Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Supermarket Sweep

  Between sneaky food labels and grocery store-tricks, navigating our way through the supermarket can be a difficult task.

  I think a lot of us are making the effort. We're reading labels, we're being conscious of the things we are buying at the store. Or at least we're trying.

  But how many times have you looked at a box at the store, and had no idea what you're looking for? No matter how much we talk about it, deciphering food labels is still confusing!

  Why? Because advertisers and food companies play on the health-buzzwords of the moment, and adjust their packaging and advertising accordingly. They're trying to sell their product, and make money. Period.

  I listened to a few podcasts recently that had some great information in regard to helping us decipher those tricky food labels, and navigate through supermarket traps. 

Food Label Tricks
  Whole foods, fruits, veggies, etc, are at the top of everyone's 'eat right' list. But we also know how convenient, and readily-available processed foods are. Here are a few pointers in distinguishing between healthy options, what may appear to be a healthy option. 

  • Local does NOT mean it's healthy
 - The phrase 'buy local' or 'locally produced' just means you're helping the environment because energy does not have to be used to ship products across the country/world. And buying local obviously benefits local farmers, who live in your own community. Since the food doesn't have to travel as far, nutrient content is greater because the fruits/veggies don't sit and oxidize. 

- Local does not mean Organic. At farmers' markets, don't presume just because they're LOCAL, that they're ORGANIC. Ask!! 
  •  Gluten Free foods are not health foods
When zero doesn't mean zero.
- Gluten free does NOT mean 'healthy'. Production of gluten free foods have exploded in recent years, but they should not be the latest health rage. Gluten free foods are for people who are ALLERGIC to gluten, and suffer from Celiac disease. If you don't have Celiac disease, you don't need to be eating gluten free foods. Many times, gluten free foods are higher in calories, have less fiber, and are more expensive! 
  • Trans Fat Labels
- We've all seen the label across the top of the bag of chips, or crackers: 'Zero Trans Fat'. But in actuality, there still can be up to a 1/2 gram of trans fat per serving. Most baked, packed goods (processed foods) purchased from the grocery store have trans fat. For example, a box of Ritz Crackers contains 14g of trans fat.

- Why all the hubbub over a half gram of trans fat? Studies show a strong link between consumption of trans fat and an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression. The American Heart Association says that we should have no more than TWO grams of trans fat per DAY. If just 3% of our daily calorie allowance comes from trans fat, we've increased our risk to develop heart disease by 23%.

Whole Grains, it says. We know better.
- The take home: stay away from processed foods and you'll steer clear of trans fat! If you see 'hydrogenated' ANYWHERE in the ingredients list, there's trans fat. Put it back on the shelf. 
  • Whole Grain/Whole Wheat Labels
- It needs to say '100% Whole Grain/Whole Wheat' NOT just 'Made with whole grain'. If it's 'made with' there can be just a fraction of actual whole grain used. 
  • Natural food label
- I did an entire blog last year on the Natural food label. It's completely unregulated, and honestly, doesn't mean a thing. Natural is no healthier than a product not labeled  'natural'. But it surely will cost more.

  For the food companies, it's all about making a profit. They will do all they can to keep their production costs down, all while telling us their product is healthier than the competition's. Even if that means playing on words, looking for loopholes, and tricking the consumer.

Click to enlarge.
Navigating the Supermarket
  There are two supermarket tips many of us have already heard. 1) Stay on the perimeter of the store -- because the refrigerated/produce sections are on the periphery; while processed foods are in the center aisles. And 2) Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

  While those are helpful, the following tidbits are a little more specific, and hopefully will keep us on the right track!

  - Can you categorize the food into either a) Animal, b) Vegetable/Fruit or c) Mineral? For example, what is a chocolate chip cookie? Or a Cheeto? If you can't put it into one of those three categories, it's not food! It's chemicals and artificial ingredients, also known as, processed.

  - Make the cashier work! Things with bar codes = no. Those are processed foods. Things the cashier has to enter-in numerically = yes. That's produce.

  - Go with a gameplan. Don't buy things that aren't on your list.

  - Choose the shortest lines (obviously!). But studies have shown the longer you wait in line, where all those goodies are so nicely displayed, the more your will power is tempted, and the more-likely you are to buy those impulse items.

Navigating the supermarket can be tricky!
  - Invest in NUTRIENTS  not CALORIES. We complain that good food is costly. Instead of buying a bag of sweet potato chips or fries (at $3 a bag), buy sweet potatoes (at roughly $1 per pound). Broccoli instead of Cream of Broccoli soup. Buy strawberries instead of Smuckers jam. These options are 1) Less costly, 2) Less processed, and 3) More nutritious. Products in it's natural/original state are more healthful, and less expensive than when in the processed state.

  - Choose what you buy organically wisely. I've written previous blogs on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. Produce that should always be bought organically (because of their thin skins, and the presence of pesticides and toxins on them), and produce that is okay to buy conventionally. Organic meat & dairy to avoid the anti-biotics and hormones.

  - Be wary of the natural food stores -- the Whole Foods of the worlds -- many times they grossly overcharge for certain products. Compare prices between markets. Sometimes Safeway has the same product for far less money. Pay attention, you'll be surprised!

  Do you  have any tips for avoiding supermarket tricks and money traps? Sharing is caring!

  Hope this was a helpful entry, at finding the true healthy buys, and keeping a few extra dollars from being thrown down the drain! 



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