How To Fill Your Trolley With The Right Food
Learning how to fill your house with awesome healthy goodies and how to spot things that should be approached with caution is a very important thing. This is because of one of the most basic laws of human nature when it comes to losing weight:
Basically, if there is a food in your house, you will eventually eat it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, or next week, but you will eat it.
This means that what you keep in your kitchen cupboards needs to be thought through carefully, baring in mind the foods that you are wanting to emphasise in your diet, while only having a small amount of the foods of which you would consider ‘less than optimal stuff’. We all know people who will keep their cupboards stocked with crisps and cakes, swearing that it’s there for emergencies but at this junction it’s time to ask yourself “what emergency are you waiting for?’’ Do you need to be seeking out more healthy snacking options?
At some point you’re going to crave a bar of chocolate or bag of crisps and end up eating more than you planned. Over time in your fitness journey this will become less and less of a common event as your tastes change and you will (honestly) one day just not think about it, but especially early on – you’re going to want some chocolate a little more often than is desirable.
If you have it in the cupboard, then you will eat it. If this “Oh my God, I really want some chocolate” is the emergency you’re waiting for, then you’re sabotaging yourself before you begin. The idea of keeping your house stocked with large amounts of poor food choices in case you want them isn’t a great one. More on the specifics of this in a moment, but for now just bare in mind that temptation can ruin a diet, and if you crave something which you don’t have in the house, you’ll eventually forget about it – and be 500 Calories better off.
So how do you actually go about buying this stuff without breaking the bank?
The first thing to do is to MAKE A LIST. Plan your week of food roughly (at least plan your protein servings for each meal, like how much Eatlean you need) including any batch cooking you are planning to do and write down exactly what you need to stick to this plan. Go buy those things and you are all set. It might pay you to shop on a Saturday (to prep Sunday) and then do another mini-shop midweek for extra fresh vegetables and fruit, as these can spoil if left too long, but aside from that you should be grand.
Now, I could end this guide here, as really this is the only advice you actually need, but I’m going to make the assumption that sometimes you aren’t going to be able to be as organised as you’d like, and of course I do understand that freestyling it and ‘seeing what you fancy’ at the supermarket can be a nice thing to do. Finally, using the same recipes over and over can get old, and you might head in and be inspired, (but we’ve got plenty of healthy recipe ideas available too!). So, if you aren’t going in armed with a list let’s expand.
As you might expect, the advice here is to head straight for the meat aisle (although a local butcher would be infinitely better and if this is possible, do that instead) and the fresh produce department (or local grocer/farmers market).
First, try to find a good variety of lean and lean-ish meat, and rotate these often. This includes pretty much anything other than 20% beef mince, belly pork and other things with large amounts of visible fat that you can’t really trim off. Some pork cuts have a lot of visible fat, but are not marbled and are easy to trim which reduces the fat content enormously – these are lean-ish cuts (lean being things which are 2% fat or less, or 2g or less per 100g – check the packets). Burgers and sausages and things such as this are OK in small doses, but these should be considered ‘less than optimal’ foods to be kept for once or twice per week for most people, especially those not using calorie and macronutrient tracking. They are usually really high in calories in comparison to the protein content, and therefore can make a large dent in your total intake for the day while leaving you a lot of protein ‘catching up’ to do.
Once your meat is dealt with, head for the produce section. When looking at fruit and vegetables, aim for colour. The colour of these foods is largely dictated by their micronutrient content, thus by consuming a wide variety you are always going to ensure that your diet is as micronutrient dense as possible. Colour, colour, colour, with a large backdrop of dark green things like spinach and kale, and you’re good to go!
It’s a common misunderstanding that you need to buy fresh and organic to be healthy over regular produce. If you can’t afford them don’t worry, and don’t discount frozen items either. Fresh vegetables, frozen, canned, they all play a role in giving your diet balance and variety. When buying canned, the only downside is that the product used by some brands can often be from lower quality produce, one reason they are used for canned foods, so opt for brands that you have tried and enjoy the taste of, or seem to be of better quality. Generally canned beans, corn, peas, spinach and lentils are fine to use, with canned tomatoes being, in some ways, superior to fresh due to the way which they are packaged and how this increases nutrient content. Canned potatoes, green beans and onions, however, should probably be avoided… just don’t taste right those!
As a note on this – to save money canned and frozen goods can be very cheap from international shops, yes they are imported, but are very cheap if cost cutting is something you are looking to do.
Bonus tip: Bargain Hunting and the Yellow Label Ninja.
Every day, UK supermarkets throw out literal tonnes of food that is perfectly safe to consume. Due to labelling laws, supermarkets are forced to throw away food which could safely be consumed for 1-2 more days, ‘just in case’ – but you as a savvy shopper can take advantage of this. Hitting the supermarket at around 4pm (time will be shop and day dependent) allowing you to raid the ‘reduced’ section. This is food that must be wasted at the day’s end, and therefore will be marked down in price as the supermarket attempts to cut losses. It’s very possible to buy your entire week’s worth of meat from this section and cook or freeze what you get, leaving food for the week which is perfectly safe, and completely identical to ‘fresher’ versions, at a fraction of the price. There is almost always really good deals on fresh fish here, because fish has a very short shelf life. Likewise, vegetables and fruits will often be wasted despite there being nothing actually wrong with them. Take advantage! What can’t be cooked as a fresh ingredient can be added to soups and stews to increase nutrient content without breaking the bank.
BUT – be wary you are not just buying food as it’s cheap and in the reduced sticker isle. It’s important to stick to the plan, yes save some money and grab some bargains, but don’t get carried away and buy a load of stuff you didn’t intend to just because it’s reduced, something which is very common, as once it’s in the house, regardless of how healthy it is, or not, chances are you are going to eat it, and put simply, you might end up over eating because of it.
Once the obvious stuff is out of the way, things get just a little trickier.
When it comes to buying dairy products, you need to be a little discerning. If it is a higher fat product such as hard cheese, full fat milk or full fat yoghurt, and, of course Eatlean products, do your upmost to ensure that the cow was grass fed wherever possible. Grass fed cows and grain fed cows have different fatty acid profiles in their milk, and this means that the grass fed versions are slightly more beneficial to health – Eatlean is made from 100% natural cow’s milk.
Now – Almost all cows in the UK are grass fed for the majority of the year (in the winter their diet is supplemented with silage to a small and meaningless degree), and it shouldn’t be make or break if there are no clearly labelled grass fed options so long as they are British raised (generally things like yoghurts don’t give you much choice anyway), but opting for grass fed butter over regular, for example, is a simple swap to make (top quality butter is not a lot more money, and so worth it for the nutrition and taste benefit – it’s worth opting for some nice Guernsey or Jersey cow butter as the taste is incredible).
Moving on from butter and talking about other dairy products, if the product you are choosing is low(er) fat this matters less whether it is grass fed or not as what they feed the cows only effects the fatty acid composition, if the fats are removed it doesn’t matter any more. So it’s fattier sources of dairy and meat that is more the concern here, another argument in favour of Eatlean dairy products.
After that, consider what you are hoping the product will provide, which will generally be a protein or a fat source. If it is a fat source, that’s pretty easy. The rule of thumb is that the harder a cheese is, the higher the fat percentage, ditto for cream, yoghurt and milk thickness, but cross reference the label and you can’t go far wrong.
everything that appears ‘bad’ will be, and not everything that seems ‘good’ will be either, so just err on the side of caution and check the label. Yes it will take you a bit longer the first or second time you shop while finding foods you like and enjoy, but it will be worth the time invested.
Finally, in the same vein as dairy, everything else in the supermarket that doesn’t fall into the above categories needs to be viewed with suspicion (but not prejudice). Packages, boxes and cans are often filled with foods that have been stripped of all nutritional value and now serve only to provide calories, but that does not mean that there are no diamonds in the rough.
Ready-meals are now significantly better than they ever have been, and if you are going to be short on time they can provide a good meal (admittedly it might be worth adding a little extra meat to the majority to boost protein content). The same goes for fresh supermarket soups and salads, too, but again, check the label. Some can be great, but a lot are not, and it’s a very good idea to get used to looking at protein, fat and carbohydrate content as well as ingredient lists to ensure what you are eating is providing for your bodies needs.
When looking at ingredient lists, take note of what you don’t recognise and research it later. It’s all to easy to say that ‘if you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it’ but remember that E300 is vitamin C, Xanthan gum is a beneficial naturally sourced fibre, and soy lecithin is safe to eat even for those allergic to soy. That said, Muscovado, Agave Nectar and Evaporated Cane Juice all mean sugar, so it’s best to familiarise yourself with things and learn what it is you are eating. If you are concerned about a food ingredient, refer to a Calories tracker app, if you are recording food intake, there is lots of nutrition info beyond just the Calories.
Breads should be chosen based largely upon their fibre intake. Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of nutrients in bread and it can be included in any diet so long as you have no specific intolerances or allergies. The only thing that needs to be noted is that some breads are quite high in Calories, (usually ‘healthy’ seeded varieties and ciabatta) so be mindful when choosing.
After that, things like cereals, pastas and other packaged goods must be taken within the context of your overall diet. These things are not harmful, but they also don’t provide us with much nutrition outside of a few grams of fibre here and there and the odd fortified nutrient. If you are consuming mostly whole, natural foods you are likely getting sufficient nutrients to include these things in your diet, but it’s imperative these foods don’t replace the vegetables or protein that you would typically have as these need to be the cornerstones of your diet, as we have discussed previously.
It’s popular nowadays to demonise sugar and minimise your intake, or cut it out completely, but this is not as important as the media seem to portray it as. Small amounts of sugar from things like condiments, honey, or in pre-packaged foods (provided they are consumed in moderation) aren’t going to harm your health or your goals. Of course be aware of your sugar intake, but don’t think its something that needs to be removed from your diet 100%, this will largely be impossible if you want to eat with flexibility and enjoyment.
Eating Haribo never made anyone fat or unhealthy, but eating Frosties for breakfast, Haribo as a snack, Pop Tarts for lunch and microwave chips for dinner followed by a cheesecake did. Again, all in balance and moderation of the bigger picture. As long as your diet is 80-90% real food, some ‘not so great’ foods here and here isn’t going to be the end of the world, but more on this in 2 weeks time.
To re-iterate – the best way to manage your diet is to make a list. If you go to the shop blind you may buy things that aren’t on your plan, or forget things you need. Work out what you are roughly going to eat for the next few days and write down what you need to cook it, visit our healthy dinner & healthy lunch hubs for inspiration and recipe ideas, then simply go and buy what you need and nothing else. Sticking to a shopping list not only makes buying food easier, and it’s a great way to accurately budget as you are less susceptible to buying food you don’t need.
Walking down the isles you need is also a great tactic, I bet you can get the majority of your shopping from 4-6 isles in the supermarket, avoid the isles full of rubbish as you might be tempted to buy “just for this”, or “just in case so and so comes around”, hit the main isles, make a B-line for what you need in the other isles, then get out.