Sticking to the outskirts of the grocery store may be the name of the game—until you need certain staples that are integral to a healthy diet. Avoiding the aisles like the plague is a health myth that's unsustainable for a number of reasons—it's not only expensive, but it may be deterring you from a well-balanced diet.
"There is a lot of nutrition and convenience foods in the middle of the grocery store. And I don't mean convenience in a bad way—I mean foods that will save you time and help you get dinner on the table and still have health benefits (thank you pasta and marinara sauce)," says Registered Dietitian and EatingWell Digital Nutrition Editor, Lisa Valente. "There are so many satisfying foods that you would miss out on if you only shopped the perimeter."
Of course, the middle aisles do come with their drawbacks. There are some foods that are high in sodium, packed with added sugars and lacking nutrition. You may need to read a few labels to find the healthiest options—but we've done the scoping for you! Here are five middle-aisle foods you should scoop up on your next trip to the grocery store.
The USDA suggests eating at least 6 servings of grains a day (half of which should come from whole grains). Opposed to refined grains, whole grains are more nutrient dense with fiber and micronutrients that do wonders for your health. Additionally, the fiber content will prevent blood sugar spikes that have you hungry a few hours after your meal.
If you're no stranger to whole-grains, but want some options outside of oatmeal bowls, there is a whole (pun intended) world of delicious grains to choose from. From polenta to popcorn, getting your grains doesn't have to be boring. You'll find whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, quinoa, farro, brown rice, wild rice and more all in the middle aisles.
Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker Southwestern Bean Soup
From kidney beans to lentils, legumes have health benefits you don't want to miss out on. Aside from being nutrient dense—they are filled with fiber, protein, and B vitamins—legumes are a key component to a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are known for lowering the risk of certain chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, so this middle-aisle purchase is not something to feel guilty about. Go ahead and mix some Double-Tahini Hummus into your salad or make these Cauliflower & Black Bean Tacos for Taco Tuesday!
Related: Top Vegetarian Protein Sources
We love a good cup of tea, but if we were sticking to the outskirts, we wouldn't be able to cool off with this wonderful Orange-Earl Grey Iced Tea—much to the dismay of our health. With antioxidants and polyphenols, tea may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Aside from that, drinking tea is a tasty way to stay hydrated. You can find all kinds of tea—from basic black tea to exotic herbal blends—in the tea aisle of your regular grocery store.
Related: Healthy Green Tea Recipes
Pictured recipe: Quick Turkey Meat Sauce
Although we prefer to buy fresh produce most of the time, there is a time and place for canned vegetables. We'll be the first to admit that it's much easier to get your favorite spaghetti on the table without having to boil, peel and puree fresh tomatoes. When making this delicious Spaghetti with Quick Meat Sauce, we opt for canned tomatoes to make our lives a *little* easier. As an added bonus, heating tomatoes during the canning process releases lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to reducing the risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease.
While canned tomatoes are our favorite canned veggie, we also think corn and artichokes come in handy. Worried about the nutritional content of canned veggies? Canning preserves a lot of the vitamins and minerals, so you won't miss out on nutrition when opting for convenience. Just be mindful to avoid cans high in sodium and added sugar. Another tip? Giving canned veggies a rinse helps lower the sodium.
Related: The Top 5 Canned Veggies, Ranked
You may be asking why not stick to the outside for fresh seafood, but canned seafood is definitely worth a mention.
"Canned seafood is a great option because it's more affordable and you can always keep some in your pantry for those nights where it seems like you don't have anything to eat," says Valente. "There are lots of sustainable options available too. Canned salmon and tuna can become easy dinners or lunches. Anchovies and sardines are two underrated super-healthy fish—they pack in lots of omega-3s and are very low in mercury," she adds.
And for those nights when you need dinner in a pinch, here are healthy canned salmon recipes that will make sure you get dinner on the table ASAP.
Most of us probably spend some time in the middle aisles when we shop in the grocer store. We hop this list helps you realize that there are plenty of healthy foods beyond the perimeter—from whole grains to legumes. And when cravings hit, there is nothing wrong with picking up a bag of dark chocolate covered almonds or tortilla chips while you're there (yum)!