1) Make a List
2) Shop on a Full Stomach
This is a great tip for anyone whose eyes are bigger than their stomach because grocery shopping on an empty stomach creates a situation where everything seems tantalizing because of hunger. If shopping after lunch or dinner is not possible, have a small snack beforehand.
3) Learn the Labels
Food Labels- The first and sometimes only influence on a shopper’s purchasing decision, food labels often display the latest buzz words to influence buyer perception. One of the most commonly used buzzwords marketers use to promote a product as healthy is the term ‘Natural’.
Use of the term ‘Natural’ on food labels is unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and has a vague meaning. On meat labels, ‘Natural’ simply means the product is free of non-meat substances. However, there’s no guarantee the animal didn’t spend its entire life in a cage, eating genetically modified food, and being pumped full of growth hormones.
Another symbol commonly associated with ‘healthy’ is the USDA Organic Label, which guarantees products are free of genetically modified seeds, food, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, sludge, and irradiation. In general, I’ll buy regular produce when I discard the skins before eating (i.e. melons, grapefruit, oranges) and organic when I’ll be eating the entire food (i.e. apples, berries, grapes). For more information on what labels such as “Low Fat, Reduced, Healthy, etc.” mean click here.
Nutrition Label- FDA standards maintain consistency between products so consumers can compare nutritional values, but consumers must also be aware that manufacturers can deceive shoppers by manipulating serving sizes.Products such as creams, butters, and cheeses are often listed in much smaller serving sizes than they are actually used in.
Make an educated decision in the store by converting servings on the label into the amount used in the recipe; providing a more realistic idea of the nutritional value each ingredient contributes to the recipe and allowing us to determine whether we want to find a substitute for it.
For example, let’s say I have a recipe that calls for 1 C sour cream and I’m looking at this Organic Valley label to determine how many calories it will add. At first glance I see it’s only 60 calories per serving. However, I know there are 16 TBSP in 1 C so the sour cream will add 480 calories to my recipe and from reading this helpful substitution guide, I know Greek yogurt replaces sour cream for a fraction of the calories.
Ingredient List- The ingredient list is another important piece in evaluating product quality because every ingredient is displayed in order of prominence, but manufacturers have found clever ways to manipulate these as well.. As a rule of thumb the fewer the ingredients, the better and if I can pronounce the ingredients that’s even better.
For example, breads and pastas are particularly difficult to evaluate as the terms ‘Wheat’ and ‘Multi-Grain’ are commonly mistaken for whole grain products. Let’s look at an example from Village Hearth below:
Ingredient lists reading [multi-grain, wheat, wheat flour, durum wheat, wheat germ, and organic flour] are partial grains. Ingredient lists that start with, “[whole grain (insert name of grain), whole wheat, or stoneground whole]” contain all parts of the grain and thus all of its nutrients.
Margarine is another great example of label manipulation where consumers are becoming more wary of ‘Trans Fat’. The example below shows Land O’ Lakes spread advertised with ‘0g Trans Fat per serving’. Upon closer examination of the nutrition label and ingredient list we discover two important facts:
1) The spread contains Partially Hydrogenated Oil.
Partially Hydrogenated Oil is an ingredient the Mayo Clinic has linked to cholesterol issues and is a chemical term for “Trans Fatty Acids”.
2) There are a lot of servings.
Legally, a manufacturer can claim a product is ‘free’ or ‘contains 0g’ of an ingredient if there’s less than .5g per serving. As a result, manufacturers inflate the number of servings to market products as ‘Sugar Free’ or ‘Fat Free’.
4) Mother (Nature) Knows Best
As a rule of thumb, avoid food that takes less than 15 minutes to prepare or can last months without being broken down by bacteria.
If the food has been stored for months and preparation consists of unwrapping a package to nuke it I can’t help thinking twice about what manufacturing processes additives made that possible.
5) Be Edgy
Produce and fresh foods are mostly found on the outside edges of the grocery store. By hovering around the outer edges we are exposed to more fresh produce options and less processed food (which is mostly found in the isles).