Get Cart-Smart: Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping

The first step to eating well with type 2 diabetes is shrewd shopping.

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 22, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

You can eat well with type 2 diabetes when you make smart choices at the grocery store.

So how do you reach the checkout with a cart full of healthy and tasty options? Two diabetes educators offer their tips.

Enter with a plan. Before you hit the store, take 5 minutes to decide what meals you'll make over the next week. Jot down a list of the ingredients you need. This simple but powerful step is worth your time, says Afroz Subedar, RD, of the University of California, San Francisco. "The list will help you stay focused and lead you away from some temptations," she says.

Stick to the outside. Spend most of your time on the perimeter of the store, where you'll typically find fresh foods including fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, chicken, and fish. The store's inner aisles hold packaged foods that are more processed and more likely to pose dietary pitfalls. Of course, the aisles do have some nutritious choices (think canned tuna, beans, and oatmeal). Just be strategic about which inner aisles you visit -- target the healthy options.

Channel your great-grandma. While you're shopping, ask yourself: Is this a food my great-grandparents would recognize? "Think about how our ancestors ate 100 years ago," says Maureen McGrath, RN, also from UC San Francisco. "They didn't have frozen or processed foods." In the cereal aisle, consider that your great-grandma probably never ate O's or flakes for breakfast, but she might have eaten some type of porridge or oatmeal.

Go dark. Reach for darker-hued foods. That means picking spinach over iceberg lettuce, sweet potatoes over white potatoes, brown or wild rice over white rice, and hearty whole-grain breads over white. Vibrant veggies generally have more nutrients than paler ones. And whole-grain breads, brown rice, and whole wheat pastas contain more fiber than white kinds, helping to balance your blood sugar and leaving you feeling satisfied.

Rethink your drinks. Leave sugary beverages such as fruit juices, sodas, and sports drinks out of your cart. A major source of empty calories, they're "pure liquid carbs, which will spike blood sugar significantly," Subedar says. Instead, pick up tea bags and lemon to make your own low-sugar ice tea. Try calorie-free sparkling water, or buy limes and cucumbers to make your own flavorful infused waters.

Suss out snacks. Plan for the mid-afternoon munchies. And remember that "a snack does not have to come in a package," Subedar says. In place of chips, cookies, or little fish crackers, opt for real foods: half a turkey sandwich, a small handful of nuts, a Greek yogurt. "I like snacks that come from the food groups," Subedar says.

Ask Your Doctor

What type of eating plan would you recommend for me?

About how many carbohydrates should I aim to eat each day?

Should I avoid certain foods completely?

What should I look for on food labels?

Which web sites, apps, or other resources would you recommend to help me make healthy food choices?

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Afroz Subedar, MS, RD, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, The Madison Clinic for Pediatric Diabetes, University of California, San Francisco.

Maureen McGrath, MS, PNP-BC, BC-ADM, associate clinical professor, and coordinator, diabetes minor, University of California, San Francisco.

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