Walking through the supermarket today can be quite overwhelming. There are so many selections of foods and so many different brands selling what seems like the same thing. If you’re trying to eat healthy, shopping can become even more of a hassle.
Pick up a box of something and read the label – unless you have a chemistry degree, you likely won’t know what majority of those ingredients are. Unfortunately, much of the foods that people eat today are artificial and dead foods – overly processed and packed full of preservatives and artificial chemicals. These types of foods are typically high in calories but low in nutrients – not what we want.
When looking for healthy foods, we want those that are nutrient dense, meaning that per calorie, they have a much high nutrient content. So why do so many foods we eat today fall into the low nutrient density category? Convenience. People are busier than ever and have less and less time to cook. It’s much easier to grab something already made and ready to go than spending hours in the kitchen preparing food. The hard truth is, if you want to eat healthy, you’ll need to spend the time cooking.
Furthermore, the longer that foods sit out, whether raw or cooked, the more nutrients they lose. From the moment a food is picked or slaughtered, it starts to degrade. Foods that are typically nutrient dense and not full of preservatives expire rather quickly compared to the processed pre-packaged foods. Not good when the majority of the foods we buy from the supermarket are shipped from another country and spend a significant amount of time in transit, only to sit on a shelf hoping to be picked up by a hungry customer.
Sticking to real whole foods is always the best option for high quality nutrition. There is a simple trick to supermarket shopping that makes it easy to decipher what foods to buy and what foods to avoid. This is the perimeter shopping method. When doing your grocery shopping, simply stick to the perimeters only, don’t go into the isles (except for specialty items and a few exceptions). This means that majority of your shopping should consist of produce (vegetables and fruits) and items from the butcher and fishery. Sticking to this method for the majority of your food automatically means that you are getting fresher foods and avoiding many of the unnecessary chemicals.
Of course, there are always some items in the isles that we need. How do we know which are good and which are bad? The general rule of thumb here is the ingredient list – if the majority of the ingredients look like they belong in a chemistry set, it’s probably best to leave it behind. What you should be looking for is the minimal amount of ingredients. If you’re buying coconut milk, the ingredient list should say coconut milk, and nothing else! It is important to understand the way things are labelled on the ingredient list as well. It is required of food manufacturers to list everything in the order of majority, meaning that the ingredient that makes up the most of the item is first, and the thing that makes up the least is last.
Figure 1: from http://www.engineeredexplorations.com/2924/coconut-milk/
To take buying real healthy food to the next level, you can start going to fresh farmers markets and the local butcher, or better yet, direct to the farmers! As I mentioned above, the moment a food is picked, it starts to degrade. When shopping at farmers markets or direct, you are often getting products that were only just recently harvested – guaranteed that they weren’t shipped across the ocean for weeks on a ship. This means that they will be much higher in nutrients compared to their supermarket versions. Remember, nutrient density is king and eating REAL WHOLE FOODS is the best way to get the most nutrition from your food!