In our ideal world, grocery stores would only be stocked with real foods; they would mimic our local farmer’s markets. They would have fresh & frozen fruits and veggies, unrefined hearty breads, eggs with deep orange yolks, melt-in-your mouth cheeses, sustainably raised meats, bulk bins galore, local honey, homemade goodies, and of course, a little chocolate. Can’t forget chocolate.
But, since we both know our dream grocery stores aren’t quite a reality, we have 5 tips to help simplify your shopping adventure. After reading these, you can be confident your cart will contain only real food, and even better, you can be confident you are only putting the highest quality foods into your body after you unpack your bags.
#1. Shop the perimeter. Ask yourself, “What foods are in the grocery store aisles?” We can think of sugary breakfast cereals, candies, soda pop, frozen dinners, chips, packaged cookies, and “instant” meals or side dishes just to name a few. These foods, or “food-like substances” as Michael Pollan would say, may also contain high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, artificial colors and sweeteners, chemical preservatives, and a whole lot of sodium.
Now ask yourself, “What foods can be found on the perimeter of the store?” Fresh fruits and veggies, cheeses, eggs, meats, and breads come to mind. These foods are all examples of real foods – foods that haven’t necessarily experienced extensive processing before they’ll reach your taste buds.
#2. After you shop the perimeter, be selective with the aisles. We wish it was easy enough to just say, "skip the aisles all together," but we realize this is fairly unrealistic. So, when it comes time to brave the scary jungle of the grocery store aisles, may we advise you to make a bee-line to these few things?
Spices. Adding spices does a lot to boost flavor to meals and side dishes without adding unnecessary sugar or fat.
Bulk bins. These little bins are our secret haven for beans, lentils, grains, dried fruit, legumes, and nuts.
Canned beans if you’re short on time – just make sure to rinse them before tossing them into your recipe.
Whole wheat pasta.
Commonly used condiments and spreads including nut butters, jam, honey, and maple syrup. To ensure you are purchasing quality products, read tip #3 below.
Baking essentials like sugar, flour, baking soda & baking powder (We describe the difference between these two ingredients here.) We whole- heartedly approve of home baked goods because you know exactly what your putting in the recipe, and subsequently, your body.
#3. Know what to look for in the ingredients list. We’ve noticed that when most people glance at a package’s label, they tend to get hung up on the nutrition content including sugar, fat and fiber grams. While these are important to consider in part of a well- balanced diet, we have found that if you focus on eating real foods with an emphasis on fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, the nutrition content takes care of itself. Real foods are naturally void of any added sugars, contain zero grams of trans fat, and many are also high in fiber. When you purchase packaged products (such as peanut butter or jam), our hope is that you select products as real as possible. Ideally, the ingredients list will be as short (5 ingredients or less) and consists of words you can recognize and pronounce. Real foods have only one ingredient: itself. Hazelnuts, eggs, chicken, avocados, milk, strawberries. It’s a little harder to pronounce or recognize additives such as ethylchloroisothiazolinone, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and E 102 tartrazin -- these are not found in real foods.
#4. Be skeptical of nutrition claims. “A chocolate bar with half my daily recommended need of fiber?!” If a claim seems too good to be true, proceed with caution. While some food products with these claims may be high in fiber and/or claim to help reduce heart disease, they may also contain added sugars, salt and artificial ingredients. Also read the fine print. There’s often a catch. We may sound like a broken record, but if you focus on eating real foods with an emphasis on fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, you can rest assured you are providing your body with optimal nutrition. We know apples, almonds, salmon, oats, and kale are good for us. No nutrition claim needed. The other beauty of eating real foods is that we don’t need to question their long term effects like we often do with supplements, food additives, and artificial ingredients.
#5. Allow everything in moderation. Just because we’re Registered Dietitians and real food advocates doesn’t mean we’re “perfect” or expecting “perfection.” We simply want to inspire individuals to choose real foods the majority of the time and to love their bodies. Loving your body involves not only fueling it with wholesome foods, but it also involves practicing self-compassion. When you allow yourself to enjoy some of your favorite treats from time to time (yes, even processed, packaged ones) without thinking of them as "bad" or "wrong," you relieve yourself of unconscious feelings of deprivation which can often lead to overeating ("I blew it already anyways, so might as well have more..." Sound familiar?) Instead of feeling like you "gave in," think of it as though you allowed yourself to have something you truly enjoyed.