Shopping tips during Covid-19

Going to the supermarket can feel like a challenge when you’re trying to make healthier choices. Here are some things to look out for when you’re shopping. We have some tips to help you plan you’re shopping and how to make best use of the food that you buy. Whether you are shopping for yourself or getting your shopping delivered, it is essential to try to make healthier choices.

1. Fresh Foods 

Use up your fresh ingredients first. You don’t want any food to go to waste, so use up perishable ingredients before foods with a longer shelf life. Know what keeps the longest. Fresh foods with relatively long shelf-life include root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions.

2. Starchy carbohydrates

Choose higher fibre or whole grain varieties, such as quinoa, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or potatoes with their skins on.

3. Buy lots of fruit and veg

They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and fibre and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day. You could swap your mid-morning biscuit for a handful of berries, and add a side salad to your lunch.

4. Easy cook meals

If you do get sick, it is worth having a few foods that are easy to cook and prepare in the house on standby. Canned soups, microwavable rice and frozen ready meals are easy options that you can keep in stock in reasonable quantities. But remember, even healthier ready meals may be higher in fat and energy than the homemade equivalent. And if you make the meal yourself, you could also save money.

5. Easy cook foods

It is worth having a few foods in the house that are easy to cook and prepare. Canned soups, microwavable and frozen ready-made meals with protein foods are an easy option and can be handy.

6. Buy more fish, including a portion of oily fish 

Fish is a good source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, including at least 1 portion of oily fish. Oily fish are high in omega-3 fats, which may help prevent heart disease, and includes salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. You can choose from fresh, frozen and canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt.

7. Buy fewer processed foods and cut down on saturated fat

It can be easy to stockpile convenience foods as they have a long shelf life but they can be high in saturated fats. Try to cut down on your saturated fat intake and choose foods that contain unsaturated fats instead, such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish and avocados.

8. Saturated fat is found in many foods

  • fatty cuts of meat
  • sausages
  • cakes and biscuits
  • pies

For healthier choices, use a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, or reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee and when you're having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat. All types of fat are high in energy, so they should only be eaten in small amounts.

9. Avoid buying high sugar foods

Free sugars are any sugars added to foods or drinks or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies. These foods can cause a spike in your blood glucose levels and should be replaced with fruits and milk-based products. Many packaged foods and drinks contain surprisingly high amounts of free sugars.

Free sugars are found in:

  • sugary fizzy drinks
  • sugary breakfast cereals
  • cakes and biscuits
  • pastries and puddings
  • sweets and chocolate

10. Beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat

These foods are all good sources of protein which is essential for the body to grow and repair itself, whilst also providing a range of vitamins and minerals. When shopping, choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat and try to buy less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages.

Pulses, including beans, peas and lentils, are naturally very low in fat and high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Nuts are high in fibre, and unsalted nuts make a good snack. But they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.

11. Diabetic products are not recommended 

Diabetic products have no health benefits, can be just as high in calories and fat, are more expensive, have a laxative effect and can still impact on blood glucose levels. They are no substitute for eating a healthy balanced diet.

12. Read nutrition labels

Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging that can help you choose between products and keep a check on the number of foods you're eating that are high in fat, salt and added sugars. These labels include information on energy (kcal), fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt and may also provide additional information on certain nutrients, such as fibre. All nutrition information is provided per 100g and sometimes per portion but be aware that the manufacturer's idea of a portion may be different from yours.

13. Reference intakes

Nutrition labels can also provide information on how a particular food or drink product fits into your daily recommended diet. Reference intakes are guidelines for the approximate amount of particular nutrients and energy required for a healthy diet.

Red, amber and green colour coding

Food label showing red, amber and green colour coding

Some front-of-pack nutrition labels use red, amber and green colour coding. Colour-coded nutritional information tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt:

Red means high: any red on the label means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars, and these are the foods you should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.

Amber means medium: amber means neither high nor low so you can eat foods with all or mostly ambers on the label most of the time.

Green means low: the more green on the label, the healthier the choice.

When you're choosing between similar products, try to go for more greens and ambers, and fewer reds, if you want to make healthier choices.

We are inviting people with diabetes and those at risk of type 2 to sign up for the Know Diabetes service