You’ve probably heard this advice before: When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
In general, it’s good advice. The outer aisles are where you find fresh produce and lean proteins, for example. And the inner aisles include candy, chips and other processed junk. But not everything on the perimeter is good for you (seriously, don’t try to live on an all-bacon diet) and not everything in the middle aisles is a diet disaster (brown rice, anyone?).
Next time you head for the store, don’t forget these middle-aisle staples.
1. Dried or canned beans
When it comes to “superfoods,” few beat the likes of these legumes. You’ll find beans of all kinds — black, pinto, chickpeas, red kidney, lima, lentils, you name it — in the middle aisle in dried and canned forms. Beans are a great source of protein, fiber and B vitamins. They’re versatile for cooking. And contrary to popular belief, canning foods does not always sap their nutritional content. Canning can make beans easier to digest and even increase the protein and fiber content.
2. Frozen fruits and vegetables
Think fresh is the only way to go for produce? Think again. When fruits and vegetables are frozen at peak ripeness, they maintain their vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits. The frozen produce aisle may be the most important middle aisle of all. Stick with plain options rather than those with sauces, which usually come with added sodium and sugar.
3. Dried herbs and spices
Want to spruce up your cooking without adding fat or sodium? Search for dried herbs and spices. On top of flavor, many sprinkle on health benefits, such as the protective antioxidants found in mint and thyme. And although further studies are needed, researchers tout turmeric (found alone or in curry powder) for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and rosemary and oregano have shown potential for helping manage diabetes.
4. Vegetable oils
Vegetable oils come in handy for sautéing, roasting, grilling and baking. You also can use them in salad dressings and dips such as hummus. Olive oil is an essential component of the Mediterranean diet, proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. And studies have associated canola oil with lowering bad cholesterol and offering a protective effect for people with diabetes.
5. Whole grains
Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains can decrease your risk of chronic diseases such as stroke, type II diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But with so many options available, what should you look for? Choose 100 percent whole grain bread, brown or wild rice, quinoa, plain steel-cut oatmeal (no sugar added), whole farro and spelt. And if you’re craving pasta, eat in moderation and choose 100 percent whole grain options. The “100 percent” really matters.
6. Nuts and nut butters
Want a quick snack option that isn’t greasy chips? Stock your pantry with walnuts, peanuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, pine nuts and pistachios. Be mindful of portion sizes, since nuts are high in fat and calories. But nuts are also packed with unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Nut consumption is associated with decreased risk of death from cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. Nut butters can add variety to your diet, too, and they’re great on fruits and vegetables — not just sandwiches. Just skip the sugary stuff, and look for one ingredient: the nut of your choice.