have young kids, it often better not to bring them along for the shop, as they tend to ask for the wrong foods and pull sweets, chips and chocolates into the trolley. Resist the temptation to buy that decadent product in store and you resist it only once, but take it home, and you’ll be forced to resist it for a week!


Shop from a list


Use a healthy shopping list and buy only what you need. A good idea is to bring just enough money along, so that you don’t overspend on the wrong stuff.


Seek out health foods


Most supermarkets have a health food isle, where you can pick up preservative free foods, sugarless treats, natural sweeteners, raw nuts and seeds, soya products and a selection of wholegrains and cereals, which help add variety to a healthy trolley.


Tackle deli dilemmas


Supermarket delis are a great and convenient way to a quick meal, but if you’re not sensible, you could end up with a plastic container full of fat and calories. Always choose fresh deli meats over processed one’s, which are full of sodium and nitrates. Salads are fine, but avoid mayonnaise-drenched coleslaw, potato and pasta salads. Rather pick up a carrot or green salad in a vinaigrette dressing. If you’re unsure, don’t be shy to ask how a specific food was prepared.


Buy fresh


Time your buying according to market schedules. Fresh fruit and veggies are rarely delivered on a Sunday or Monday. For fresh fish, ask your local fishmonger or at the fish counter when deliveries are made and shop on that day or the next. Buying frozen and canned foods is okay for convenience–sake and to use when you don’t have access to fresh food, but are generally lower in nutrients than fresh foods bought on market days.


Read labels


Any health-conscious shopper should learn how to label read. It’s your best defense against buying questionable foods and is especially important when comparing similar products and analysing pre-prepared and convenience foods.


A label will always list ingredients from the most used to the least used. So if sugar, butter or cream features as one of the first three ingredients, that product is better left untouched. Look for products with the least amount of added flavourants,colourants and preservatives. Most products will list kilojoules, fat, carbohydrate, protein, sodium and fiber per 100g of product as well as per portion. Use the “per 100g” calculation to compare similar products. The "per portion" calculation is useful for meal planning and kilojoule and carbohydrate counting.


Familiarise yourself with common labeling terms and their meanings, for example:


  • Fat-free. Such products should contain less than 0.5g fat/100g product. Watch out- fat-free products are usually loaded with sugar so check the label for carbohydrate content
  • Low-fat. Low fat means less than 3g fat/100g product
  • Reduced/less. Such products must contain at least a 25% reduction from the regular version
  • Sugar-free. Sugar-free does not necessarily mean kilojoule-free. Sometimes other caloric sweeteners, like fructose or sugar alcohols may be used. These products also tend to be high in artificial sweeteners.





It’s all very well hitting the stores with a generic grocery list of milk, eggs, cheese and bread, but in a consumer driven competitive society, we now have a variety of choices for each foodstuff. If its optimum nutrition you’re after, you need to ensure that you make better choices. Here’s a look at some basic foodstuffs, and the healthiest selections for each:


Milk and yogurt


The fat in milk is the unhealthy saturated type, so it’s better to opt for skim milk, although children under 8 years of age should drink low fat or full cream. If you’re not mad on the taste of skim, low fat or 2 percent is a suitable compromise. The same goes for yogurt. Plain fat-free or low fat yogurt with added pro-biotic cultures is best. If you must go for fruit or sweetened varieties, read labels for fat, sugar and artificial sweetener content.




Cheese is a good source of protein and adds versatility and flavour to food. But beware- most cheeses are loaded with fat. Cream cheeses, Brie, Camembert, and Cheddars tend to be highest in fat (up to 35g/100g) with Edam, mozzarella, ricotta and feta having a lower fat content (about 24-28g/100g). Fat-free and low fat cottage cheeses are the lowest fat options (0.5-3g/100g).




Free-range, grain fed chickens produce the healthiest eggs. Also, look out for the omega-3 fatty acid enriched eggs on the shelves.




About 80% of the fat in chicken is present in and just under the skin, so it’s best to choose skinless pieces- unless you skin the chicken at home. Try skinless breasts and thighs, chicken breast sausages and chicken kebabs. It’s best to pay a little more and choose free range chickens. The health effect of eating hormone-fed chickens is still in question.


Red meat


Grain-fed organic meats are best. Some butchers do stock these and these meats will usually be labeled as such. Game, venison and pork tend to be lower in fat and cholesterol than beef or lamb. Choose cuts with the least amount of visible fat.




Choose fresh fish where possible, although the occasional use of frozen fish is acceptable. White fish is good, but you should also choose some fatty fish each week. Salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are all good sources of these healthy omega-3 fats. For convenience, stock up on some tinned fish, like tuna in brine or spring water.


Fruit and vegetables


The best way to ensure that you are getting the right balance is make sure that you eat a variety of colours each week, so add some orange carrots, red peppers, blue berries, green spinach and red tomatoes to your shopping cart. Choose fresh, organic, non-genetically modified (GM) produce where possible. Woolworth’s fruit and veggies are non-GM.




Many of the cereals we eat are loaded with extra sugar and are generally unsuitable. Choose wholegrain cereals like All Bran flakes, High Fiber Bran, Wheatbix and Pronutro. Try porridges, like oats, oatbran, Tastee Wheat or Maltabella but avoid quick-cook versions of these products. Choose raw oat-based muesli’s with little added sugar.


Grains and pastas


Go for brown over white rice or choose long-grain Basmati. Old Mill Stream has a wonderful range of flavourful brown rice’s. Wholewheat pasta is now also available on the shelves (Fattis and Monis). When going for grains, variety is important, so choose some cous cous, barley, buckwheat, polenta or millet.




Legumes are an excellent addition to any healthy diet. Stock up on some lentils, split peas, chickpeas, baked beans, red kidney beans and the like in dry or tinned form.




Ditch the white breads and white rolls- even brown bread is not such a great compromise. Rye breads and wholegrain breads with lots of visible fibers are good. Add some energy sustaining low glycemic index breads, which include seed breads, sourdough rye, pumpernickel and whole-wheat pita bread. Crackers are

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good alternatives to breads. Try wholegrain crackers like Provita, Ryevita or Fin crisps or add some rice cakes or Cornthins to your trolley.



Oils and spreads


When choosing oils, its best to splurge a little and choose cold-pressed varieties, as these have not been damaged by heat pressing. Extra-virgin olive oil is a must in any household. Seed oils like pumpkin seed oil, sesame oil and peanut oil are great for adding variety and flavour. If you must use margarine, go for a trans fatty acid free variety, like Floro light. Add some other healthy alternative spreads like hummous or olive paste.


Convenience foods


In general, convenience and pre-prepared meals should be kept to a minimum. Woolworth’s and Pick and Pay do stock some lower fat options for dieters which are marketed as such. Otherwise, red labels if you are unsure of the ingredients or nutritional content. Tinned veggies, fruits, legumes and fish are useful to have around when you don’t have access to fresh foods.




Sugar-loaded fizzy drinks, flavoured mineral waters, sweetened fruit juices and sports drinks are not items you want in your trolley. Freshly squeezed fruit juices are great- but if you’re trying to lose weight, the sugar content becomes too high, so dilute with water before drinking. Without a doubt, the healthiest drink you can purchase is water. Go for plain un-carbonated mineral or spring water. When choosing coffee, it’s best choose pure filter coffee rather than granulated varieties, or even better, use fresh coffee beans and grind at home. Tea is a wonderful drink to choose and is full of antioxidants- try black, green, chamomile, peppermint, mixed berry or the true South African favourite-

rooibos. Finish off your beverage shopping with a couple of bottles of good red wine.




Sweets, chocolates, chips, biscuits and pastries should not be a major feature in a healthy trolley but there certainly is some room for them in the context of a healthy diet. Fruit gums, sucking sweets, frozen yogurts, plain milk or dark chocolate, mini chocolates, reduced fat chips, digestive biscuits, and bran or oat muffins are suitable occasional additions.


* this article also appeared in Longevity magazine


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