Since everyone makes healthy eating so very complicated, we are going to break it down and do a virtual tour of the grocery store. No this food or that food, just buy from these areas and avoid foods in these areas. The trick is eating whole foods and avoiding processed junk. Most foods shouldn’t have a label and if they do, make sure you know what the ingredients are. Here’s one way you can do this.
The first suggestion is to plan your meals before you go to the grocery store. They don’t have to be complicated meals, just make sure they are clean and call for only real ingredients, no Campbell’s soup or pre-packaged ingredients. This is easier than it looks, just Google it. If you like tacos, Google clean taco recipe or for that one here is a good recipe link. Pinterest also has a ton of clean eating recipes. Replace the pre-packaged taco shells or tortillas with romaine lettuce. It’s actually very delicious and much healthier.
Now lets get back to the grocery store. We are going to stay strictly on the perimeter with a few exceptions. Grab your cart and immediately turn toward the produce department don’t look at anything before you get there! Once you get there feel free to buy anything in this whole area, organic is best, but sometimes that isn’t an option. Use this resource to choose what to buy organic, some foods are loaded with pesticides and others are not. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has great resources called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, these outline the worst 12 produce and the best 15. It just makes it simple and they have an app too found here. Another tip is to buy more veggies than fruits. It’s hard to go wrong in this area, the main things to remember are white potatoes are full of carbs and somewhat lacking on nutrients, pick sweet potatoes instead. When a food is full of fast hitting carbs like a white potato it causes you to be hungry again faster. You can eat them just keep that in mind and pair them with a high fiber food or high protein to help maintain a level blood sugar. If you feel like you spend a long time in the produce department you are doing it right!
Next, look down at the floor and run through the bakery, nothing is good here! Don’t even think about going down the next isle, it’s a trap, keep your head down and run straight along the back of the store. At this point you should be in the meat department. This area is your friend, but you must purchase carefully. Honestly, buying from a local farmer or farmers market such as Ft Thomas Farmers Market would save you a lot of money but if that’s not an option then pretty much buy the most expensive meat they have. I wish that wasn’t true but you want the organic grass fed beef and free range organic chicken. These meats have the correct fat profiles that will save you money in the long run at the doctors office. Grass and pasture fed animals are much higher in omega 3’s, yes the same omega 3’s capsules you take every day. If you eat a higher quality diet you can get rid of those capsules offsetting that cost. Notice I didn’t say pork, unfortunately there really isn’t much good pork in the grocery store. I haven’t seen any organic or pasture raised pork. So if you are going to eat pork minimize it unless you can find a local source. Remember everything in moderation so it’s not that you can’t eat it.
Don’t even think about going down those isles!
Continue along the outside of the store and you should be at the seafood department. If you think Red Lobster is good seafood then we need to work on this area. Here’s what you need to know here. Always buy wild caught fish! USA caught is likely the best. Places to avoid seafood from are countries in Southeast Asia. Their laws are poor when it comes to overfishing and there is significant water pollution. We don’t need to add any more toxins to our bodies! South America is ok but sometimes fish like seabass are over fished and not adequately protected there. Why not farmed fish? Farmed fish is raised in overcrowded tanks and fed artificial diets, also because of the close quarters they are given low dose antibiotics in their feed to help them stay healthy and to gain weight. Just like the beef and chicken the wild caught has much better fat profiles. Here’s a fun fact, farm raised salmon has to be dyed pink because they don’t eat the plankton they do in the wild which naturally causes the flesh to turn pink. Gross right!?!?
Now continue along the outside, the next thing is the processed meats such as hot dogs and sausage and bacon. So most of the stuff here is just nasty, but you can still find stuff to eat here. Everything here needs to be eaten in moderation and by moderation I mean minimal! Most people will quit reading right now if I said you can’t eat bacon, you can still eat bacon, just probably not the kind you’re used to. Look for “uncured bacon,” it is probably on the bottom shelf, there won’t be a whole bunch of options but you wouldn’t eat the cured stuff if you knew the details about it. We can talk about that later so just trust me for now. When you grab a package flip it over and look at the ingredients, make sure there isn’t sodium nitrate, artificial flavoring, or sugar. The label should pretty much be pork and celery salt. If you are looking for sausage look for “natural” then read the label. Make sure there is no MSG (monosodium glutamate), corn syrup, or artificial flavors.
When it comes to the Cincy favorite goetta look away from Gliers and look for Queen City it doesn’t have MSG in it like the others do.
The next thing we come to are the eggs. There is a wide variety of options here and they make a big difference in both price but also quality. Lets be serious, you get 4-6 servings from a dozen eggs so even the most expensive eggs are not that “expensive.” Here is what you need to know. First off don’t even think about buying those white or blue cartons that are the cheapest store brand. Just put them down and put that ridiculous price out of your head. Those eggs actually cost you more in the grand scheme of things. What we are looking for here is pasture raised most importantly and then organic. The quick explanation is pasture raised eggs are eating their natural diet and therefore have better nutrition, specifically increased omega 3’s.
Don’t be drawn into that drink isle! There is nothing there for you. Not even the 100% juice. It’s all one form of sugar water or another. Before you ask, NO! diet isn’t any better so don’t even think about it.
The next think you come to is the dairy section, your cheese and yogurt. With cheese there isn’t a lot to look for most cheese is pretty clean. The shredded cheese can have additives to keep it from growing mold and sticking together. So just get a block and shred it yourself to avoid them. The one cheese to avoid is American cheese! If you look closely it doesn’t actually say cheese it says “cheese product.” This is because it is a highly processed product that isn’t actually a cheese made traditionally. Just avoid American cheese. I almost forgot Velveeta, just NO NO NO! It doesn’t even rot so you know it’s some chemical concoction.
Yogurt is a mess. Don’t look at all the pretty labels they are a trap! By itself yogurt is great and will have probiotics in it. However, most of the yogurt contains a ton of sugar and almost no probiotics. Look for a product that has only yogurt in it, no sugar, flavors, etc. Organic would be best here but not essential. You can add your own fruit to it later without all the other junk.
Now you are probably back to the front of the store by the pharmacy, just run by it! There is nothing good here. The vitamins they carry are all terrible and overpriced.
Now here are the exceptions for the center isles. There are some good things in the center isles but you need to treat it like running through the rain, get in and get out. Dry foods such as quinoa, beans, oatmeal, rice, nuts and seeds are in the center isles so you can run in and get those. Don’t even think about looking at the canned soup though! Forget that instant oatmeal its garbage, buy the big tub or bulk only. Try the steel cut oats they are the best option here. Peanut butter is in there too, talk about a confusing topic. Lots of “Natural” everywhere and most is junk, go for the one that has peanuts and salt only. Safe bet there and get out of that isle. Right by the peanut butter is honey, this is very confusing topic, I would skip it in the grocery store and find this at a farmer’s market. If not an option then look for a local sticker, probably the best bet, never know where the cheap stuff comes from these days and a lot of it is fake.
Now there is the frozen foods isle. Most of the stuff here should make your stomach turn and will if you eat it. But there are frozen fruits and vegetables that are fine to eat especially in smoothies.
Notice I skipped the whole cereal isle, this was intentional there is nothing you need in there. Now if you have little kids and feel you need cheerios to survive, there are some options out there that are made of lentil and quinoa flour. Exceptionally better. I could explain but I’ll save that for it’s own post later.
This is a quick run through of the grocery store that gives some general principles to buy healthy and eat healthy. If you don’t buy junk you can’t eat it. Your health is the most valuable thing you have so put in the effort to maintain it. For more on eating clean check out our clean eating post.