Monday Medical: Healthy grocery shopping |

Monday Medical: Healthy grocery shopping

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Whether you’re on a diet or just trying to eat better, healthy eating habits begin at the grocery store.

Dr. Charlie Petersen, an internal medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines his tips for healthy grocery shopping below.

Think frozen

“There’s a tendency to think food has to be organic and local to be healthy, but the reality is, frozen and canned foods are perfectly nutritious options,” Petersen said.

That’s especially true when the alternative is produce that’s been grown in far-away countries. Often, those fruits and vegetables are picked weeks before they’re ready, so they can ripen en route, which means they lack phytochemicals that the plant releases just before the fruit or vegetable matures.

Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, however, are picked fresh at peak ripeness, then canned or frozen immediately, offering maximum nutrition.

While organic is great when budgets allow, don’t skip fruits and vegetables just because they’re not organic.

“It might be extra credit for organic, but the nutritional value is in eating the fruits and vegetables, organic or not,” Petersen said.

Stick to the perimeter

The perimeter of grocery stores typically has whole or real foods, such as milk, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables.

“If somebody sticks to the perimeter, they likely will come out with a pretty good-looking grocery cart,” Petersen said.

Also understand that stores are set up to tempt you with foods you may not want to buy because they lack much nutritional value.

“The grocer doesn’t really have health in mind — it’s a business,” Petersen said. “You can bet that plain old oatmeal is not going to end up at eye level on a shelf — the tempting foods are going to be there. You have to be a savvy buyer. Just because they carry it doesn’t make it a nutritious option.”

Choose some easy options

Life gets busy, and activity schedules fill quickly, which means it’s a good idea to keep some easy snacks and meals on hand. Fruit is always a good choice for snacks, while prewashed vegetables or lettuce can speed up dinner prep.

Nuts and seeds pack a protein punch, while nut butter can be combined with celery, apples or toast for a quick snack.

Another perk of those frozen and canned vegetables, beans and fruits: they’re easy to prepare. “I choose frozen foods often, even when they’re in season, because they’re just easy,” Petersen said.

For premade frozen meals or instant soups, find a brand that uses whole, natural ingredients.

And remember that a little preparation goes a long way when avoiding last-minute stops at a fast food restaurant.

“We all know those busy nights during soccer season are going to occur,” Petersen said. “The trick is to plan ahead. You can have a cooler in the car with vegetable juice, bags of nuts and seeds, natural granola bars — just enough to make it home for dinner.”

Read labels

When you’re buying prepackaged food, make sure it doesn’t contain a long list of preservatives and other chemicals.

“If there are words there you can’t even pronounce, it’s a long way from a whole or real food,” Petersen said.

Once you learn which foods are healthy, you don’t have to read ingredient labels during each shopping trip. “It’s rare that I buy something new,” Petersen said. “I’ve already looked at every container I get, so I’m not relooking each time.”

Eat what you buy

And don’t forget Petersen’s most important rule — if you buy it, you’ll eat it.

“I’ve often told people, whether they’re trying to lose weight or change their diet, ‘If it’s bought, it will be eaten,’” Petersen said. “The decision to eat that food was made in the grocery store. 

“The grocery shopper is in control. If you come home with whole foods, you can’t make a mistake later.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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