Dieititan’s Digest: Healthy foods within the grocery store aisles

Published 2:16 pm Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Dietitian’s Digest by Emily Schmidt

As a dietitian, I’ve often heard the advice from other dietitians and patients that it’s healthiest to “shop the perimeter of the grocery store.” Although there are many truths to this — after all, the perimeter of the grocery store typically contains all of the fresh produce, dairy, eggs and meats — it also ignores the fact that there are many healthy foods within the aisles of the store as well. Additionally, those who are on a budget or are simply not able to get to the grocery store often enough to rely solely on fresh foods are in need of purchasing more shelf stable foods. This article highlights some of the non-perimeter grocery items that are, in fact, still quite healthy.

Emily Schmidt

Plant-based oils

Email newsletter signup

Olive, canola, sunflower and other plant-based oils are excellent sources of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. You can use these oils to cook with, or use uncooked for homemade salad dressings. Store these oils in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard away from direct sunlight.

Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds

Whether dried or canned (preferably no salt added), legumes and other nuts and seeds are a wonderful source of fiber, protein and many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Look for those with no salt or sugar added. If using canned beans, simply rinse in a colander or strainer and either cook or sprinkle cold over a salad. Some ideas for bean-inspired recipes include burritos, tacos, quesadillas, bean burgers and bean soups or chili. Grab unsalted nuts or seeds for a snack or add to salads or smoothies.

Whole grains

Foods in this category include oatmeal (look for old fashioned or steel cut), brown and wild rice, quinoa, whole grain breads and tortillas and other pre-made bakery products, and granola. These foods provide fiber — excellent for gut and heart health — as well as a multitude of other nutrients such as protein, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc and more. Even if you try to limit your carbohydrates, including small amounts of these foods can provide many nutrients that are beneficial for health. It’s better to limit refined or overly processed grains such as white bread or white pasta.

Herbs and spices

Though fresh herbs found in the produce section are extremely nutrient- and antioxidant-rich, dried herbs and spices also supply a good source of salt-free nutrition. Another benefit of herbs and spices is that you can avoid using as much salt in a recipe and focus instead on the flavors of healthier seasonings.

Fruits and vegetables

Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are an excellent alternative to fresh produce. Of course it’s still important to include fresh produce in your diet, both cooked and raw, but it’s not realistic for many people to always rely on fresh. Not only can it be expensive, but if you’re unable to get to the grocery store frequently, it’s very difficult to get by without a variety of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Look for no salt added canned or frozen vegetables, and no sugar added fruits. If you’re unsure what to do with frozen fruits, toss them into a smoothie, oatmeal or yogurt.


Tuna, salmon, sardines, oysters and other canned or packaged seafood contain plenty of nutrients, such as unsaturated fats including omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and vitamin D especially in seafood with the bones, protein and other vitamins and minerals. If possible opt for seafood with less than 200 mg sodium per serving, and if concerned about managing your weight, stick with seafood packed in water.

Check out https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/recipes for recipe ideas.

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with family.