Becoming A Grocery Store Guru (Part 1)

Can I see a show of hands of who out there actually enjoys grocery shopping? Anybody? If you are like most (not nerds like Stephen and me) you probably look at shopping for the weekly goods like any other chore. And heck, we get it! For starters, there is the obvious challenge of having to know what exactly you are shopping for, which hopefully we’ve begun providing some tasty options for. Next, and perhaps most daunting, is navigating through aisles of gimmicky marketing, fancy displays, and adorable old demo wizards who guilt you into sampling whatever they’ve got for show. (Seriously, how do they DO that!?)



To make matters worse, did you know that there are folks out there whose sole job it is to observe how we as consumers shop and manipulate what it is we purchase? It’s true. Each year, millions of dollars goes into researching how we shop, the colors, shapes, and sounds that grab our focus, and what other factors direct us towards buying specific products. This determines the precise layout of your grocery store. Just think about it. How many times have you gone to the store to pick up a few basic items and find yourself on a wild goose chase because each item is spread so far apart from one another. There is a calculated reason for that!



Now, we at the SOC Kitchen deplore nutrition fear mongering of any kind and our intent is not to scare you away from stepping foot into your grocery store. Rather, it is our hope that we can provide you with helpful tips and tools to be smart consumers each time you shop. Therefore, we have put together a 3-part series of our top tips to help you become your own Grocery Store Guru. Here are our first 5 tips to get you started:


1. Shop the perimeter

You’ve probably heard this one before but may not understand its importance. The perimeter of the store tends to hold the freshest, whole food items like produce, grains, dairy, fish/poultry/meat, and bulk items. The packaged, more processed foods are often found in the middle aisles and hanging on the end caps. Start on the outskirts and then work your way in.


2. Get familiar with reading labels

You may have heard (and seen) that food labels are getting a facelift. Despite the new look, many of the same rules still apply. The first place to start is at the top. Check out the serving size and servings per container. This is by far the most important information. Let’s say you eat a whole bag of x food. If there are 20 servings or 1 serving in that bag, you could do some serious caloric damage! 

We at the SOC Kitchen aren’t keen on counting calories but it is important to know what you’re working with and to compare options.


Side-by-Side Comparison: Chart with a side-by-side comparison of the original nutrition facts label on the left and the new nutrition facts label on the right.

Image property of FDA: 


3. Remember the 5%/20% Rule  

Still confused by food labels? Here is a simple trick that can be helpful, especially when you’re rushed for time. It’s called the 5%/20% rule and here’s how it works. Any nutrient that’s listed as 5% or less (look to the right-hand side of the label) means a low source of. Conversely, anything listed at 20% or higher means a high source of. Notice we didn’t say a “good” or bad” source. Let’s take fiber for instance. A food with 5% or less fiber per serving would not offer a good source of fiber. Now let’s pretend the label said 25% fiber. That product would be considered a high fiber food. Get it? Try this out using food products you have at home. Next time you go to the store you’ll be a label reading whiz! 


4. “Reduced”, “Low”, “Free”

We are far from the days of 100% “fat free” diet trends (thank goodness!) but food manufacturers still like to grab our attention by throwing out terms like “reduced fat” or “low sugar” which can make us think that these are preferred products compared to their fuller counterparts. Take canned beans for instance. We may look at a can of reduced sodium kidney beans and go, “Gosh, best choice!”. Right? Let’s take a look at what these terms actually mean.

Reduced – refers to a 25% or greater reduction from the original version

Low – refers to 140mg of sodium per serving. Not defined for sugar.

Free – refers to .5g or less sodium/sugar/fat per serving

No added sugars/sodium – refers to no added sugars or salt during processing. Does not account for naturally occurring sugar/sodium.


Why can these terms be deceiving? Let’s go back to our example of the beans. Pretend the regular variety of beans contained 1000mg of sodium. This would mean the “reduced” would have 750mg per serving. Given our daily recommendation of 1500-2300mg per day for most healthy adults, that’s not necessarily a good deal.


5. Don’t be afraid to look high or get low

Items retailers want you to buy (based on price or popularity) are often placed at eye level or where you wait in the checkout line (helloooo chocolate bars!). Therefore, healthier options may be a little trickier to find. Rather than just grabbing the first item you see in front of you, take a moment to inspect labels to make sure you are getting what you really want. 


Check back soon for our next round of tips! Don’t want to miss out on future blog posts? Sign up for our FREE email subscriptions!