By Karen Trom from the October 2011 Edition
Change your CHOICES,Change your Life
Secrets to Smart Shopping from a Supermarket Insider
I have worked in the supermarket business for over 20 years and I still get confused when looking at all the items. Food marketing is BIG business and manufacturers know that
“health” is in right now. Their products might not be very healthy, but that doesn’t seem to matter to them- as consumers we are pretty gullible when it comes to fancy words and packaging.
Let’s take a trip to the store (conventional supermarket) so I can give you some tips and tricks to make the best choices both nutritionally and economically. Yes, you can eat healthy and not blow the budget! I feel like a bit of a snitch but I’m wearing my shopper cap, not my business person cap while I write this.
The shopping process should start before you enter the store. Go online or use an old fashioned newspaper or flyer to find the best deals. I only shop at one store but many people find it worthwhile to run all over to pick up a few things here and there, I will leave it up to you to gauge time and gas versus money.
Supermarkets put a lot of time into product placement and our job is to get you to buy. Grocers don’t like shoppers who plan ahead and stick to their list. The big money makers are end cap displays and impulse buys. Most of these are not a good deal and are usually not a nutritious item so stay away.
Once you have your list, take a second look and see if you have included items from all food groups. Can you make meals out of what you are buying or is it just random stuff? The majority of the carts that come through the register are overloaded with chips, soda, cookies, and other snacks. I seriously don’t know how people survive with no fruit, vegetables, or protein. I guess they let Mc Donald’s take care of the rest. (And we wonder why we have a major obesity epidemic).
Shop the perimeter and spend the most time in the produce department. You might need to dart into the grocery aisle for some staples, but for the most part you can get what you need by shopping around the outer edges of the store. The center aisles are loaded with canned, boxed, packaged mostly chemically processed and manufactured “food.” Do you really want to eat something that is shelf stable forever? Ignore the use by dates, that just means the product loses some freshness; most packaged food is so loaded with preservatives that it will never spoil.
Produce- try to eat one new fruit or vegetable every week. If you always buy iceberg lettuce, try romaine. If you always get white potatoes, try red. Go for the darkest colored produce (dark green, purple, red) and a variety of colors. Is it worth it to buy organic? In some cases, yes. Anything that you eat the skin (apples, grapes, pears, etc) should be organic. If you peel it (bananas, oranges), non-organic is fine. Be sure to wash everything using 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar to remove any residue. The goal is to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Bread, Cereals, and Pasta- You will need to venture into the grocery aisles for these items. Choose the least processed foods that are made from whole grains. Stay away from added flavorings, especially in cereal. I don’t care what the Corn Growers Association says- studies show that High Fructose Corn Syrup is bad news so avoid it at all costs.
When choosing whole-grain cereals, aim for at least 4 grams of fiber per serving, and the less sugar, the better. Keep in mind that 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar and let this guide your selections. Granola is usually the unhealthiest choice on the shelf, even the low-fat variety; they tend to have more fat and sugar than other cereals. Don’t assume a cereal is healthy because the front of the box shows fruit, nuts, and other appealing graphics- you must check the nutrition label.
Bread, pasta, rice, and grains offer more opportunities to work whole grains and fiber into your diet. Choose whole-wheat bread and pastas, brown rice, grain mixes, quinoa, bulgur, and barley. Never buy the white flour versions of bread, pasta, and rice; it’s like filling your body with glue.
There is no fiber and they send your blood sugar and insulin skyrocketing.
Meat Department- The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish a week. Salmon is recommended because people often like it, and it’s widely available, affordable, not too fishy, and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to choose lean cuts of meat (like round, top sirloin, and tenderloin), opt for skinless poultry, and watch your portion sizes. While a diet that consists of mostly vegetables and grains is best, there is still room for meat in moderation.
Dairy Department- Dairy is a great source of calcium and Vitamin D but it can be full of saturated fat. Stick to the low-fat or non-fat varieties if you can find them. Cheese eaters need to be mindful of portion control as many cheeses are full of fat and/or sodium.
Frozen Food- Did you know that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh? But- only if you avoid the varieties that add sauces, butter, and other extras.
Canned Foods- Canned soups, veggies, and fruit are a staple in pretty much every pantry. Unfortunately, most of these items are filled with heart unhealthy sodium. Opt for low or no salt when available and never add salt when cooking. Not putting the salt shaker on the table is also a good habit, we get plenty of salt in our diet and the last thing you need is to add more.
Overview- Plan Ahead, Stick to Your List, Shop the Perimeter, and Look at the Labels. The longer the ingredient list (even if you don’t understand it) the more ingredients, the less healthy it is.
Some people complain that this is far too much work. Is it too much work to feed your body what it needs and keep the bad stuff away? It’s your choice- Make time for health now or make time for sickness later.
Need more tips to keep you healthy in an increasingly unhealthy world? Visit my blog at http://changeyourchoices.wordpress.com. Do you have a question or idea for a future column? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Manzanillo Sun’s eMagazine written by local authors about living in Manzanillo and Mexico, since 2009