Smart Shopping for Food Sleuths

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In a perfect world, we’d live off the land. Imagine if we could all plant and grow our own fruits and vegetables, raise free-range chickens, and supply cattle with all of the fresh green grass their tummies could handle. However, the global industrialized food complex does not work that way. Since food must be mass-produced in order to feed everyone, we often rely on grocery store shelves and farmer’s markets for nourishment.

So, how can we eat wisely with this kind of food? Start by eating whole goods – fresh or frozen – whenever possible. The trick in navigating the myriad products in a typical grocery store is using information wisely.

Here are some useful tips for assessing anything in a bag, box, carton, or bottle:

  • Don’t be misled by health claims on packaging: Investigate the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list. If there are more than five ingredients in the food, determine whether you know what the ingredients are, whether you can see them in the food, and whether you can pronounce their names. Are the first ingredients high-quality ingredients, derived from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, or seeds?
  • Look at the serving size first: This will determine how much of each nutrient you’ll be getting in one serving. Remember, if you eat 2 or 3 servings of a food, you have to double or triple the amounts of fat, calories, sodium, etc as well.
  • Zoom in on the fat content: Watch out if there’s more than 3 grams of saturated fat per serving.
  • Pay attention to sugar: There are a TON of forms of the sweet stuff: cane sugar, Florida crystals, honey, molasses, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc. These all act in the same way once they get into your system. Too much of any added sugars can cause weight grain and tax your pancreas by forcing it to secrete more insulin in order get the sugar into your cells. Remember, sugar has 15 calories in a teaspoon (4 grams). If a product contains 20 grams of sugar, it offers 5 teaspoons per serving!
  • Focus on fiber: If there are 3 grams of fiber in a single serving of a food, that's great news! If there are 5 grams or more in a serving, that food is considered an “excellent” source of fiber. Fiber should come from plant foods. Think whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.

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