For years we’ve heard that the healthiest supermarket foods are located around the perimeter. While that may have once been the case, these days it’s only partially true. Sure, the fringes of your food store are filled with fresh produce, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grain bread. Yet, they’re also home to plenty of lesser options like hotdogs, bacon, butter and cupcakes – just to name a few.
The truth is, there are good-for-you eats in every aisle of the grocery store – you just have to know where to look for them. Here’s the skinny on the 10 healthiest foods inside the perimeter:
1. Canned salmon – If you’re having trouble squeezing in your two weekly servings of fish, canned salmon can help fill the void. Not only is this fish one of nature’s top sources of heart-enhancing omega-3 fats, it also contains more vitamin D than any other food. Not a fan of the bones? You’ll be happy to know most stores now stock bone-free varieties.
2. Dried fruit – When you’re on the go all day, it can be difficult to work in your nine plus servings of fruits and veggies. Enter dried fruit. It’s super portable so you don’t have to worry that it will get squished in your bag or spoil.
3. Peanut butter – PB isn’t just a good source of heart-friendly vegetable protein, it can also help you stay slimmer. Filled with a rare mix of slowly-digested fiber, healthy fats and protein, this smart spread helps you stay full between meals so you eat less overall. Don’t just save it for sandwiches. Spread a tablespoon or two on a spouted grain English muffin for breakfast or use it as a dip for pre-cut veggies at snack time.
4. Oatmeal – When it comes to lowering your cholesterol, the foods you eat are as important as the ones you avoid. That’s where oatmeal comes in. It’s packed with beta-glucan, a kind of fiber that naturally lowers your cholesterol (barley is a top source too). But that’s not all. Oats are also the only food that contains avenanthramides, unique antioxidants that promote heart health.
5. Canned tomatoes – Fresh may sound best, but when it comes to tomatoes cooking them ups their nutrition IQ even more. That’s because tomatoes are rich in trans-lycopene and antioxidants, which increased as much as 171% and 62% respectively with cooking. Since canned tomatoes can be high in salt, seek out unsalted varieties.
6. Canned beans – Beans are another must have-in when you’re walking through the canned veggie aisle. Like oats and barley, they help lower cholesterol. Plus, they’re inexpensive and are a breeze to add to meatless meals like tacos, chili, pasta and salads. Concerned about salt? Draining and rinsing them can reduce their sodium content by 41%.
7. Popcorn – Who knew that air-popped popcorn could be one of the world’s smartest snacks? Made from corn, it's actually a whole grain. Researchers at the University of Nebraska found that people who routinely munch on popcorn score an impressive 250% more whole grains and 22% more fiber than non-popcorn eaters, so dig in!
8. Whole-wheat couscous and quinoa - When you hardly have time to get dinner on the table, these whole grains are sheer genius. Ready in 15 minutes or less, they’re packed with fiber and are also surprising sources of protein with one serving dishing up as much protein as a large egg.
9. Dried herbs and spices – The spice section of your supermarket is like its own little health food store, overflowing with disease-busting ingredients. There’s cinnamon to lower blood sugar, turmeric to ward off dementia, and ginger to soothe a troubled tummy. And that’s just the short list. Health experts credit their abundant antioxidants with reducing inflammation linked to a wide range of herbs and spices
10. Frozen vegetables – Potentially the most underrated food on supermarket shelves, these frozen gems guarantee a serving of hot veggies in minutes. If you’re worried that they’re nutritionally inferior, you might be surprised to learn that frozen veggies are usually picked and flash frozen in the same day, locking in their nutrients. To keep yours as healthy as possible, buy them without added sauces that can pile on hidden fat and calories.
Before you hit the checkout line, don’t forget that what you drink matters too. For calorie free sipping, coffee is one of your best bets. A growing body of research finds that it’s the ultimate energy drink. In addition to improving focus and concentration, coffee has also been shown to protect against Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. is a nutrition consultant, journalist and author specializing in nutrition. She is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a contributing editor for Woman’s Day magazine. Her work has been published in magazines such as Cooking Light, EatingWell, Prevention, Fitness, Women’s Health, Woman’s Day and Oprah.