Grocery shopping can be stressful and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s my stress free guide to grocery shopping and choosing whole foods!
I like to watch people at the grocery store. Not in a creepy way…at least I hope not in a creepy way (oh my gosh am I creepy?). It’s more like a curious observation. Sometimes I get a giggle, like the time I watched a young guy go back and forth between three types of onions for almost 5 minutes. You know his girlfriend asked him to pick up onions at the store and the poor thing was trying so hard to get the right kind! Other times I get frustrated, like when I see someone load up their cart with diet food, and I feel so angry that it’s being marketed as nutritious
But mostly, what I notice is stress. These days, the average consumer is more aware than ever about clean eating, but they’ve still got the ghost of Dr. Atkins/Weight Watchers/Dr. Sears/The Sugar Busters crew whispering in their ear about things like carbs and sugar and protein and fat. Look around the grocery store and you’ll see it’s packed with people studying packages with furrowed brows and a confused look on their face.
I get it. With all the different talking heads claiming their diet is the right diet and anything on the “do not eat” list will cause you to die a slow, painful death, after you get fat of course, how could a trip to the grocery store not be overwhelming?
Keep it simple, guys. Remember, it’s your overall eating pattern that makes the difference, not one single food. If your cart is full of mostly whole, one-ingredient foods (at least 75%), then you’re doing pretty good. That said, it’s helpful to have guidelines to steer you towards more nutritious choices, without being overly-restrictive or taking too much time. Here’s my top four strategies for a stress free trip to the store.
1. Ignore the Nutrition Facts. Who wants to be doing long division in the middle of TJs? Not I. Rarely do the Nutrition Facts contain any real valuable information. Cholesterol? Doesn’t seem to matter. Total fat? It’s the source that counts. Carbohydrates? Nope. Protein. We’re all getting more than enough. Sodium? Choose mostly whole foods and you’ll easily lower your intake.
Instead, study the ingredients. This allows you to use your good common sense to decide if a food is a nutritious choice. Don’t feel like you have to know what every ingredient is. While some chemical sounding food ingredients are harmful, most are pretty innocuous (see #2). Instead, compare the number of ingredients to how many you might use if making it at home. Are the majority of the ingredients something you might find in your pantry? How close is the food to how it came in nature?
2. Remember the big four. The number of food additives approved by the FDA is, um, extensive. If you need some help falling asleep at night, here ya go. Some are potentially harmful, while most are safe. I keep up with the research, but even I sometimes have a hard time remembering the names.
What I’ve noticed in studying food labels is that there are four ingredients that serve as almost a trigger of sorts, telling me that a food is more processed that I would prefer. Memorize this easy list and you’ll weed out the majority of the problem foods:
Artificial sweeteners // aspartame, acesulfame-K, neotame, saccharine, sucralose, rebiana
Enriched flour // aka white flour. Many foods are marketed as whole grain (or wheat, multigrain, etc) but you’ll see enriched flour on the ingredients list.
Multiple types of sugar // When there’s more than one type of sugar added to a food, that’s a good sign it contains a sizable amount
Partially hydrogenated oil – aka trans fat. Can we get this out of the food supply already?
3. Understand sugar. So, there is one exception to the whole “don’t bother with the Nutrition Facts” thing, and that’s sugar. There are shocking amounts of sugar added to foods, even in foods that aren’t sweet. Unfortunately, it can be a bit difficult to understand the label, since healthy natural sugars (like the kind in fruit and milk) are grouped together with added sugars (like table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and honey).
If you know a food contains mainly added sugar (vs natural), divide the grams of sugar by 4 to learn the number of teaspoons of added sugar. I know. I said no long division and I lied. Sorry. To put the number in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends limiting it to less than 6 teaspoons daily for women and less than 9 teaspoons daily for men. I recommend a slightly lower daily goal, about 4 teaspoons for women and 6 teaspoons for men. Then once or twice a week, savor a really delicious and decadent sweet treat (see below). Don’t feel like you have to keep meticulous count of daily sugar intake, just approximate.
4. If you’re buying a treat, buy a treat. If you’re buying ice cream/cookies/pizza/chips/French bread, just buy ice cream/cookies/pizza/chips/French bread. Don’t bother trying to find the healthiest version – just get the brand that looks tastiest! Not only will you enjoy it more, but if you justify it as the “healthier” option, it’s likely you’ll overeat.
I hope this guide makes your grocery trips a little less stressful and overwhelming! What confuses you at the grocery store? Any helpful guidelines you use at the store?
Need more guidance? I offer hour-long grocery tours here in the Columbia, SC area at the store of your choice. For details, head to my services page or feel free to email AnAvocadoADayRD@gmail.com with questions. Purchase on my shop page.