As a registered dietitian and wellness coach I spend a lot of time in grocery stores. So much so, that I head to the grocery store on average 4-5 times per week. No, I am not personally shopping that often. Most of the time I am walking the aisles with clients, helping them navigates the labyrinth of labels and lures that lurk on market shelves. I know firsthand how confusing and overwhelming a trip to the supermarket can be, especially if you're determined to fill your cart with healthy options.

Fortunately, my time in local grocery stores is well loved and well spent. My clients leave our sessions empowered and I leave armed with an arsenal of tips, tricks and top picks that I can now share with all of you.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to go store to store to share a few morsels and musings that will hopefully provide you with tools that enable you to shop smarter, for your health and your wallet.

First, an introduction into my "healthy" shopping philosophy...

While the term "healthy" may be defined differently by everyone, I choose to focus my intention on filling with cart with whole, nutrient dense foods. I am constantly looking for ways to decrease the number of packaged and processed foods that I purchase, but let's be clear, perfection does not exist and purchasing packaged foods can be really convenient. Life is busy. We all need a few shortcuts.

That being said, I do my best to ensure that the packaged foods I purchase are as nourishing as possible. I try to ignore the front of the package, also known as advertising, and instead I head straight for the ingredient list. Then, I ask myself the following three questions which instantly weeds out a good amount of the crap.

  1. What does the label actually mean? If you are compelled to read the front of package, do so with an educated approach. Many labels like "organic, "gluten-free" and "whole grain" carry with them a health halo that is not always as it seems. For example, an organic, gluten free cookie can still be loaded with calories sugar, inflammatory fats, additives and preservatives.
  2. Which ingredients would I use to make this food product at home? For example, if I were to make peanut butter I would use peanuts and sea salt. Those are the only two ingredients on the packaged version I purchase. This question also comes in handy when you in the case of added oils. If I made a salad dressing at home I would always use extra virgin olive oil which is rich in anti-inflammatory fats and highly protective against disease. Yet, you'll be challenged to find a shelf-stable dressing made with olive oil. Instead, soybean oil, and inexpensive and inflammatory oil, is used, even in organic varieties. A nod to the fact that organic doesn't equal healthy.
  3. Can I buy all of the ingredients in the grocery store? While ingredients like sugar can still make the cut, this question helps to increase the likelihood that a product contains mostly whole food ingredients and less desirable chemicals, additives and preservatives won't wind up in your cart.

First up in our series is Trader Joe's. Check back tomorrow, Wednesday, August 3, on Philly.com/GoalGetter for the first installment.

Katie Cavuto MS, RD, is a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian and wellness advocate. Katie appears in regular nutrition and cooking segments on local and national TV.  Her writing and recipes have been showcased nationally in O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle and more. Katie is the dietitian for the Philadelphia Flyers and Phillies and was awarded Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Philly" in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Her first cookbook is being published by the American Diabetes Association in late summer of 2016. For recipes and wellness tips visit her blog nourishbreathethrive.com.