ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition & Health Coach: Grocery List and Shopping Guide

Healthy Grocery Shopping Made Easy

Reading Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


Date: 2022-09-22

We have never enjoyed more choices and varieties of products at the grocery store than we do today. Whether it’s pre-cooked, fat free, organic, gluten free, or low calorie, it’s there on the shelf, tucked inside the freezer, and stacked high and wide in the produce section. But with continually new offerings and specialization aplenty comes the need to be able to make sense of which foods are best for health, both as a fitness professional and as a client. 

Unhealthy eating can lead to serious health issues. And while clients are not intentionally eating food that can do them harm, they may lack the info needed to choose what’s healthy while also tasting good. When it comes to healthy grocery shopping, there are a few key tips we should encourage clients to keep in mind before pushing that cart through the aisles (while keeping your scope of practice in mind). 

Items to Include on Your Grocery List for Healthy Eating

The items clients should eat more of are the foods high in nutrition. They provide the body with lots of nutrients. They’re also limited in ingredients that could potentially harm your health. These foods would make up a majority of your grocery list.


When choosing proteins, select options that are fresh and minimally processed. Focus on the lean protein options. If you have to pick canned vegetables, look for a low sodium choice. This includes: 

  • chicken

  • fatty fish

  • shellfish

  • turkey

  • lean beef

  • eggs

  • Greek yogurt

  • cultured cottage cheese 

If you follow a vegan eating plan, healthy plant foods in the protein category are lentils and beans. Canned beans can be an easy, inexpensive staple to keep in your pantry when you need a quick protein add-on.


Carbs to include on your grocery list regularly include:

  • fruit

  • barley

  • steel-cut oats

  • quinoa

  • buckwheat

  • farro

  • potatoes (both white and sweet)

  • yuca

  • products made with whole wheat grains, such as bread and pasta 

These carbs are high in nutrition and won’t cause your blood sugar to skyrocket. This is especially important if you have diabetes.


The body needs some healthy fat to function. Unsaturated fat is healthier than saturated fat or trans fat. That makes these food sources good additions to your healthy grocery list:

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • walnut oil

  • avocado oil

  • avocado

  • nuts or nut butter

  • seeds

  • olives

  • coconut


When choosing vegetables for your healthy shopping list, aim for a variety of colors. Choose veggies that are red, orange, white, green, and purple. Options to consider include:

  • red – beets, tomatoes, radish, red pepper, red cabbage, red onion

  • orange – pumpkin, squash, yellow beets, carrots

  • white – mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, onion, shallots

  • green – spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, celery, cucumbers, green peppers

  • purple – rutabaga, eggplant, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple peppers

Food Items to Buy (and Eat) Less

While most of your grocery list benefits from being highly nutritious foods, there is room for other foods not in this category. These are the foods that are still somewhat nutritious, but you should eat less of them. 

Food to eat just sometimes include: 

  • medium-lean meats

  • minimally processed deli meat

  • foods made with white flour (like wheat bread)

  • sesame and flaxseed oils

  • dark chocolate

  • coconut milk 

Foods to eat less of are:

  • fried meats

  • protein and cereal bars

  • soda

  • chips

  • donuts

  • pastries

  • bacon

  • sausage

  • butter and margarine

  • processed cheese

  • vegetable oil

  • fat-rich foods with more than 10 grams of added sugar

Other Tips for Healthier Grocery Shopping

Healthy grocery shopping involves more than just picking the right foods. If it was that simple, we’d all be at our goal weight and chronic disease wouldn’t exist. Here are a few tips that, if you turn them into habits, can lead to a healthier grocery shopping trip:

  • Don’t shop hungry. Go to the grocery store with a rumbling tummy and you’re more likely to pick junky processed foods over healthy food. Your cravings for sweets and salty snacks will overrun your desire for foods high in nutrition. The best time to shop is after consuming a healthy meal. (This inspires you to buy food for your next healthy meal.) If you shop between meals, at least have a small snack before you go.

  • Go with a list and stick to it. Have you ever walked into a store with a list that has just a few items but walked out with several bags of goods? If so, you already know the power of impulse buys. Stores place items strategically in the hopes of getting you to purchase something you didn’t intend. One way to render their strategy powerless is to go with a list and stick to it. Tell yourself that you’re only going to buy the food that is written down. This helps you go home only with foods that fit into your desired meal plan and nothing else.

  • Read the food label. Just because food may sound healthy doesn’t mean it is. The only way to know for sure is to read the label if it has one. Food labels will give you calorie count, nutrition breakdown, and a list of ingredients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers guidance on how to understand nutrition facts labels, including what the different information means.

  • Learn what common lingo means. Just because a food is labeled fat-free doesn’t mean it has zero fat. Technically, it can have 0.5 grams of fat per serving and still claim to be free of fat. Additionally, if a product offers a “light” version, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is low-fat or low-calorie. It simply means that it has half the fat of the regular version of the product or one-third fewer calories. The more you understand the lingo, the easier it is to make healthy choice.

  • Think about dietary patterns as a whole. One or two less-healthy meals don’t make you a bad person. Even a personalized diet leaves room for foods that may not supply a lot of nutrition. Instead, look at your eating habits overall. If your diet consists of nutritious foods most of the time, you’re doing well. Even opting for canned fruit or canned vegetables rather than fresh fruit or veggies is okay. Also, give yourself room to eat food out of pure enjoyment. Nutrition is important but not dreading your diet is important too.

  • Try meal planning. Do all your planning, shopping, and cooking upfront for the week. This will help you keep your healthy shopping list simple. When you meal prep, you'll also never come home and feel forced to come up with nutritious food for dinner at the last minute. Keep some extra fresh produce on hand for a healthy snack and it'll be easy to stick to your goals!

If you’re looking to educate yourself more in the area of nutrition, ISSA offers a comprehensive course to become a Nutritionist Specialist. Support a healthy lifestyle for you and your clients with advanced nutrition information. 

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By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.

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