When we’re making our weekly round at the grocery store, we often find ourselves debating if we should toss a certain item in the cart. Anyone else ever have trouble deciding between two seemingly identical brands of unsweetened vanilla almond milk? It’s moments like these when we wish we had a nutrition expert to accompany us up and down the aisles.

We asked Bright Bean Health founder, nutrition consultant, and natural chef Stefanie Adler to go shopping with us at Rainbow Grocery, one of our favorite stores in San Francisco. We enjoyed every second of perusing the shelves with Stefanie and listening to her rationale. Needless to say, we picked up plenty of tips and tricks as well as a few new kitchen staples.

Stick to the outskirts of the store

“I mostly keep to the perimeter of the grocery store, where whole foods like bulk seeds and grains, produce, dairy, eggs, and meat are located. I usually only wander into the packaged food aisles if I need things like olive oil, canned coconut milk, or quality dark chocolate.”

Mix up your microbiome

“The first thing I do when I come to Rainbow Grocery is go straight to their bulk fermented food section. Fermented foods are so gut-friendly. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s important to get a wide variety of probiotic sources. If you eat or drink the same fermented foods on a regular basis, you’re always getting the same strain of bacteria. Mix it up with with kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, or pickles. Try to add a tablespoon or two of a fermented food to every meal.”

Buy in bulk

“It’s always better to buy in bulk for price, but also for freshness. If the grocery store is busy, this means they’re frequently replenishing bulk items like nuts, seeds, grains. In other words, you’re getting fresher stuff. If it’s not a busy store, ask an employee about the last time they refilled the item. Nuts, for example, can mold if they’re stored for too long. If you decide to buy in bulk, make sure to read the ingredient list. Dried fruit, granola, and even some nuts have sugar added to them.”

Soak and sprout

“I recommend soaking any dried beans, grains, and legumes before eating them so they sprout. This process increases how bioavailable the nutrients are to you. Think about something like corn: Since your body doesn’t digest it, you see it when it comes out in your poop. That’s because plant-based foods like corn and beans want to survive themselves — their goal is to be pooped out so they can continue living. You need to do a little extra work to get the nutrients out out of them and fully digest them. Soaking and sprouting is a simple, effective way to do this.”

Be trendy and cost-conscious

“I’m all for golden milk and adaptogenic lattes, but you can reap the benefits of these health trends for less money and without purchasing all the fancy, expensive elixirs and mixes. For example, I tell my clients to buy a can of unsweetened coconut milk and add spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon for the perfect golden milk that helps reduce inflammation.”

Reach for a carton that’s cool

“If possible, always buy refrigerated milks rather than choosing them from the shelf. Preservatives have usually been added to them in order to help them last on a shelf. If this isn’t possible for you, the main ingredient to avoid is carrageenan. This is a controversial ingredient in the nutritional world right now, but it’s been shown to be carcinogenic in certain studies.”

Strategically satisfy your sweet tooth

“Cacao butter is an awesome fat to keep at home. You can buy this in bulk or packaged from Navitas Organics. You can make your own chocolate with it! I bought silicone soap molds online to do this. Mix cacao butter, maple syrup, and cocoa powder, heat them in a double boiler, pour them in the molds, and let them cool. You’ve made your own chocolate with zero refined sugar. The Tcho 99% Dark Chocolate Critters, which are unsweetened cacao, are perfect for snacking. They’re rich and give you that deep, chocolate flavor, so you only need a few to feel satisfied. The animal shapes are fun and cute, too!”

Go local and organic if possible

“When available, choose produce that’s grown locally. It actually has more nutrients because it’s traveled less far. Each day produce is out of the ground, it’s losing nutrients. This is why eating something that’s locally grown versus something that’s been flown in from Mexico is a healthier option. When people say to me, ‘Oh you’re a nutritionist? What’s the one thing I can do to improve my health?’ I always tell them to start buying organic.”

Plan ahead to stay healthy

“When you’re shopping, visualize the week ahead. There may be times when you need to rely on more snacks that are suitable for commuting or traveling. I’m heading on vacation this week to Montana, so I’m keeping an eye out for healthy airport and plane snacks. I love Siren Snacks for this! They’re perfect if you’re on the go and are craving something a little sweet.”

Want to do your own shopping trip with Stefanie or learn about her holistic approach to wellness? Schedule a complimentary wellness consult here and follow her on Instagram for daily cooking and health tips. In the meantime, keep her practical and eye-opening advice in mind during your next grocery adventure — perhaps we’ll bump into you in the produce aisle.