“I knew it was sugary, but 16 GRAMS OF SUGAR? In one serving??? I couldn’t believe it.”
The more I’ve learned about nutrition, the more appalled I’ve become with the food industry. Nowadays, people are much more health conscious than they used to be. Because of that, you’d think there’d be fewer harmful ingredients in processed foods, or even less processed foods overall.
But just walk into a grocery store and you’ll see that’s not the case. There are tons of processed foods out there. And despite researchers, doctors, and registered dietitians telling us to eat more whole, natural foods, we tend to keep buying these man-made products.
Why? Well that’s an easy one.
Because it’s easier. They’re super convenient, they tastes good, and why not? More stringent laws are put on food companies nowadays, right? They have to list ingredients and the nutrient breakdown on the nutrition label. They even conveniently label packages as “low fat” and “low sodium” and “high fiber.”
Unfortunately, food companies are also businesses. They want their foods to taste good so people will continue to buy them. What often happens is if a food is labeled “low sodium,” it may have more of another unhealthy (yet tasty) ingredient, such as sugar. So be careful when opting for these items.
And while companies are now forced to be more transparent about their ingredients, they continue to put the same old things into their food. High sugar, high salt, and high fat food products still flood the supermarkets.
I’m absolutely not saying that all processed or packaged foods are bad. Some actually have incredible ingredients. But many do not.
So there are tons of foods I avoid for this reason. When preparing for the week, I refuse to put these foods on my healthy grocery list. And if I ever do, it’s for special occasions only.
Because I don’t want to regularly put junk into my body, and neither should you. Not if you want to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.
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So here you have it.
The 12 food items I refuse to buy at the grocery store every week
1. Overly processed nut butter
Nut butters are a number one culprit. They have gotten so out of hand. Not sure what I’m talking about? If you have a jar of Jif or Skippy, take a peek at the nutrition label. In addition to peanuts, you’ll also see salt, various oils, and some type of sugary sweetener such as molasses.
Fun fact: nut butters can be made at home by simply blending the nuts themselves. While blending, nuts release the oils that make nut butters so creamy. Additional oils and other additives are simply not needed.
My advice: look for a natural brand where the only ingredient is nuts, such as this Trader Joe’s brand.
2. Sweetened nut milks
Nut milks also can have tons of additives. While it can be tempting to get vanilla almond milk, I opt for the brands’ originals that are unsweetened and unflavored. You still get the sweet nuttiness, just without the sugar rush.
Side note: probably the only time I’d opt for flavored almond milks is if I made my own lattes at home. Adding a sweetened milk will still be a better option than a sugary coffee creamer.
3. Fruit juice
Growing up, I drank a decent amount of fruit juices. I never really liked water, so it was the best option to keep a picky child hydrated. Now that I’m older I’ve tried to create some healthier habits, including my beverage choices. I usually only drink water and herbal teas every day for hydration. And coffee, of course (otherwise it’d be Content With Water)!
The amount of sugar in fruit juice is ridiculous. Best to walk on by in the grocery aisle!
Why am I hating on sugar so much? Read the answer in Why is Sugar Bad for You?
4. Non-organic strawberries
Now this one obviously isn’t a man-made food, but I wanted to throw this out there. I no longer buy certain foods that aren’t organic because of the inability to remove pesticides and other harmful chemicals prior to eating. The foods I mostly worry about are things like strawberries (top of the dirty dozen!), apples, broccoli, and spinach – all things you don’t peel.
I was a skeptic for a long time about organic foods, thinking they were just a money trap. And while I still don’t buy organic everything, there are some foods I believe necessary to swap out. For more on what to buy organic, read this extremely helpful post by Rachael Devaux, a registered dietitian.
And if you’re trying to create a healthy grocery list while on a budget, check out my post Eating Healthy on a Budget for the best food staples to buy. They can create more room in your budget for those more necessary organic foods!
5. Fruit yogurt
Along with the fruit theme, fruit-flavored yogurts are probably one of the sneakiest sugar-bombs out there. I recently scooped up the last spoonful of an individually-portioned mango Greek yogurt – from Trader Joe’s, no less – and found my mouth falling open at the nutrition label. I knew it was sugary, but 16 GRAMS OF SUGAR? In one serving??? I couldn’t believe it.
So I’ve begun buying plain Greek yogurt and putting fresh fruit, nuts, granola, and even nut butter on top. It tastes amazing but has so much less sugar. My other hack is to mix together half a container of fruity yogurt with an equal portion of plain yogurt and eat it that way. Still sweet, but way healthier.
6. Sugary cereals and flavored oatmeal
Cereal brands drive me crazy nowadays. While I love making my own granola, I don’t always have time. So instead I look for a healthy, natural option in-stores.
IT’S SO HARD TO FIND. Even nutty, cereals that boast loads of protein can have half your day’s worth of added sugars. After scouring the stores, I’m currently happy with a Trader Joe’s cereal I found that only has 6 grams of sugar per serving.
Take a look at your cereal’s nutrition label and try to find one with as little sugar as possible. 10 grams is getting up there – personally, I wouldn’t buy it.
Healthy tip: if your cereal is pretty sugary, try replacing half of your morning bowl with cheerios and sprinkling some nuts in. Less sugar and more healthy fat/protein will keep you fuller for longer without a mid-morning crash.
The same reasoning goes for flavored oatmeal. I refuse to buy individual portions of oatmeal that are brown sugar or apple flavored. Instead, I buy big tubs of plain oats, preferably not the quick cooking because those are more processed. Go for the whole oats or steel cut, if you have time to prepare them. But either way, opt for non-flavored and add your own fruits and spices to them. Quaker oats old fashioned oatmeal is a great option!
7. Salad dressing
Okay, I still occasionally buy salad dressing. But more often than not, I make my own. That’s because salad dressing is filled with tons of oils, salt, sugar, and preservatives.
My favorite homemade salad dressing is a mix of lemon juice, olive oil, dried oregano, dried basil, onion powder, garlic powder, and a tiny pinch of salt. SO. GOOD. I kid you not. Try it.
8. Pre-sauced veggies
But I’m still eating vegetables so it’s healthy, right? Wrong! If your veggies come in a calorie-laden, salted, creamy sauce, it will negate the wonderful fact that you’re eating vegetables. Your best bet: buy non-saucy veggies and add spices to them as needed for a much healthier option.
9. Packaged meals
Whether fresh or frozen, beware pre-made, packaged meals. If you didn’t prepare it yourself, it’ll likely have unhealthy ingredients added for taste so you can’t help but buy it again and again. Meal prepping at home may be a better option for you. Plan a healthy grocery list full of natural ingredients before hitting the store.
10. Packaged seasonings
I never buy packaged seasonings. For example, rather than buying taco seasoning I’ll simply add a mix of cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper to my cooking. Adjust the amounts as needed and you have a much cheaper, much healthier seasoning option.
Unless I make a light soup, bread is never on my healthy grocery list. The only bread I currently have in my home is sliced Ezekiel bread, stuffed into my freezer for the rare occasion I have toast with eggs or avocado. The carbohydrates are simply not needed and there are way more nutrient-dense carb options such as brown rice and sweet potatoes.
12. Binge-y desserts
By this I mean a carton of ice cream or a package of cookies. These are the foods that are near-impossible to resist, especially if located in your own home. Instead, I may buy a small, portioned package of dark chocolate covered almonds or one small Toblerone in the checkout line.
I’m human. I have a wicked sweet tooth. But I know that if I have a big portion of sweets in my home, I will eat it. And I’ll have trouble stopping.
So save yourself the struggle and just don’t buy them! For more tips like this, read my post Late Night Snacking: Why we do it and how to stop.
With all these tricky foods out there, it’s way harder than you think to maintain an actually healthy grocery list. I hope this list of foods to avoid helps you eliminate some of the unhealthy culprits in your diet.
Share your grocery shopping experience! Are there any foods you refuse to buy at the grocery store? I’d love to hear in the comments below!