Smart Food Choices Start at the Store

09.27.2011 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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Welcome back to the WOW Nutrition Corner ladies! This is our second installment from the Washington Redskins Team Dietitian, Jane Jakubczak. In case you missed it, Click Here to see Jane's first post. Enjoy!

Whether your dietary goals include losing weight, enhancing athletic performance, increasing energy level or recovering from illness, a smart nutrition plan starts with the foods you choose in the grocery store.

I tell my clients, including the Redskins players, the foundation of one’s nutrition plan is built inside the grocery store. I’ve taken groups of Rookies on shopping tours for a lesson in navigating this overwhelming oasis of food confusion – yes, we get quite a few stares! Some of the players admit they have never stepped inside a grocery store before. Coaching them through the skills needed to grocery shop in a healthy, efficient and budget-friendly way is one of my favorite parts of the job.

Whether you are an NFL player, a stay-at-home mom, or a young working professional, the same principles to smart grocery shopping apply:

Never go to the store hungry.

When we are hungry our primal instinct to gravitate towards energy dense food (high calorie, fat and sugar) is heightened. This was important back in the caveman days because hunger was a signal - food was scarce and we needed to “store up” to survive. This is not the case today with our overabundant food supply. Avoid setting yourself up for a fight between your primal instinct and smart food choices. Go to the store well-fueled!

Always shop from a list.

Another primal instinct is when we see food, our body begins a cascade of reactions to prepare for receiving food, making us more prone to quantity shopping rather than quality shopping. Food companies know this and place their items in a visual pleasing level. Again, do not set yourself up for a fight between your primal instinct and smart food choices, stick to your grocery list. This one act will not only save you calories, but will save you money as well!

Shop the perimeter of the store.

One of the first tasks requested of me during my first year with the Redskins was to draw a map of a typical grocery store for the players. Several of the players told me they had no idea that there was actually a method to the layout of a grocery store. The drawing helped to put it in perspective for them. Most grocery stores place the most nutritious, whole foods (fruit/vegetables, dairy, meats/poultry/fish, bakery) on the perimeter of the store and the more processed, commercial products in the aisle. Stick mainly to the perimeter of the store and you will end up with fresh, whole foods filling your basket.

Spend most of your time in the produce department.

If half our plates are to contain fruit and vegetables (, then half our grocery cart should as well. Strive for at least 3 different types of fruit and 5 different types of vegetables at each weekly shopping trip. Select a variety of colors, since each color indicates a different set of nutrients. For more information on the benefits of consuming a colorful diet, visit

Choose low fat dairy products.

Strive for 3 servings of dairy products per day. Dairy not only provides calcium for strong bones and teeth, but also helps regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood clotting and more ( Select low fat versions such as skim or 1% milk, low fat or light yogurt, reduced fat cheese and non-fat or 1% cottage cheese. Greek style yogurt is all the rage these days – It not only has twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt, but is absolutely yummy!

These are the first 5 principles of smart food choices. Next week I will continue our tour through the grocery store and discuss how to make smart choices in the meats/poultry/fish, bread and cereal aisle, and last but certainly not least, how to be smart about treats and desserts.

For this week, I challenge you to take one of the principles above and write down a goal for yourself. For example, “I will schedule my weekly grocery shopping for a time when I am not hungry,” or “I will shop directly from my list, no extras,” or “I will purchase 3 different fruits this week” etc.

Make it a healthy week!

- Jane

Have nutrition questions for Jane? Post them below and she will try to answer them in an upcoming post!

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