Grocery Shopping with a Nutritionist

How do you stave off aisles and aisles of temptation? Registered dietician Jennifer Neily has a few ideas.

On a recent trip to Kroger, I checked that I had everything I needed: wallet, phone, and registered dietician nutritionist Jennifer Neily, who was set to give me 411 on all things nutrition. I’d penned down my questions on everything from gluten to granola, expecting an afternoon full of “No, no, and no.” 

But what I found was a whole lot of “Sure, why not. Just remember…” A registered dietician nutritionist for almost twenty years, and now running at her own private practice, Neily On Nutrition, Jennifer Neily is amusing, knowledgeable, and most importantly, practical. 

She knows that Dallas people like to eat, and she is a-okay with that.  When I asked if there was one food we should never eat, Neily’s response was hilarious and shocking: “Two, actually,” she said. “Spoiled and rotten. No food is so bad that you should never ever eat it. Let’s live!” I thought she was kidding, but her comments in the aisles of Kroger told me otherwise.

Shopping High and Low
There’s that old rule that tells us to shop the perimeter of the store, but there’s a lot of good stuff in the aisles. “You just have to know what to shop for,” she told me. “You’re going to see beans, tuna, and some great canned food, but there will also be chips and candy.”

Neily’s first insider tip is that grocery stores, like Kroger rearrange to keep you in the store longer. “Where’s the milk?” she asked me. “Is it front and center?” As I shook my head, she explained that there is a method behind the layout that forces you to interact with the store. Also: stores keep the most profitable items at eye level — so look high and low on shelves.

Come Prepared

Shop with a list and don’t deter from it, Neily suggest. Leave three blank spaces at the bottom of your list for things that you hadn’t planned to buy. By limiting yourself to this number, you’ll save on money and temptation.“You’re going along and you’re like ‘Oh, look at this!’” she said as she held up a box of baked goods. “’It’s not on my list and I can’t have it.’ It’s a no-brainer.”

This strategy not only keeps you in budget, it keeps you in the right mindset to resist buying junk food just because it’s readily available. “Food is everywhere, you can’t get away from it. It’s at the checkout at Home Depot, and Jo-Anne Fabrics. And it’s not fruits and vegetables—it’s all the hyper-tasting salt, sugar, fat foods that are unfortunately engineered to make us want to eat more. The science behind manufactured foods is frightening. That’s why I really encourage a whole foods diet as much as possible.”

Here, Neily gives us the low down—and final word—on the most controversial foods in diet plans.

Alcohol
Word on the street is alcohol turns into fat. Wrong! “[Alcohol] gets metabolized before everything else, so it allows the ‘other stuff’ to be stored as fat.” But take caution: the recommended per-day alcohol intake is two for men, one for women. “And no, you can’t save them up for the weekend,” warns Neily. Red wine contains loads of phyto-nutrients, also found in—shocker—grapes! But recent research suggests all types of alcohol can give your body a boost. “But for people who don’t drink, I wouldn’t recommend starting.” Consistent drinking increases your risk of cancer, “so it’s a trade off,” says Neily.

Bread
You’re in the bread aisle (praise gluten) and you’re all sorts of confused. You contemplate three dark, seemingly healthy options: Wholesome Oat, Stoneground Whole Wheat, and Nine Grain. Which would you choose? The correct answer is Stoneground Whole Wheat. One serving of whole wheat bread (2 slices) can give you 6 grams of protein. That’s a pretty good amount; especially when you’re likely pair it with something else. But unless the words “whole” and “wheat” are side by side on the label, your bread is likely not a good source of protein, but it’s likely a fabulous source of calories. Repeat after me: multi-grain is no better than white bread. It is refined, refined, refined. 

Gluten
It’s not bad if you’re not intolerant, and sometimes gluten free products are “not nutritionally better [than the original products]. It’s still junk,” Neily says, holding up a box of knock off Oreos in the gluten free section. “I hate this. If you want a cookie, just eat a cookie.” In summary, a cookie is still a cookie even if it’s gluten free.

Red Meat
While you should aim for less than twelve ounces of red meat per week, a bit here and there can actually make a really healthy meal. So all of those health nuts substituting everything with ground turkey can swallow their (not so yummy) pride. “You can do better with a 90% lean beef cut than 85% ground turkey.” Neily once again lays down one simple rule: “The redder the better—because the white is fat.” The leanest cuts, loins, are pricier than the rest, but you’re getting more out of it than you would with a cheaper, fatty piece. For ground beef, look for at least 90% lean. Shoppers interested in the pre-packaged selections should opt for Neily-approved brands: Laura’s and Nolan Ryan. 

Pasta
It’s fine, but “it’s all about portion.” Neily suggests fixing a primavera type dish, where vegetables are the main focus and the pasta is secondary.  

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