That’s because your list should primarily consist of whole foods, rather than ones that come pre-packaged in a box. But sometimes even the healthiest options come with complex labels, so to make things easier, we talked to Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition, for his take on what you should pick up when you’re not sure what to throw in your cart.
Remember, these are just suggestions, so use this guide as a template. Stick to the type (and amount) of food you’ll actually eat and need. That means if you hate spinach, choose another leafy green you like instead. If you live alone, stock up on enough food to get you through the week to minimise the risk of fresh produce going bad. (For a more in-depth nutrition plan designed to burn fat and build muscle, check out the Metashred Diet from Men's Health.)
That said, if you always find yourself wandering down the chip aisle, keep this healthy grocery list handy next time you go on a food run.
Protein is essential. It helps you build and maintain hard muscle. St. Pierre suggests stocking up with a wide variety of foods, so you don't get sick of eating the same thing. You should strive for about 30 grams of protein at each meal.
FISH: Salmon, rainbow trout, and Atlantic mackerel are probably the best choices because they’re low in mercury, but are still high in omega-3 fats, which can help lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Mussels, oysters, scallops, and shrimp are also lean, rich in protein, and a nice way to switch things up.
CHICKEN & TURKEY: Chicken and turkey breast are fantastic, since they are both super lean. Of course, chicken and turkey thighs can also be worked in, since they can be cheaper and provide more flavour.
EGGS: These guys are a nutrient powerhouse, providing an array of vitamins and minerals in addition to their high-quality protein (about 6 grams per egg). Don’t ditch the yolk, either. They’ve got omega-3s, vitamin D, vitamin B12, choline (to power your brain), and selenium (to boost your immune system).
MILK: Milk, and dairy in general, provides a convenient source of high-quality protein along with a nice dose of calcium and potassium.
When it comes to vegetables, the goal is to “eat the rainbow,” St. Pierre says. The disease-fighting benefits of vegetables stem from their concentration of phytonutrients, the chemicals that give them their array of colours. Aim for at least three servings per day, ideally more.
LEAFY GREENS: Salads are a great way to eat lots of vegetables at once, but you need a go-to base. You can't really go wrong with dark leafy greens, but spinach, romaine, and kale are all great options. Toss them into your pasta, omelettes, and smoothies, too.
PEPPERS: Red, orange, and yellow peppers are not only bursting with flavour, they also offer tons of vitamin C, which helps keep your immune system, heart, and skin healthy.
BROCCOLI OR CAULIFLOWER: These cruciferous vegetables are an easy way to bulk up a meal with vegetables. Roast 'em up and eat them with your steak and potatoes, toss them in a salad, or chop them up and sauté into your pasta sauce. Bonus: Research shows that people who eat more cruciferous vegetables have a lower risk of prostate, lung, and colon cancer, says the National Cancer Institute.
CARROTS: Thanks to their amount of beta carotene (the pigment that gives carrots their bright hue), carrots work to protect your brain. Their high dose of vitamin A is great for your eyes and skin, too.
MUSHROOMS: You either love mushrooms or you aren’t making them the right way. Give them a go, one study found that mushrooms are unusually high in antioxidants that help your body fight aging. Shiitake, Oyster, and Miatke tend to contain the highest amounts, but eating just five button mushrooms a day can be beneficial, too.
RED OR WHITE ONIONS: Everything tastes more flavourful with a little onion thrown in. Onions are also a great source of vitamins C and B6, fibre, potassium, and manganese.
LEGUMES: Legumes are rich in fiber, protein, and a ton of other vitamins and minerals, says St. Pierre. Plus, they help fill you up. So look for your favorite: Edamame, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils are all great options.
Fruits are just as important as vegetables, and you probably don’t eat enough of them. They’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which all work together to keep your body humming along at its best. (And yep, filling up on certain fruits can even help your penis perform.)
BERRIES: While St. Pierre says there is no “best” fruit for you, berries, particularly dark-colored ones, might be the most beneficial, due to the antioxidants they pack. Your best bet is to simply choose your favorites, while making sure they’re a variety of colors.
AVOCADOS: America’s favourite toast topper is actually a great source of healthy fat and fibre, according to St. Pierre. Not only do avocados keep you feeling fuller longer, but they also contain electrolytes like potassium, making guac a great post-workout snack.
TOMATOES: Lycopene, the chemical that gives tomatoes their colour, protects your prostate and keeps your skin looking young. This applies to any form this fruit takes—sauce, paste, even ketchup (sans too much added sugar).
BANANAS: These guys contain vitamin B6, which helps reduce stress, insomnia, and fatigue; magnesium, which helps strengthen your bones; and potassium, which lowers your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. They’re great to have on hand for quick breakfast add-ons and snacks.
OATS: Eating just three servings a day, or 90 grams, can reduce your risk of heart disease by 22 percent and slash your risk of dying prematurely by 17 percent. Oats have fiber, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin E that all help keep your gut in check and keep you fuller longer.
QUINOA: Half a cup of this grain contains 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fibre. Plus, it adds a unique nutty flavour to your meal.
BROWN OR WILD RICE: Rice is a staple. It’s easy to make and prep ahead of time, so your meals are never lacking quality carbs.
WHOLE GRAIN BREAD: Whole grain bread helps keep you full and is great to keep in your pantry for quick breakfasts and lunches. Just make sure the bread you buy says “100 percent whole grain” on the label.
Feeling hungry in between meals? Ditch the candy stash in your desk drawer in favor of snacks that fuel your body. Here’s what St. Pierre recommends.
DARK CHOCOLATE: Sweet tooth? Research has shown that the antioxidants found in dark chocolate may benefit your heart. Just stick to a 1-ounce serving that says at least 70 percent cocoa on the package.
NUTS & NUT BUTTERS: Almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, and peanuts are all fantastic sources of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, according to St. Pierre. They also tend to be rather filling, he says, and will help you eat less at subsequent meals.
HUMMUS: Pair this delicious dip with your favorite vegetables like carrots or bell peppers and reap its benefits. According to research from Louisiana State University, “people who snack on hummus have a 53 percent lesser chance of being obese and are 51 percent less likely to have high blood sugar than non-hummus eaters.”
YOGURT: The probiotics and enzymes found in yogurt are good for your digestive system. Look for ones that contain live and active cultures, and go easy on the added sugar.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health