The modern grocery store has become more about good marketing than good food: the aisles abound with ‘low fat’, ‘all natural’, ‘sugar free’, ‘healthy heart’, and ‘zero calorie’ options. Many products throw around claims of added vitamins, Omega 3s, and fibre. Advertising campaigns spend millions telling us what is good for us, but at the end of the day, the claims made by the food industry can be confusing at best, and fraudulent at worst.
The good news is that with a little insider information, it can be fairly easy to steer clear of the potholes in your grocery store aisles and make an informed decision. The truth is, sometimes we all just need that package of brownies or bag of chips – but what we do want to avoid is buying something we think is good for us, when in reality, it’s no better than those brownies or chips (and sometimes, quite frankly, worse!). Here, then, is my time-tested formula for becoming a food shopping pro:
Top Ten Tips for Navigating the Modern Grocery Store
Eat Food. This is the number one rule, because it is the simplest and the most important. Food products are generally not food.
The More Packaging, The Bigger the Ad Budget … and usually, the more outlandish the claims.
Shop Mainly the Peripheries. This tends to include the produce section, dairy, eggs, and meat. The more heavily processed and/ or packaged foods are often in the middle.
Be Aware of the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen. This list is put out every year by the Environmental Working Group, and helps you to choose which items to buy organic.
If You Can’t Pronounce the Ingredients, Don’t Buy It.
Don’t Eat Anything Your Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food.
If Sugar is in the Top Three Ingredients Think Twice. This includes ‘high fructose corn syrup’, ‘glucose’, ‘cane sugar’, ‘sucrose’, or anything else ending in ‘ose’. Desserts are one thing, but you’ll often find this hiding in breakfast cereals, granola bars, soups, and sauces.
If Sodium is in the Top Three Ingredients, Think Twice Again.
Eat Animal Products from Animals That Have Themselves Eaten Well. This can be one of the trickier rules to follow, since the food industry had a lot of fancy terms such as ‘grassfed’ and ‘antibiotic-free’ that are misleading. In a perfect world, I suggest organic or something from a local butcher who can give you the real scoop.
Get Out of the Grocery Store Whenever You Can! Shop farmer’s markets, mom & pop shops, health food stores, and ethnic groceries. I promise your (real) food will be delicious, and the experience is a whole lot more fun!