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Navigating The Grocery Store For Healthy Eating

I'm one of those weirdos that LOVES grocery shopping! Anyone else? :) If I had it my way, I would do my groceries at farmer's markets all year long, but in the great white north of Toronto, Canada, that's not always possible. Thankfully, we still have man
Jan 3, 2018 | Joy McCarthy

I'm one of those weirdos that LOVES grocery shopping! Anyone else? :) If I had it my way, I would do my groceries at farmer's markets all year long, but in the great white north of Toronto, Canada, that's not always possible. Thankfully, we still have many awesome natural health food stores to turn to all year round (find out some of my favourites at the end of the post!)

Grocery shopping seems to be one of those things that you either love or hate. I think it's because some people find it to be an overwhelming experience. I get it though; there's a lot going on from the fluorescent lights, crowds and the confusion as to what's healthy VS what's not.

Over the years, I've acquired some great tips to navigate the grocery store for healthy eating which I've gone on to share with clients of mine with great success! I hope by the time you're done reading this, you'll be equally as successful as you'll be confident and readily equipped to take on grocery shopping – the joyous way! :)

How To Navigate The Grocery Store For Healthy Eating

Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store

This is a classic tip, but for good reason! When we make a point to shop primarily on the perimeter of the grocery store, we're naturally avoiding most packaged and processed foods and will be more inclined to pick up whole foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. It's very rare that you'll find your spinach or carrots down an aisle. So as long as you are sticking to this rule, you can feel confident knowing you will likely be filling your cart with lots of nutrient-rich goodness!

Keep in mind, there are some exceptions to this rule since there are some healthy foods that can be found in the centre aisles of a grocery store (including some of our Joyous Health Approved products!). But I'll give you some advice in the tips below to help you determine if it is actually as healthy as it says it is.

Plan Ahead For What You Need

This is the fun part! I know it doesn't seem like it since planning out your meals and making a list can be a drag, but I promise you, you'll be so glad you had your list when you look in the fridge and realize you actually have the ingredients to throw together what you want to make! 

It also helps to keep a list of healthy kitchen staples on hand and keep track of what you have and what you don't. You can find a list of healthy kitchen staples in the guide that you receive when you sign up for the FREE Joyous Kitchen Challenge (starting January 7th 2019!) Once you have your kitchen stocked with healthy staples, you will have almost everything you need to make whatever you want from scratch (give or take a few specific ingredients).


The remaining ingredients you'll need will depend on what you plan on making for the week. You can find tips for choosing recipes in Step #3 in this post which shows you how to meal prep like a pro. Once you've done that, all you have to do is make a grocery list and then you're ready to take on grocery shopping! Woohoooo!

One last thing – part of planning ahead before you go grocery shopping includes making sure your belly is full. When we go grocery shopping in a "hangry" state, we run the risk of making poor choices since we're more distracted by our hunger than our health goals. Make sure you have a light snack before like a granola bar or a handful of nuts to prevent this from happening!

Buy organic as much as possible

There are SO many amazing reason buy organic food. But for the sake of this article, buying organic food ensures the food you consume is free of harmful pesticides, herbicides, insectisides and toxic chemicals, so it can be as health-building as possible! I understand this can come with financial considerations, but if you hop on here.

Alternatively, you can make use of the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen Guide which breaks down a list of fruits and vegetables that are more pesticide-laden than others (and therefore should be purchased organic) and a list of fruits and vegetables that don't contain as many pesticides (which are more safe to purchase conventional, if need be). 

While this makes a great wallet-friendly option for shopping organic, please keep in mind that if you want to reduce your overall toxic load for you and your family, choose organic as often as possible (not just for the Dirty Dozen). You can find the 2017 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guide over here, but keep an eye out for the 2018 guide in the months to come. They release a new one each year!

Watch out for health washing

The words "all-natural" are smacked on almost everything these days, primarily because the food industry knows that's what consumers want. The problem with this label is that it's not regulated - meaning any company can label their product as all-natural even when it might be the furthest from it! This is healthwashing at its finest. Other labels to give extra scrutiny to include:

  • Low-fat
  • Low-sodium
  • Fat-free
  • "Fortified" (with Vitamin D, C, etc)
  • Natural-flavours
  • Made with real fruit
  • Sugar-free
  • Source of omega-3s
  • Vegan
  • Gluten-Free
  • Dairy-Free

Of course, some of these labels, like gluten-free for someone who is Celiac, are helpful when navigating the grocery store but the important thing to remember is to not give it too much weight. For example, just because a conventional packaged muffin in the grocery store might be gluten-free, doesn't mean it's necessarily healthy. This is where becoming a pro at label reading comes in handy, which I'll get to in the next point! :)

Become a pro at label reading

Nowadays, companies are really good at making not-so-healthy products look healthy. They're sneaky like that! The key here is to read the labels on packaged foods, or more specifically, the ingredients (or better yet, don't buy foods with labels – now there's a thought, haha!).

Ingredients also appear by volume, meaning whichever ingredient appears first in the list is what most of that food is comprised of. If the first ingredient happens to be sugar – run! ;) Speaking of sugar, here's another thing you should know! Some companies will partake in the deceptive practice known as ingredient splitting. so that a specific ingredient (like sugar) doesn't appear first on the ingredient list. Instead, you'll see things like "glucose", "fructose" or "beet sugar" sprinkled throughout the ingredient list so that the word "sugar" isn't at the forefront. Yet another reason why it's easier to stick to whole fresh foods that contain only 1 ingredient, like apples, carrots, spinach, eggs, quinoa etc.

Joyous-Approved Natural Health Food Stores

There are a select number of grocery stores I'll shop at, simply because I know I can trust the quality and source of their products. Most of these are local to me in Toronto, however natural health food stores are popping up more frequently. A quick Google search will help you navigate the closest one to you!

  • The Sweet Potato 
  • The Big Carrot 
  • Healthy Planet
  • Planet Organic
  • Whole Foods
  • Nature's Emporium
  • Organic Garage

This is a great starting point to start navigating the grocery store better and making healthier choices. If you want to take it one step further and even learn proper storage techniques for your food, join the FREE Joyous Kitchen Challenge on January 7th, 2019!


When you join the challenge, you will also get access to a private Facebook group with 2000+ fellow challengers and you'll receive a comprehensive guide consisting of a list of kitchen essentials, ideas for simple swaps to make way for healthy habits and a 7-day challenge to set you up for success! Join the Joyous Kitchen Challenge Now.

What do you find the most challenging about grocery shopping?

Nancy   •   January 4, 2018

I live in central BC, Canada. Most challenging for me is finding what I need/want for a price I can afford, especially certain times of the year.

Rachel Molenda   •   January 5, 2018

Erin   •   January 9, 2018

Have you tried Organic Garage near the Stockyards in Toronto? It's a great place to find healthy good at good prices.

Rachel Molenda   •   January 9, 2018

Deanna Friel   •   February 17, 2018

Great, thanks for sharing this article post.Really thank you! We can totally understand that! Especially this time of year, like you said. Have you thought of maybe signing up for an organic delivery or partaking in a co-op? Sometimes that's a great way to get fresh, reasonably priced, seasonal organic food all year round. It will force you to make use of fruits and vegetables that you may not usually!

Joy McCarthy   •   February 17, 2018

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