A Beginners Shopping Guide to Clean and Healthy Eating

When trying to eat healthy and clean the grocery store can be daunting. With all those food labels it’s tough to know what to look out for. Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard is to stay away from the inner aisle as much as possible. Stick to the outer edge of the super market for the freshest whole food.

Thankfully there are a lot more foods in jars and cans that don’t have too many added ingredients (like quality salsas and canned veggies), but fresh and frozen are always best. Fresh is great and frozen is wonderful as well because the veggies and fruit are picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen immediately. Unfortunately unless you buy local the fresh produce is sometimes picked less ripe so that it doesn’t go bad in transit to the market. Your local farmer’s market is one of the best places to buy produce because you get to know the farmer and there isn’t a huge transit time.

When you stick with the best foods you are more likely to reach your health and fitness goals faster.

Here is my healthy and clean shopping list for beginners.

Quality Sources of Protein:

  • Wild caught fish
  • Grass fed beef
  • Pasture raised organic chicken (preferably from chickens that are not fed soy). We make a whole chicken every week and save the bones for bone broth.
  • Pasture raised organic turkey: one of my favorite sources of protein are these turkey meatballs.

  • Buffalo (super expensive but lean and yummy!)
  • Canned tuna (look for BPA free cans with only sea salt and water added- soy free)
  • Pasture raised organic eggs (preferably soy free): While these quality eggs may cost you more than conventional, eggs are still one of the cheapest proteins you can buy per serving! I eat eggs every day.

  • Pork: Try to find a sustainable farmer who can tell you how the pig is raised. I avoid pork most of the time but you wont see me turn down quality bacon.
  • Turkey Bacon: I will pick “real bacon” over turkey any day but turkey bacon is great for those who don’t eat pork. Just read the labels and check for sugars and nitrates and other junky ingredients.
  • Whey Protein: I don’t often use whey protein but it’s fantastic when I’m in a pinch. I can make a quick smoothie for after a workout or add it to baked goods to up the protein, but I’m picky about my protein powders. Many of them have added sweeteners or artificial sweeteners, preservatives and emulsifiers. Check out this post on my favorite brand and why I love it.

  • Collagen Protein Powder: This is a fantastic source of protein, especially if you are sensitive to dairy because it’s dairy free! You can use it in smoothies or baked goods to add protein. It’s also beneficial to your joints. Check out this post to learn more about collagen and why I love it.You can buy Great Lakes Collagen on amazon, but I get it cheapest at Thrive Market.
  • Grass fed raw cheese: If you are going to eat cheese you might not want to overdo it and try to find a quality raw cheese from grass fed cows. I usually save cheese for special occasions like when I make a cheese plate for our family Christmas. Good stuff! Dairy is not very easily digested by most people. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed lactose or casein intolerance, it can be hard on the stomach and get in the way of health goals.

Proteins I avoid:

  • Deli meat: I know… convenience is everything these days,but unless you find a deli meat from animals raised in a healthy way and without all those fillers and chemicals it’s just not worth it. I have only found a couple brands we buy in a pinch.
  • Farm raised fish: Not only are these fish low in Omega 3’s, but they are also fed some pretty gross stuff. Go for wild caught when eating fish.
  • Soy: Okay, the verdict is still not out on this one, but I have read studies about soy’s estrogen mimicking effects so I steer clear of soy.
  • Breaded and fried meats: This may seem like a no brainer, but if you are out to eat try and avoid the extra processed carbs and yucky oils that most places use to bread and fry their meats. The exception would be if you made your own and used your own quality whole wheat, oat flour or almond flour (or healthy flour substitute) with coconut oil or other healthy oil.
  • Bacon: Wait… isn’t bacon listed in good proteins above? YES! It is, but read the label. Most bacon in the stores have added sugar and chemicals. Just be sure you are getting quality raised meat and none of the extra junk when eating that yummy delicious heavenly bacon, or save it for a special occasion.
  • Faux Meat: Any of those processed fake meats out there are usually no good. They have labels a mile long. There may some brand out there I haven’t found, but any of the stuff I have seen is filled with junk (including processed soy). If you are vegan, there are healthier whole food options or maybe make your own bean burgers at home.

Quality Sources of Carbohydrates:

Not all carbohydrates are bad, and depending on your fitness goals you may want more some days than others. Here is a list of some quality sources of carbohydrates.

  • Yams or sweet potatoes: I’m really not sure the difference between the two, but I love them! Sweet potato fries are what first got me hooked. Not the ones at the restaurant but home made with coconut oil and sea salt! Good stuff! They are also fantastic when cubed and roasted. I never liked them baked (the only way I had them growing up). Roasting is the way to go in my opinion. 😉

  • Quinoa: Quinoa is a quality carbohydrate. One of our family’s favorite dishes is this beef quinoa bell pepper bake.
  • Oats: Steel cut oats are the least processed and quick oats are the most processed, but if you are lacking time they are better than some of the other options out there. Either way oats are a fantastic carbohydrate. I eat 1 serving of oats most every morning with berries, chia seeds, cinnamon and walnuts. Don’t let your oatmeal get boring. Mix it up and this can be a wonderful everyday breakfast. I always eat mine with a protein (usually spinach and salsa eggs) for a perfectly balanced pre workout meal.
  • Groats: This is a great alternative to oats if you are going grain free. They have a nutty flavor and texture so they are different from oats if you are not a fan. Also they are gluten free despite their confusing name (buckwheat groats).

  • Brown rice: a slow digesting carb that is perfect when eaten in moderation. Especially since rice has higher levels of arsenic than other carbohydrates due to being grown in water soaked fields contaminated with arsenic. I limit the amount of rice I buy, and particular types from specific locations that have less arsenic contamination. Check out this article from consumer reports for more info.
  • White rice: Although white rice gets a bad rap it’s still a good carb in my book. It’s a faster digesting carbohydrate but it’s actually easier on some peoples stomachs than brown rice. Also because it’s missing the hull white rice has lower levels of arsenic than brown rice. White basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan has less rice than most other types.
  • Fruit: All fruit are wonderful but my favorites are berries (especially blueberries which are high in antioxidants). I also like bananas when sweetening homemade baked goods. I usually stick to fruit in the morning or pre or post workout since they are faster digesting. I limit most carbs late at night.
  • Vegetables: I don’t really limit my vegetable carbs lots of them can add up. Especially vegetables like zucchini, peas, carrots or tomatoes (which are technically a fruit). I eat a lot of leafy greens so I don’t worry much about carb count. Zucchini “noodles” make a fantastic pasta substitution when trying to lower carbohydrate consumption or if you are sticking with whole foods. I would say don’t worry about limiting vegetables due to carbs since most people don’t get enough, but if you are in a body competition or something competitive you are most likely going to be counting those macros. One of my favorite comfort foods is split pea soup. I love this tummy warming soup on a cold winter day.
  • Bread: I don’t eat much bread.  I avoid most grocery store breads (I haven’t eaten it in years). If I do eat bread, it’s homemade whole wheat bread or tortillas or oat flour bread. You can check out my “bread” recipe page here if you would like some recipes.

Carbohydrates I Avoid

  • Bread: I know, bread was listed as “okay” above that’s homemade bread. Unless you buy a brand like Ezekiel (made with sprouted grains and minimally processed) I steer clear of grocery store breads.
  • Cereal: I have not eaten cereal in years. Even the organic stuff is usually pretty processed.
  • Chips: The only chips I eat are Jacksons Honest Chips (that I buy from Thrive Market) since they are made of just potatoes (or organic corn), coconut oil, and sea salt. Other than that (as an occasional treat) I stay away from chips.
  • Candy: I even avoid the organic candy. Sugar is still sugar. If I am craving something sweet I make something from scratch or eat a smidge of super dark chocolate (check out some healthier options here). Even my sweets recipe page has treats that can spike your insulin levels but at least most of them are sweetened with dates, raw honey, organic maple syrup, bananas, or liquid stevia. Stevia is probably the best choice when watching your sugar intake.
  • Soda and juice: both are high in sugar and usually other junk as well. I drink water, tea or kombucha (on special occasions). Organic coffee is a good in moderation as well.

Quality Sources of Fat:

  • Peanuts and Peanut Butter: I don’t eat many peanuts due to the fact that they can have issues with mold. Yhey are a good source of fat and you can buy all natural peanut butter (with no added junky oils and sugar) or make your own.
  • Avocados: these are a fantastic plant based source of heart-healthy monosaturated fat! They also help increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, K and E. I’m not a fan of avocados but they are super good for you, and I love pudding so this chocolate pudding is my favorite way to eat avocados. Sounds weird but it’s super yummy!

  • Saturated fats from grass fed pasture raised meats: Saturated fats get a bad name because of the factory farmed animals that monopolize the meat industry these days. But truth be told, saturated fat are necessary as they build cell membranes and comprise a large component of important hormones.
  • Grass fed butter and ghee: again, while low quality butter in large quantities on processed bread is not a good idea, quality grass fed butter used in cooking (like this pan seared fish recipe) is a nice source of fat. When produced from the cream of grass-fed cows, butter is extremely rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2, as well as antioxidant rich beta carotene. Ghee is great too because it’s often well-tolerated by those who have dairy sensitivities.

Fats I Avoid:

I avoid most of the common fats used in the food industry. The following are not healthy sources of fat.

  • soybean oil
  • grapeseed oil
  • canola oil
  • vegetable oil
  • rice bran oil

Quality Condiments and Sauces:

I use a lot of spices (curry, cayenne pepper, garlic etc…) to give my food flavor. When I used salt I use either sea salt or Pink Himalayan Salt. The following condiments can also add flavor and diversity to your meals.

  • Salsa: You can make your own or read labels carefully to find a quality salsa. A lot of salsa out there has junk in it. I love salsa that is (preferably organic) with sea salt (rather than industry salt), without sugar, “natural” or artificial flavors, citric acid (commonly derived from GMO corn) or other preservatives.

  • Mustard: I love that mustard is low in calories and has no sugars since it’s base is vinegar. I looked high and low for an organic version I like since most vinegar that’s not organic is made from GMO corn. I finally found Annie’s Organic Yellow Mustard. It’s my favorite! I stock up when it goes on sale at Target or my local food co op.
  • Ketchup: I don’t eat ketchup anymore but if you do, look for an organic brand and don’t go overboard on this condiment which has hidden sugars.
  • BBQ Sauce: This is another condiment I don’t use often because it’s hard to find quality BBQ sauce without a mile long list of terrible ingredients. Even the good stuff is often high in sugar. There are lots of recipes out there if you google “paleo” or “healthy BBQ sauce recipes”. Thrive Market also carries some but watch those ingredients.
  • Coconut Aminos: This stuff is great! I use it in place of soy sauce in any recipe. I buy mine at Thrive Market.
  • Salad Dressing: I don’t really like salad dressing so I have yet to find a quality dressing in the store. Most have oils on my “I don’t eat that” list. Even most store bough dressings have yucky oils and sugars added. Just be sure to read the labels. It’s pretty simple to make your own if you search “paleo dressing”. I just top my salads with protein and other toppings, like sunflower seeds, salsa, tomatoes, etc… If you like avocados (I don’t) you can add them as a healthy fat. If you can’t live without your salad dressing just have it on the side and dip as needed or drizzle on a little. There is a “Primal Kitchen” brand at Thrive Market that seems to have decent ingredients, but I’ve never tried it since I’m not a “dressing kinda girl”.
  • Pasta Sauce: When buying red sauce for pasta dishes or “zoodles” be sure to read the labels. We buy plain strained tomatoes and make our own sauce since most sauces have citric acid, sugar, oils and other stuff added.

The takeaway is that whenever possible buy whole foods. When you can’t, read the labels. Be on the look out for preservatives, added sugar and salt, “natural” and artificial flavors and coloring. Try new recipes whenever possible to keep things from getting boring in the kitchen. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my healthy lifestyle if it was boring. I love creating new dishes and trying new recipes. It keeps life interesting.

Want a sneak peak at what’s in my kitchen? Check it out here.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to write in the comment section below.

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