You’ve probably heard the tip that if you want to buy healthy foods at the grocery store, you should stick to the perimeter of the store as much as possible. It makes sense in its own way. Most grocery stores keep the fresher foods on the perimeter, and fresher foods generally tend to be better for you.

Think about it – your fresh vegetables, lean meats and dairy products almost always are located on the outer rim of the store. The middle aisles, on the other hand, are where temptation lies for many of us. This is where chips, cookies and other treats live, and they can threaten our healthy eating goals practically at first sight. All of this helps to explain why the “stick to the perimeter” tip gained so much traction — it’s a simple way to both think and shop healthier.

Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says if you always “stick to the perimeter,” you actually may be missing out on some healthy options hiding in the middle of the store.

“Sticking to the perimeter can be a great place to start, but some of the best pantry staples are hidden in the middle aisles of the store,” Tillman said. “For instance, dried and/or canned beans typically are stocked on a middle aisle. These, of course, can be great sources of protein. They also are high in fiber and are great sources of B vitamins. Similarly, the middle aisles also are home to nuts and nut butters. While these can be considered snack foods, they also are good, quick sources of protein and healthy fat, and can even count as ingredients in other foods and dishes.”

One of the key locations that breaks the “stick to the perimeter” rule is the frozen food aisles.

“There are plenty of not-so-great foods to be found in the frozen foods section, but that’s also where you can find lots of frozen fruits and vegetables,” Tillman said. “These sometimes are better for you than canned vegetables and fruits because the freezing process maintains peak nutrients. It also helps you avoid the added sodium some fruits and veggies get when they’re canned, plus they tend to not go bad as quickly as fresh fruits and vegetables.”

And while you’re searching the middle aisles, Tillman says you shouldn’t forget to explore the seasonings and spices section.

“Dried herbs and spices are great because they help you increase the flavor of your foods without adding any extra salt or fat,” the registered dietitian explained. “They also can contain a variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which have added health benefits, as well. And while you’re in the area, don’t forget to look into vinegars and healthy oils. Vinegars also can add a variety of flavors to your meals without adding salt or fat. Healthy oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil, can provide heart health benefits when you roast, grill or sauté with them, and also can be used in other thing such as dressings and dips.”

“Ultimately, the goal is to explore and not limit yourself,” Tillman said. “Remember, some of the best pantry staples come from those middle aisles.”

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