Should you reach for local or organic produce? Shop the outskirts of the store or beeline for the “natural foods” aisle? Who knew grocery shopping could be so complicated!
We’ve come a long way from the days of grocery shopping with our parents, circular in hand, picking out items that had the best coupons. Now we’re making selections based on ethically-sourced ingredients, “non-GMO” labels, and a 50-miles-or-less radius of origin.
In the hopes of making our next trip to the supermarket shorter than a Lord of the Rings installment, we enlisted the help of one of our fave nutritionists, Rachel Molenda, to walk us through some common mistakes people make when grocery shopping and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Getting Fooled by “Health-Washing”
It’s very easy to get fooled into thinking something is healthy when it’s really not. Words like “Natural” are thrown around on packaging to make consumers believe it’s a better choice. The truth is, the word “Natural” isn’t a regulated term so anyone is free to use it, as you’ll see on these hot dogs.
Other things to look out for in terms of health-washing are terms like “low calorie” “low fat” “free from artificial flavours and colours” and “source of probiotics” (as seen on the Tropicana above). With “probiotics” being a major buzz word, it’s easy to get fooled into snapping up this carton in the hopes of getting your daily dose. The real scoop: the dose per serving here is one billion CFU, which clinical studies show is not actually an effective dose (the average person can take anywhere from 25-50 billion CFU/day, but please consult your natural health care practitioner before doing so).
Also important to note: the good stuff here won’t outweigh the bad, namely the amount of sugar you’ll take in through each serving which is enough to wipe out any good bacteria that is potentially proliferating in your gut.
Mistake 2: Not paying attention to where your food is coming from
While there are plenty of awesome things about living in Canada, access to fresh produce year round when grocery shopping isn’t one of them. If you want, say cucumbers or fresh berries in the middle of winter, they’re likely to be coming from some warmer climate far away.
Here’s why that matters: the moment a fruit or vegetable is harvested, it begins to lose its nutrient density. It’s also usually picked before it’s perfectly ripe (which is also when it’s most nutrient dense) to ensure it stays in good condition by the time it arrives to its destination. Over the course of its journey, your produce begins to lose that nutrient density; the longer the journey, the greater the loss.
So how can you avoid this one? For starters, seek out recipes based on which fruits or vegetables are in season locally (reach for apples in the fall and early winter; look for squash recipes for the colder months). Still jonesing for tropical options like avocado or citrus fruits like oranges? We’re not suggesting you deprive yourself, but be mindful of where your food is coming from (like this Granny Smith apple from Italy) and the amount of time and fossil fuels that were involved in getting it to your cart.
Mistake 3: Wasting money, plastic, and nutrients on pre-cut packaged produce
Pre-chopped fruits and vegetables are convenient, especially IG-friendly items like spiralized beets, zucchini, or butternut squash. But there are a few negatives to keep in mind: for starters, there’s the obvious excess plastic from the packaging. Then there’s the cost difference when you pay someone else to chop your fruits and veggies. But the biggest one to keep in mind? Once you cut into a fruit or veggie, it begins to lose its nutrient density. The longer it sits in the packaging, the greater the loss.
Mistake 4: Always buying the same staples while grocery shopping
I think we’re all a bit guilty of this, but it’s something that’s worth paying attention to. A lot of us get caught in the trap of buying the same staple foods over and over out of ease or unfamiliar with alternatives. Romaine lettuce used to be one of those staples for me, before I ventured out into the land of arugula, spinach, swiss chard and collard greens. When we get a wider variety of foods into our diet, we are getting in a wider variety of nutrients. Switching up your go-to staple foods can also help to prevent food sensitivities, as food sensitivities can also be brought upon by repeated exposure to the same foods over and over. Next time you go to the grocery store, challenge yourself to try something different!
Mistake 5: Not buying foods when in season
We all know how delicious a strawberry is at the peak of strawberry season. This is very much the same for all foods when they’re in season. Not to mention, they tend to be much cheaper too! As we move into Spring, keep an eye out for seasonal produce including asparagus, fiddleheads, garlic scapes and dandelion greens.
Mistake 6: Assuming gluten-free and dairy-free foods are all healthy
I remember the first time I did a seven-day gluten-free challenge back when the whole gluten-free movement began. I thought I was being so healthy eating gluten-free Corn Pop-like cereal, gluten-free cookies, and gluten-free chocolate covered pretzels. The truth is, I was probably eating worse than I would have had I just ate the gluten-containing product. I understand that for those with Celiac disease and gluten intolerances, gluten-free alternatives are a necessity, but we have to still treat the gluten-free cookie the same way we would treat the gluten-containing cookie; you probably wouldn’t naturally eat multiple, knowing that it would leave you with a belly ache.
The same goes for dairy-free, as you’ll see with this dairy-free Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream above or the Polar Puffs cereal in the main image, both of which contain an inordinate amount of sugar. For a treat once in a while? Sure! But again, the gluten-free and dairy-free label isn’t a free pass to treat food like an all you can eat buffet.
Mistake 7: Buying every single food organic even if it’s not actually in your budget
I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a mistake as there’s no harm in consuming 100% organic-based diet. But I know this tends to stress a lot of people out, given that there tends to be a cost implication with buying organic food when grocery shopping. If it’s not feasible for you to buy everything organic at this time, follow the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen guide. This guide contains a list of the foods that are typically okay to eat in non-organic form (the Clean 15) versus the foods that are heavily pesticide-laden and should be purchased organic (Dirty Dozen Guide). A new guide is released each year, so keep an eye out for the 2018 guide but you can find the 2017 Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen here in the meantime.
Want more wisdom from Rachel? You can find her on her website here and on Instagram @rachelmmolenda