The Official Nutritious Life Guide to Healthy Groceries

It can sometimes feel like you need multiple advanced degrees to master the art of healthy grocery shopping.

Should you buy organic or grass-fed beef? Should you skip the frozen foods section or read each label for artificial ingredients? What’s the difference between free-range and cage-free eggs?

We dig deep into these kinds of questions on a regular basis, but sometimes you just need a quick cheat sheet you can reference while on the go. So, we decided to create a guide to the the basic principles we follow when choosing the healthiest foods at the grocery store (or farmers market).

So when you see veggies and chicken in a Nutritious Life recipe, you know the exact kind of each of those ingredients we recommend you use.

Nutritious Life’s 10 Principles of Healthy Grocery Shopping

1. Buy all organic produce if possible.

Aim to buy all organic produce as much as possible. Pesticides don’t belong in your diet (and chemical agriculture is also destroying the planet). If you can’t, buy items on the Dirty Dozen list organic. You can also go conventional on things that have thicker skin you don’t eat (like avocados and pineapples). Always wash produce before eating it, whether it’s organic or not.

2. Avoid GMOs when possible.

This will be easy if you follow the first rule, since certified organic products cannot contain GMOs. There are two big reasons to skip GMO foods. One: The majority of genetically modified crops—like corn and soy—are modified to withstand intensive pesticide applications, so you’re buying foods drenched with even more chemicals. Two: People will tell you there is no scientific evidence that has proven GMOs are bad for humans. This is true. There’s also no concrete evidence they’re safe. So why risk it?

3. Beef should be grass-fed and organic.

Think of grass-fed organic as the butcher shop gold standard. It’s free of growth hormones and antibiotics and is higher in antioxidants and omega-3s. If you can’t get grass-fed organic and have to choose between the two, go grass-fed. The beneficial nutrients like omega-3s and CLA in grass-fed beef are lost in animals fed grain, and most grass-fed cattle are raised by farmers who use at least somewhat sustainable, healthy practices (AKA organic-ish).

4. Dairy should also be grass-fed and organic.

Follow the same principles when choosing yogurt, cheese, and butter. Grass-fed organic is best; grass-fed on its own is good, for all of the same reasons.

5. Chicken (and other poultry) should be organic.

“Natural,” “No hormones added” (chickens are never given hormones), and many other terms in this realm are meaningless. Organic ensures the birds ate only organic feed, weren’t given antibiotics, and were also treated (at least slightly) better. If that’s not an option, at least shoot to buy poultry with “no antibiotics added.”

6. Eggs should be organic, ideally from a small farmer.

In an ideal scenario, you’d get your eggs from a local organic farmer who grazes his or her chickens on pasture. If you’ve got to grab them from the grocery store, look for both the USDA Organic and the Animal Welfare Approved seals. Our in-depth guide to buying eggs explains why.

7. Buy fish from a trusted source.

It’s nearly impossible to stay up-to-date on which fish are being sustainably caught and farmed, so our advice is to shop from a trusted source, like a local fishmonger, the farmers market, or a store like Whole Foods that has specific principles for the fish it sells. If those aren’t an option,  get sustainably caught “wild” whenever possible. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Consumer Guides are also a great resource.

8. Use cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil.

Skip all of the other oils lining the shelves and cook with these. EVOO is the gold-standard; use coconut slightly less often. Make sure they’re cold-pressed and ideally, organic.

9. Bread should be whole grain.

Read the ingredients list to make sure that a whole grain is the first thing listed, and look for the Whole Grain Stamp as a guarantee. Many packaged breads also come packed with sugars and additives, so be sure to check the ingredients list for those, too. Our absolute favorite? Ezekiel’s Food for Life Sprouted Grain bread. Sourdough is also a great choice.

10. Buy packaged foods as little as possible; look for whole food ingredients.

Think outside of the box—literally. Buy whole foods as much as possible, but when you do go packaged, read the ingredient list and choose products made from whole foods as much as possible and preferably organic. Check the nutrition facts for sugar and salt, too, since packaged foods tend to be high in both.

About Nutritious Life Editors

The Nutritious Life Editors are a team of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts who not only subscribe to — and live! — the 8 Pillars of a Nutritious Life, but also have access to some of the savviest thought leaders in the health and wellness space — including our founder and resident dietitian, Keri Glassman. From the hottest trends in wellness to the latest medical science, we stay on top of it all in order to deliver the info YOU need to live your most nutritious life.

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