There's No Place Like The Grocery Store
April 7, 2015
Hi, all! I'm so glad to have the chance to get back to my blog this week. I have honestly been so busy since my last blog post, and unfortunately, my page has been sitting idle. I am just excited to get back to it and keep it going regularly from now on.
This week's post is going to be slightly different in that there is no recipe attached and no science lesson to look forward to (haha). No, this week, I wanted I wanted to focus on grocery shopping.
The grocery store can be a crazy, scary place if you're trying to stay healthy. On every aisle, there are at least 5,000 products (at least it feels that way) that boast words like "ORGANIC," "ALL NATURAL," "WHOLE GRAIN," "NO SUGAR ADDED," "LOW SODIUM," "HEART HEALTHY," and the likes. How are we to discern which products really ARE organic/natural/etc. and which ones are just trying to hoodwink us? I've put together this guide that can hopefully be of some assistance.
*P.S.: I know this post is bulky! And there's still so much more that I didn't even cover. Feel free to skip around to the parts that pertain to you.
When it comes to produce, the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean Fifteen" are the standard guidelines to shop with. The Dirty Dozen are fruits and vegetables that SHOULD be purchased organic, if at all possible, because they are sprayed with pesticides, that if eaten in large quantities, may cause adverse health effects. The Clean Fifteen are fruits and vegetables that do not necessarily need to be purchased organic because they have the lowest pesticide load. They are either sprayed less, or they have thicker skins that make it more difficult for the pesticides to contaminate the flesh of the fruit/vegetable. The Dirty Dozen & The Clean Fifteen are listed below.
The Dirty Dozen:
2. Strawberries & Blueberries
7. Sweet Bell Peppers & Hot Peppers
10. Cherry Tomatoes
11. Snap Peas
The Clean Fifteen:
2. Sweet Corn
5. Frozen Sweet Peas
14. Sweet Potatoes
Also, just as a side note, if you are buying salad in a bag that is pre-washed or triple washed, I still recommend washing when you get home. One may never know if it truly was triple washed or pre-washed because we are not there in the production factory during the bagging of these food items. It's always better safe than sorry.
Cereals & Grains
I believe it's pretty common knowledge now that many cereals are packed with tons of added sugar because they appeal to kids. I cannot stress enough that these cereals really have no nutritional value, and it's best to avoid them if you can. Reading the nutrition labels in this aisle can be very helpful if you're confused. Ingredients lists are the best place to start because it will tell you if there really are whole grains and natural fiber. The ingredients are listed in descending order, meaning the ingredient present in the highest quantity will be listed first. The last ingredient on the list is present in the lowest amount. If the first ingredients are either whole grains or oats, this cereal is probably a better choice for you than one that has rice, rice flour, wheat, or wheat flour as the first two ingredients. Cereals containing bran, nuts and fruits in large quanitites are also a healthier alternative. The rice/rice flour and wheat/wheat flour are most likely refined and offer little to no nutritional value. The whole grains and bran provide a good amount of natural fiber and a whole host of vitamins and minerals that are stripped away during the refining process. A sugary "kid's" cereal such as Frosted Flakes may try to boast that they have now added fiber. What this means is that they have added isolated fiber, which is taken from a whole grain, made into a powder, and added to the cereal. While this is all well and good, it offers no comparison to fiber in its whole, natural form. In fact, it may offer no health benefits at all!
More often than not, canned goods are loaded with sodium or packed in sugary, sweet juices. However, canned goods (especially canned fruits & veggies) can still offer the same amount of health benefits as their fresh counterparts if you know what to look for. Canned fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups are a cheaper alternative and often require less cooking time, so they can fit into any busy lifestyle. When shopping for canned soup, it is best to look for low-sodium brands. Some soups have over 800 mg. of sodium in one can! That equals about 40% of your sodium requirements for the day! Also, try to buy soups that contain lots of vegetables and/or beans, again, for the added fiber content. Canned fruits and vegetables can be tricky, as well. Canned vegetables also typically contain a large amount of sodium. However, if you look for veggies that are packed in water, the sodium content is far less. Also, if you cannot find veggies packed in water, draining & rinsing regular canned veggies can reduce the sodium content by up to 41%. Finally, canned fruits can also be part of a healthy diet. Look for fruits that are canned in water or their natural juices. Fruits canned in heavy syrup contain a whopping amount of added sugar.
Dairy & Dairy Products
Ahh, the dairy aisle- America's favorite aisle, but also one of the most confusing. Even I find myself standing here for a while trying to decide whether I should buy organic eggs or free range? Whole milk or skim? Well, when it comes to eggs, free-range, cage-free and the likes are terms that are probably just used as marketing ploys in most major grocery stores. Free-range simply means that at least for part of the day, the animals have a chance to roam around outside in their natural environment. It sounds more humane, but as long as they are outside for even 5 minutes, they can be considered free-range. The term cage-free is self-explanatory. It simply means that the chickens are not kept in cages and have the freedom and the ability to spread their wings, lay eggs in nests, and act as chickens will. However, these chickens do not really have the chance to go outdoors; so, at the end of the day, I don't really think it matters much what type of eggs you buy if you are getting them from a grocery store. Of course, I like to stay as natural as possible and love to get farm-fresh eggs when they are available. This is definitely the best quality egg, and the difference is apparent. When you buy directly from a farm, the chickens are also most likely treated with some decency.
In terms of milk, lower fat milk is also probably the best choice. It doesn't have to be skim, but 1% or 2% milks are also good because they still have that creamy mouthfeel and provide a healthy dose of fat. Whether you choose to buy organic is up to you.
I don't want to mess with people and their cheese, either. I love cheese, so I usually just buy whatever kind I feel like. However, certain cheeses can be high in fat and sodium, so it's best to watch portions if you're a cheese-lover like me.
Yogurt is also tricky. Greek yogurt is probably the best bet because it is low in sugar and high in protein. Even the 0% fat Greek yogurts are full-bodied and creamy. I would suggest staying away from certain brands with fruit on the bottom because it adds a lot more sugar than is necessary. If you like, you can always add some honey (or sweetener of your choice) and some fresh fruit at home on your own.
Finally, we come to the butter. I love butter, and I think that if you're going to use it, you should use REAL butter, not the spreads. Most of the time, the spreads are mixed with unhealthy oils to make them smooth and easy to schmear. They also have a lot of chemicals in them that would be better left out of a healthier diet. I honestly don't see anything wrong with real butter, as long as, once again, you watch how much you are consuming throughout the day.
the entire store. Meals that are ready prepared are laden with sodium and tons of preservatives to extend their shelf lives. I do understand their convenience, though, and sometimes it's necessary when you're in a rush. Just try to limit your consumption of these meals. Frozen fruits and vegetables, like canned vegetables, are harvested at their peak and flash frozen so much of the nutrient content is preserved. Sometimes, frozen fruits and veggies even have a higher nutritional value than fresh ones that travel for days from far and wide before they even get to our stores. Frozen fruits and veggies are great for smoothies and are definitely a staple in my kitchen. The rest of the frozen foods are usually unhealthier items such as french fries, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, etc. They are best used sparingly. Buuutttt, if you have a craving for ice cream, go for it. I love ice cream (om nom nom).
Normally, I would advise people to shop around the perimeter of the store, as it seems this is where the most wholesome ingredients are kept. However, I know that everyone's budget and everyone's schedules are completely different, and so I hope that my guide to the grocery store provided some insight on how to shop for your health no matter what aisle you may find yourself on!
Peace, Love, Health,
About the Author
Lisa Samuels is a Long Island native who is currently a Dietetic Intern at LIU Post. She has a B.A. in Art History from Ithaca College, a B.S. in Nutrition from LIU Post & was also a practicing baker for two years. Lisa has finally found her calling. Combining her love for food, writing, and nutrition, she strives to bring you the latest news in the field.
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