Healthy eating is incredibly important today—more so than ever.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35.1 percent of individuals over the age of 20 are reported obese.
Amongst the same age group, nearly 70% is considered overweight. These staggering numbers tell us one thing—we need to take drastic measures to reduce our weight and maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re wondering whether you are overweight, you can read our post Am I overweight? to find out if you really have the need to lose weight.
Although, weight loss is a great motivator to eat healthier, your aim to lose weight should not be the only reason you choose to eat better and cleaner.
Regardless of your weight status, healthy eating should be part of your daily life.
One of the main benefits of healthy eating is prevention of many diseases that are associated with obesity such as type II diabetes and heart disease. They are just few of the most common ones, but certainly not the only ones. Other conditions such as "osteoarthritis and some cancers" are also associated with excess weight.
Eating healthy is not only instrumental in weight loss and weight management, but it can also save your life.
In short, combine with physical exercise, your diet can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of many chronic diseases such as:
- Heart disease
- Type II diabetes
- High blood pressure
Overall, it promotes optimal health.
But I get it, healthy eating can be hard—especially when different nutritional beliefs are thrown around all over the place.
Some swear by gluten free foods while Harvard still recommends whole grains and calls certain carbs healthy foods to eat both for weight loss and optimum health.
You also hear calorie counting, fat counting and carb counting all with an aim to limit a specific food group or nutrient.
Their ever committed and loyal followers eat nothing but low fat or fat free yogurt, low-calorie snacks, and low-carb food alternatives, while popular diets like Paleo is totally cool about butter and whole-fat.
Sadly, most diet advice is contradicting, and the nutrition scene is very hard to navigate.
To throw more complications into the mix, food manufactures are getting savvier about their marketing strategies and cleverly masking unhealthy foods as healthy ones.
The truth is, healthy eating rules can be different between people, and they heavily depend on your personal (and medical) needs.
Take common disease like diabetes and celiac disease.
But you ask, how about the rest of us without a medical condition, allergy or dietary preference.
If you just want to eat healthy, and a balanced diet, I recommend you start here with this healthy grocery food list that provides a wide variety of foods from all three macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats).
They are essential in creating a balanced meal and healthy snack.
Healthy grocery shopping
I always believe eating healthy starts at the grocery store, making wise food choices and buying healthy foods.
This makes preparing healthy meals much easier and snacking at home safer and guilt-free.
Use this food list below to help you navigate through the grocery store and focus on the foods that nourish your body.
Image credit: lindasteelehotbod.com
What are proteins?
Proteins are large molecules consisting of 21 amino acids, and 9 of those amino acids are considered essential to your body.
They are called essential amino acids because you must have them to live.
You can also obtain them through foods since your body can’t make them. These amino acids are found in foods like milk, eggs, fish, meats and also variety of plants.
What does protein do for your body?
Proteins are the body's building block.
It provides the body 4 calories per gram, and about 12 to 20 percent of your total daily calories should come from protein, recommends GroupHealth.com,
While just about 60 percent of protein gets turned into glucose for energy use and gets used up mostly by your muscles, protein can be stored as fat just as any other food sources.
Unlike carbs, protein takes about 3 to 4 hours to affect blood sugar levels. And when it does take effect, foods that are high in protein won’t cause much of a rise in blood sugar.
But the benefit of protein is not just in the blood sugar management. Protein is a much needed component in your body's every cell.
Just to start, the human body's muscles, skin, bones and many other parts contain significant amounts of protein. Your hair and nails are also mostly made of protein.
To add, enzymes, hormones and antibodies are all proteins.
In fact, according the Medical News Today, the human is made of 20% protein.
Needless to say, protein is an essential macromolecule.
Your body also needs protein for the development and maintenance of your muscles, bones, organs, and energy.
Without it, your body wouldn’t be able to repair and regulate itself.
Protein also works as neurotransmitters and carriers of oxygen in the blood (hemoglobin), which makes protein that much more valuable and vital to your survival.
So, how much protein do you need?
Just because we need protein for regular and necessary bodily functions doesn't mean you can and should eat it in excess. Protein, as with other foods, if you eat more than you need—your body stores extra calories as fat.
The amount of appropriate protein intake can be greatly influenced by lifestyle and physical activity.
For example, it's common for athletes and bodybuilders to take in extra protein to bulk up. But the rest of us (19 and older) who are not competing, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends between 10%-35% of daily calories to come from protein.
You can get your recommended protein from eating "high protein foods" such as meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, fish, legumes, and nuts, seeds and nut butters.
If you’re a vegetarian, plant sources of protein, such as legumes (beans, dried peas and lentils) and products made from soy (miso tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and soy cheese) can replace meat and dairy products.
Plant based proteins are great because they are low in fat and cholesterol.
Use the "protein section" below in this food list to help select some healthy protein source.
- Lean cuts beef
- Lean pork
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Bacon (Turkey)
- Salmon (wild)
- Mussels, clams, scallops
- Crab, lobster
Dairy foods provide amazing health benefits—They provide us with essential nutrients vital for our health.
These nutrients include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, A, B12, and protein.
For example, calcium found in milk, yogurt, and cheese is essential for the health of your bones, muscles, nerves and heart.
In fact, your bones and teeth contain 99% of the body’s total calcium.
Evidently, it is crucial we get calcium for bone health. Yet it's one mineral that's undervalued and insufficiently consumed.
Making small dietary changes and meeting the recommended 3 servings of dairy per day can significantly aid in building and maintaining a healthy bone mass, leading to improved bone health and prevention of disease such as osteoporosis.
You can easily meet your daily calcium requirement by drinking two to three cups of milk or consuming 2-3 servings of dairy foods each day.
To ensure your daily adequate intake of calcium, start your day with a healthy breakfast consisting of Greek yogurt with some fresh berries, granola and chia seeds on top.
For lunch, consider eating a healthy plate salads with lean protein such as chicken, turkey and fish on top (see the protein list for suggestions).
Four the afternoon snack, go for cottage cheese with whole grain crackers or berries. Eating a diet such as this will help ensure you’re meeting your daily calcium requirement.
Another great health benefits of dairy foods like culture yogurt is that they contain probiotics which provides a wide array of health benefits.
Probiotics in the diet can enhance the good bacteria in the gut, leading to a healthier digestive track. This can also improve your health and reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Use the list below when shopping for dairy foods.
- Yogurt (Greek yogurt)
- Cottage cheese
- Whey protein?
- Tofu, natto
- Vegetarian protein powders ( e.g. hemp, brown rice, etc)
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are your body’s main energy source that provides 4 calories per gram. They are primarily found in plant-based foods such as vegetables and grains and loaded with much needed nutrients you can’t get anywhere else.
Carbohydrates can also be found in other foods containing added sugars and sweeteners. These carbs have less nutritional values as their nutrients are mostly stripped.
Not only they provide less nutritional values, they also tend to spike your blood sugar after eating. Needless to say, they are recommended to avoid.
Let's dive in a bit deeper.
What are simple carbohydrates?
There are two main types of digestible carbohydrates:
- Complex carbohydrates
- Simple carbohydrates
Molecularly speaking, a complex carbohydrate is a long chain of three or more carbon rings, while a simple carb only consists of one or two carbon rings.
Because of their small size and short length, simple carbs digest very quickly and rapidly increase blood sugar.
Simple carbohydrates only take a few minutes to fuel the body and are good for people who need a quick burst of energy.
Examples of simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates exhibit a sweet flavor, and most sweet-tasting foods contain simple carbohydrates.
Fruits such as bananas, berries, tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapple, 100 percent fruit juice, and honey are all high in simple carbohydrates.
Because lactose is also classified as a simple carbohydrate, milk and yogurt are also considered rich sources of simple carbs. Sucrose, the chemical name for sugar, is also a simple carb, thus any food or dessert containing sugar, sugar cane or cane juice is a source of simple carbs.
So, is there any nutritional values that comes from eating simple carb foods?
Yes, foods containing simple carbohydrates does provide a nutritional value, but it does vary greatly in quantity and quality.
For example, fruits that are high in simple carbohydrates contain a significant amount of vitamins and phytochemicals. Pomegranate and pomegranate juice for examples contain simple carbohydrates as well as vitamin A, vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Dairy products such as milk contain about 12 grams of simple carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, and about 300 milligrams of calcium per 8-ounce serving.
Others such as refined and processed foods that are high in added sugars, like cookies, cakes and candies however do not contain as many nutrients as the other sources of simple carbohydrates.
How do carbohydrates provide the body with energy?
During digestion, carbohydrates break down into glucose or sugar which then get used by the body as energy.
Also, carbohydrates are the main macronutrient that raises blood sugar.
But don’t be alarmed—choosing the healthiest choices of carbohydrates make a large difference in your blood sugar levels.
Keeping the amount of carbohydrates you eat consistent and avoiding simple carbs throughout the day is the main way to keep your blood sugar balanced and hunger under control.
Despite all the bad rep carbs often get, carbohydrates are vital to your health and even a necessary part of a healthy diet.
As long as you eat good complex carb and keep simple carbohydrates to a minimal, you should be fine.
So how much carbs to eat per day?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends carbohydrates should make up about 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories.
So, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be taken from carbohydrates. In grams, that's about 225 grams to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.
Use the list of carbohydrates below when shopping for healthy carbs.
- Bamboo shoots
- beans ( green, yellow, French)
- Bell peppers
- Cabbage ( any variety)
- Dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens)
- Mixed Greens ( arugula)
- Herbs ( Basil, bay laurel, borage, caraway, catnip, chervil, chives, cilantro.)
High Starch vegetables
- Sweet potato
- Oats ( steel-cut or oat groats)
- Rice ( black rice, brown, wild rice)
- Sprouted-grain breads
- Berries ( blueberries, strawberries, black berries, raspberries)
- Citrus (lemons, yuzu, lines)
- Pears (any variety)
High glycemic fruits
- Apricots ( fresh)
- Melon (Honeydew, cantaloupe)
- Nectarine / Peaches
- Oranges ( tangerines)
- Tropical fruits (mangos, papayas)
Fat is the most concentrated source of food energy.
For a long time, dietitians, nutritionists, and doctors have preached how a low-fat diet was the key to losing weight, managing healthy cholesterol, and preventing health problems.
However, time has changed. Numerous research has shown that fat—the healthy kind—including saturated fat isn’t the all that bad and the nutritional villain it once it was promoted believe.
Fat is in fact even essential to our life, health, and functions of the cells in our bodies.
According to Medline Plus, the fats we eat provide our bodies with energy that it needs to work and function properly.
For example, during physical activity, your body uses calories from carbohydrates you have eaten.
But after about 20 minutes or so, the energy where calories come from changes to fat. Yes, it's the fat that keeps you going in the long haul.
Additionally, fat helps your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, often known as fat-soluble vitamins.
Fat also fills up your fat cells and insulates your body to help you stay warm. You also need fat to keep your skin and hair healthy.
As you can see, eating fat can not only be heart-healthy, if and when the right kind of fat is chosen and consumed.
It’s when you eat too much fat— and especially the wrong kinds—that the health problem occurs.
So, the key is to understand healthy fats and unhealthy ones and to be able to identify their differences.
What are healthy fats?
Dietary fats are found in the food we eat, both plant-based and animal proteins.
There are four major types of fat. They are called:
- monounsaturated fats
- polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3s)
- trans fats
- saturated fats
Monounsaturated fats ("good" fats) are simply fat molecules that have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. This is also called a double bond. Oils that contain monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled.
Olive oil is an example of a type of oil that contains monounsaturated fats, but there are many other oils of its kind.
You can find monounsaturated fats in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, as well as most nuts and avocado oils.
Monounsaturated fats help to lower your total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. And because it's shown effective in reducing bad cholesterol levels in your blood, it's known to also lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
To top it all, they also provide essential nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells.
To just name an essential one, foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats contribute vitamin E to the diet, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans are in need of.
This is one reason why the Mediterranean diet gets a high praise.
It's one diet that's rich in foods that contain good fats that also contain vitamin E. Some of the most common and popular such food sources include a wide variety of vegetables, fish, and plant-based oils like olive and avocado oils.
With the array of foods in the diet, it's really no surprise the Mediterranean diet is highly praised in the health community for its contribution to heart disease, stroke and diabetes prevention, cite many reputable studies.
Just like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are another healthy dietary fats. And it can have beneficial effects on your heart when eaten in moderation.
Polyunsaturated fats are fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. Again, this is also called a double bond. These types of fats can be found in plant and animal foods, such as olive oil, salmons, some nuts, and seeds.
It's also the polyunsaturated fats that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential because the body needs them for the functioning of the brain and health and growth of cells.
And because our bodies do not make essential fatty acids, we must obtain them from our diet, the food sources.
Notably, omega-3 fatty acids provide incredible health benefits to your heart in several ways.
They help to:
- Reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood
- Reduce the risk of an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Slow the build-up of plaque in your arteries
- Slightly lower your blood pressure
- Not as well praised, but Omega-6 fatty acids may also help with the followings:
- Control your blood sugar
- Reduce your risk of diabetes
- Lower your blood pressure
While "unsaturated" often communicates "good", "saturated" gets feared and a plain rejection in the face of health.
Eating foods that contain saturated fats has been thought to raise total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. And for high levels LDL cholesterol in your blood being linked to an increase in your risk of heart disease and stroke, it's most often recommended to avoid at all costs.
What is saturated?
Saturated fat is a fat in which the fatty acids all have single bonds. Where monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond and polyunsaturated fatty acids have two double or more double bonds.
According to American Heart Association, "Saturated fats are simply fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature."
The picture below shows "saturated fatty acids" and unsaturated fatty acids".
Another simpler way to phrase this is, saturated fatty acids have all their carbon (C) atoms fully "saturated" with hydrogen (H) atoms.
Saturated fats like butter are typically solid at the room temperature. And other fats that mostly unsaturated such as olive oil are liquid at a room temperature.
Is saturated fat bad for your health?
Since there is no fat that is pure saturated fat, pure monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat—It is a bit more complicated than many realize.
For that, the popular claim "All saturated fat are bad and unhealthy" is somewhat unwarranted.
And the truth is, not all saturated fats contain or raise cholesterol levels.
In fact, some saturated fats are in deed healthy when eaten in moderation. For example coconut oil is about 90% and butter is 64% saturated fats.
But what’s interesting is that both coconut oil and butter seem to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol.
And that's not the only interesting fact about saturated fats.
According to Harvard School of Public Health, all foods contain fats that are mixtures of saturated and unsaturated fats.
For example, even highly saturated foods like beef contains a significant amount of healthy fats like mono-and polyunsaturated fats.
On contrary, even healthy foods like chicken, fish, and nuts oils contribute some saturated fat to the diet.
But what's different is the ratio of unsaturated and saturated fats found in foods. In healthy foods mentioned above, you'd find much lower levels of saturated fats than beef, cheese, and ice cream.
This is why it would be a mistake to cut back on nuts, oils, and fish to just minimize saturated fat.
Unknowingly, you would cut off healthy nutrients and fats for what seems like a very little amount of saturated fat.
This wouldn't be just.
That being said, as a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to keep your intake of saturated fats as low as possible.
But does not necessarily mean completely eliminating saturated fat from your diet is the way to do it. Then it would mean other healthy fat sources such as nuts and olives are off limits.
Instead, focus on finding alternatives for saturated fat rich foods such as red meat and full-fat dairy products to reduce your saturated fats.
In short, reducing the intake of these food sources high in saturated fat is the best way to reduce consumption of less healthy fats. It's also important that you replace red meat and dairy products you plan to cut with foods that contain healthy fats—fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocado.
By all means, don't supplement your loss of red meat and high fat dairy with foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, explains Harvard Health.
Saturated fats are naturally found in many foods.
They're mainly found in red meats and full-fat dairy products including:
- fatty beef,
- poultry with skin,
- beef fat (tallow),
- lard and cream,
- chocolate (cocoa butter)
- cheese and also dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.
In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats.
Some plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil also contain primarily saturated fats but do not contain cholesterol.
How many grams of fat per day should you eat?
Your body needs fats for energy and other functions.
This is for certain!
Now, the next questions is, how much?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans makes the following recommendations on how much fat you should eat every day: No more than 25 to 30% of your daily calories from fats.
And it's recommended that most of these fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
To give you the guideline, limit saturated fat (found in red meat, butter, cheese, and whole-fat dairy products) to less than 6% of your daily calories.
For a 2,000 calorie diet, that's no more than 120 calories, or 13 grams of saturated fat a day.
Eating healthier fats can lead to certain health benefits, but eating too much fat can lead to weight gain.
Since all fats contain 9 calories per gram, your exposure to saturated fat shouldn't' be any more than 13 grams or 3 teaspoons a day.
This is nearly twice the amount of calories found in carbohydrates and protein.
For better calorie and fat consumption control, it's not enough to add foods high in unsaturated fats to a diet filled with unhealthy foods and fats. Instead, replace saturated or trans fats with healthier fats.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Flax seed oil
- Extra-virgin coconut oil
- Grass-fed / organic butter
- Walnut oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Palm oil
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Natural nut butter
- Ground flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Sacha incha seeds or Inca peanut
- Sesame seeds
There you have it! A simple balanced healthy grocery list to help you shop healthy on a budget. With the list in hand, you are sure to stock your fridge with fresh produce, lean meats and healthy grains.
So, get ready to revitalize your diet and feel healthy from the inside.
Did you go grocery shopping with this list? How did you do? Do you have any favorite items you don't see on the list? Feel free to leave us a comment below to let us know.