Make a Heart-Healthy Shopping List

A little planning can mean a lot of improvements in your pantry

A Veteran and spouse grocery shoppingEach year, about 800,000 people die from heart disease. You have the power to reduce your risk of developing heart problems, and it starts in the kitchen. To eat for better heart health, you need a fridge and pantry stocked with heart-healthy foods. Fruits, vegetables, and fish or chicken are obvious places to begin. After that, the supermarket aisles get a little more confusing and challenging.

Plan ahead

Preparing your grocery list ahead of time can keep you from making impulse food choices, which often aren't healthy. With a little planning, you can make a healthy choice the easy choice. Try creating a 7-day meal plan using the current items in your kitchen. Supplement your meal with heart-healthy foods from the grocery store that you may be missing. Involve your family and friends in meal planning and have ethnic meals (i.e. Mexican night) to increase variety.

  • Check your kitchen to figure out what items you may already have.

  • Shop mostly from the outer aisles of the grocery store to avoid processed food options.

  • Limit processed foods. They remove many of the most healthful components in whole grains, such as dietary fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and fatty acids.

Organize your list

Separating your grocery shopping list by category is a great way to save time and simplify your shopping trips. You can organize your list by food category or how your favorite grocery store is laid out. Breaking it into sections helps you shop more efficiently and minimizes the chances of impulse buying. This type of list will keep you on task and focused on the items you need, rather than distracted by unhealthy foods on the grocery shelves. Think about filling your grocery cart with:

  • ½ Non-Starchy Vegetables & Fruits

  • ¼ Lean Protein

  • ¼ Grain

If you aren't sure which foods to buy

Vegetables and fruits: Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. Buy vegetables and fruits that are fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.

  • Fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots

  • Leafy greens for salads, like Romaine lettuce, spinach, and kale

  • Canned vegetables that are low in sodium

  • Frozen vegetables without added butter or sauces, like broccoli or cauliflower

  • Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and peaches

  • Canned, frozen, or dried fruit without added sugars

Farmer's markets are great places to buy vegetables and fruits in season. Search for a market near you.

Dairy: Look for fat-free or low-fat options.

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk

  • Fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt

  • Fat-free or low-fat cheese

  • Fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese

  • Soymilk with added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D

Bread, cereals, and other grains: For products with more than one ingredient, make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is listed first in the ingredient list. Look for products that say 100% whole grain.

  • Whole-grain bread, bagels, English muffins, and tortillas

  • Whole-grain hot or cold breakfast cereals with no added sugar, like oatmeal or shredded wheat

  • Whole grains such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, or barley

  • Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta and couscous

Protein foods: Choose a variety of foods with protein.

  • Seafood: fish and shellfish

  • Poultry: chicken or turkey breast without skin, lean ground chicken or turkey (at least 93% lean)

  • Pork: leg, shoulder, or tenderloin

  • Beef: round, sirloin, tenderloin, or lean ground beef (at least 93% lean)

  • Beans and peas, like kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils

  • Eggs

  • Unsalted nuts and seeds

  • Nut butter, like almond or peanut butter

  • Tofu

Fats and oils: Cut back on saturated fat and look for products with no trans fats. Choose foods with unsaturated fats like seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils.

  • Margarine and spreads (soft, tub, or liquid) with no trans fats and less saturated fats

  • Vegetable oil (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, or sunflower)

  • Non-stick cooking spray

  • Lower-calorie mayonnaise

  • Oil-based salad dressings

Avoid coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils, which are all high in saturated fat.

Check food labels

Given the thousands of food labels claiming to boost heart health, it can be daunting to make the right choices at the grocery store. Try to remember to avoid foods that have high amounts of simple sugars, such as candy, soda, and baked desserts. High levels of sodium, which can be found in processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats are also a concern and should be avoided or limited. Sodium raises blood pressure, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. Adding herbs, spices, and other foods can help improve the flavor without salt.

By choosing fruits and vegetables over processed fatty foods, you will not only look better but feel better. A healthy heart doesn't require sacrificing everything delicious. It does mean a little planning before a trip to the grocery store.

Veterans registered on My HealtheVet can access the Track Health feature. This online tool enables them to record and track their diet choices and vitals as they improve their health.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Read More

Grocery Shopping/Making a List (PDF) (MOVE!)

Food and Drink for Whole Health (VA)

Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke (Veterans Health Library)

Heart Disease and Diet (MedlinePlus)

Updated April 5, 2021