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Last updated: Sep 02, 2021
9 min read

Grocery shopping for weight loss: 4 tips plus a sample list

Following a grocery list can help you choose foods that support your weight management plan. Grocery shopping for weight loss should focus on a variety of whole foods that meet your energy and nutrient needs and keep you full while in a calorie deficit. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (animal or plant), healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Do you go grocery shopping with a list, or do you prefer to live on the wild side? Well, it turns out that when grocery shopping for weight loss, research has shown that being a little less wild and bringing a shopping list can help you be more likely to meet your weight loss goals (Dubowitz, 2015; Au, 2013). 

Benefits of grocery shopping with a list

Anyone who’s tried dieting before knows it can sometimes be hard to stick to an eating plan. But a grocery list is a commitment to doing just that. It can help remove temptations that stray from your health and weight goals (Au, 2013). 

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Following a shopping list also helps with meal prepping, which is when you make some meals in advance. Meal prepping is another planning strategy that can help people shed pounds because it’s easier to avoid unhealthy temptations when you’ve already made your meal ahead of time (Hayes, 2021). 

Making a grocery list might seem like an extra step, but it’s an important one that helps you commit to your weight loss action plan—so go for it!

Quick tips for creating a healthy grocery list 

Creating a healthy grocery list doesn’t have to be complicated. By following a few quick tips, you can create a well-rounded grocery list that helps you reach your weight loss goals.

Choose fresh and frozen foods

You might be surprised to hear this, but fresh produce isn’t more healthy than frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables retain their vitamin and mineral content (Li, 2017). Having frozen vegetables and protein sources like chicken breasts or fish stashed in your freezer can make it easy to have healthy options on hand at all times. 

Steer clear from frozen foods that come pre-seasoned or with packets of sauce or butter, like pre-made frozen dinners, as these foods often have a lot of sodium (aka salt) and other ingredients that can thwart your weight loss plan.

Shop all aisles of the store

Some people suggest sticking to the outer aisles of your grocery store, but this isn’t always the best approach. While fresh produce, milk/dairy alternatives, eggs, meat, and seafood typically line the outer aisles of grocery stores, the inner aisles of grocery stores offer healthy dry goods like canned beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

Read the nutrition label

Always read the nutrition facts panel when buying a packaged product. There’s now an “added sugar” line to help you easily decipher how much sugar isn’t naturally found in that food. Yogurt, cereal, granola, and salad dressings often have more added sugar than you might think, pumping extra calories into your diet. Also, keep an eye out for sodium, especially when purchasing frozen foods and canned foods.

Focus on variety, quality, and balance

Variety means there should be more than green leafy vegetables on your grocery list. Quality means selecting whole, minimally processed foods. Balance means choosing foods that meet your body’s nutrient needs for carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. 

Sample: weight loss grocery list

Here are some of the best foods (and their serving sizes) to choose when grocery shopping for weight loss:

Fruits and vegetables 

  • Broccoli (1 cup, raw or cooked) 
  • Spinach or kale (2 cups raw, 1 cup cooked) 
  • Brussels sprouts (1 cup raw or cooked)
  • Beets (½ cup cooked, 1 cup uncooked, or 1 small beet)
  • Bell peppers (1 cup chopped raw or cooked)
  • Mushrooms (1 cup cooked, ½ cup uncooked)
  • Berries—raspberries, blueberries, blackberries (1 cup)
  • Grapefruit (½ of fruit)
  • Apples (1 small apple)
  • Mango ( 1 cup) 

Fruits and vegetables are the basis of just about all healthy eating styles, especially when weight loss is the goal. They are high in fiber, rich in vitamins, minerals, and other healthy plant compounds (called phytochemicals), and low in total calories. 

Research shows that eating more than four servings of vegetables a day reduces the chance of weight gain (Nour, 2018). Eating plenty of produce is also linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke (Boeing, 2012). And, eating more fruits and vegetables may even interact with your genes. Some people are genetically more likely to carry more weight or gain weight. Eating various fruits and veggies (especially berries, leafy greens, and citrus) may lessen long-term weight gain in people who have that genetic tendency (Wang, 2019). 

Aim to eat five to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables—and remember, these can be fresh or frozen. 

Animal proteins

  • Beef—round, sirloin, or tenderloin cuts (3-4 ounces)
  • White meat chicken or turkey (skinless) (3-4 ounces)
  • Salmon (3-4 ounces)
  • Halibut (3-6 ounces)
  • Trout (3-6 ounces)
  • Shrimp (3 ounces) 
  • Eggs (1 egg) 
  • Yogurt (1 cup or one 5.3-ounce individual container) 

*ounces are referring to cooked weight

Every healthy grocery shopping list should have plenty of choices for lean protein. Protein helps you feel fuller for longer while maintaining a calorie deficit (Westerterp-Plantenga, 2012). A slightly higher protein diet of at least 25-30 grams of protein for each meal has been shown to help manage appetite, weight, and heart disease risk factors (Leidy, 2015). The leaner cuts of animal-based proteins listed above pack in three to six grams of protein per ounce without many calories. 

Plant-based proteins

  • Tofu (3 ounces or ¾ cup)
  • Tempeh (3 ounces)
  • Hummus (¼ cup)
  • Peas (½ cup) 
  • Lentils (½ cup cooked)
  • Legumes—black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans (½ cup cooked or canned)

Many plant-based proteins are lower in calories and the undesirable fats commonly found in fatty animal products. These proteins also contain complex carbohydrates and healthy fats (more information on those below). 

One 16-week study showed that participants following a vegan diet (no animal products) emphasizing plant proteins had significant improvements in body weight and fat mass compared to a diet that contained animal proteins (Kahleova, 2018). Plant-based diets also promote heart health, making them a great addition to just about anyone’s diet (Kim, 2019). 

Complex carbohydrates

  • Whole grain bread, thin sliced (1 slice)
  • Brown rice (½ cup cooked)
  • Oats (½ cup cooked) 
  • Quinoa (½ cup cooked)
  • Barley (½ cup cooked)
  • Whole wheat or lentil pasta (½ cup cooked) 
  • Sweet potato (½ cup, or ½ of a small potato)
  • Butternut squash (1 cup cooked)
  • Spaghetti squash (1 cup cooked)
  • Legumes—black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans (½ cup cooked or canned) 
  • Lentils (½ cup cooked)

Carbohydrates don’t always have the best reputation for weight loss, but carbohydrates are full of fiber, B vitamins, and iron; and should be included in a healthy weight loss shopping list.

But, the type and quality of carbohydrates matter a lot. Simple carbohydrates (think foods with added sugars) are broken down by the body quickly, causing sharp increases in blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates, which are considered higher quality and contain more fiber, require more work for the body to break down—preventing sharp spikes or crashes of blood sugar. 

Research also shows that people who eat higher-quality carbs tend to have a lower rate of overweight or obesity (Santiago, 2015). Not only that, the fiber that comes with high-quality carbs can help promote weight loss (Miketinas, 2019; Jovanovski, 2020). 

Dietary fats

  • Avocado (⅓ of a medium avocado)
  • Olive oil (2 tablespoons)
  • Walnuts (¼ cup)
  • Pistachios (¼ cup)
  • Almonds (¼ cup)
  • Pumpkin seeds (¼ cup)
  • Nut/seed butter (2 tablespoons)

The type of fat you eat is important for weight loss and overall health. Diets high in saturated fat—the fat mainly found in animal products—and high in fats found in fried or processed food are associated with weight gain, obesity, and chronic disease (Phillips, 2012). Whereas unsaturated fats—like those found in fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds—are protective against weight gain and heart disease (Gillingham, 2011). 

Seasonings

  • Mustard
  • Cumin
  • Ground turmeric
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Low sodium soy sauce

Don’t forget the flavor! Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland. Herbs, spices, mustards, and sauces can elevate the taste of meals without adding many calories. Cumin, turmeric, and cayenne also have studies supporting their use in weight loss or calorie intake (Akbari, 2019; Westerterp-Plantenga, 2005; Zare, 2014). 

Sprucing up your meals and snacks with healthy flavor can help you stick to and love the healthy foods on your shopping list!

Going grocery shopping for weight loss

After you have your list ready, it’s finally time to go shopping. Here’s your mission: stay true to the list you created for your weight loss goals. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get a spot in your cart. 

You can further eliminate in-store temptations by grocery shopping online. It’s now easier than ever to get groceries delivered right to your front door or brought to your car for a curbside pick-up.

Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to develop sustainable strategies to keep you on track—and writing and committing to a healthy grocery list is a great place to start. So grab a pen or your phone and start writing this week’s list today!

References

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