One common technique for healthy grocery shopping is to shop the perimeter and avoid the center aisles. The reasoning behind this is that the healthiest and freshest foods are found on the perimeter of the grocery store while the processed foods are found in the middle. According to Medical News:
In most grocery stores, the aisles are filled with canned goods, frozen and boxed dinners that are loaded with fat and extra unnecessary calories…The perimeter features fruits, vegetables, lean meats and other healthy fair.
It’s a good rule of thumb, and you can even find guides on how to perimeter shop. But is it really the healthiest method of grocery shopping? Nutrition expert Karen Collins writes at MSN’s Diet & Fitness column:
…it’s not really true that everything in the center of the store is unhealthy. This is the spot for many unprocessed whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa), dried beans (either canned or uncooked), nuts, dried fruit, coffee and tea, and herbs and spices. And although it’s hard to go wrong in the produce department, the meat department contains both healthy options…and high-fat and processed meats that should not be standard fare for eating habits that help lower your risk of cancer and heart disease.
Vegan RD goes further, suggesting the whole concept of shopping the perimeter be thrown out the window. She provides great examples of unhealthy food which resides on the periphery such as hot dogs, canned dinner rolls and refrigerated cookie dough, as well as cakes and other sweets from the bakery. She also points out that some of the most healthy foods like whole grains, beans and seeds are to be found in the center aisles. As a vegan, she has a unique take on how this whole shop the perimeter meme took off:
I think the USDA made it up! After all, their job is to promote and protect the interests of animal agriculture, and they’re all placed at the perimeter. Consider this: all of those things need to be refrigerated, and it is most cost-effective for stores to house their refrigeration cases against the walls. How convenient for “experts” to advise folks to shop the refrigerators–meat, dairy, eggs, (and produce).
So what’s the best way to grocery shop if shopping the perimeter is not all it’s cut out to be? With a list. By preparing a shopping list of healthy foods ahead of time, and sticking to that list once in the store, you are pretty much assured that what you bring home from the grocery store will by good for you and avoid unhealthy impulse purchases. As a side benefit, if your list is thorough and organized by department, your trip to the grocery store is going to be a lot quicker!