How to Make Healthy Choices at the Supermarket
Supermarkets can be incredibly sneaky. They want you to spend more time and money inside, so they set up the store in a way that encourages you to do exactly that! The good news is: healthy shopping isn’t hard when you know what to look for – and look out for. Here’s your guide to doing the groceries…
Stock up on healthy staples
Healthy cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. When you’re transitioning to a wholefood diet, the first step is to stock your pantry with the essentials. That way, your weekly shop will be more streamlined. You’ll only need to top up your supply with fresh produce and protein.
These are our pantry staples.
- Whole grains – oats, brown rice, quinoa
- Pasta alternatives – brown rice, black bean, or mung bean pasta
- Baking ingredients – almond meal, coconut flour, baking powder
- Oils and vinegars – cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar
- Spices – Himalayan salt, black pepper and other spices of your choice, like chilli flakes, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, and oregano
- Condiments and spreads – almond butter, Dijon mustard, tahini, tamari, miso paste, sugar-free Napolitano sauce
- Sweeteners – raw honey, stevia, pure maple syrup
- Superfoods – cacao powder, chia seeds, shredded coconut, psyllium husk
- Drinks – herbal tea, coconut water, filtered water.
Shop around the supermarket
Once you’re in the supermarket, stick to the perimeter as much as possible. There you’ll find your fruit, veggies, fresh herbs, dairy alternatives (like almond milk and coconut yoghurt), and high-quality protein. If you’re short on time during the week, you can even pick up pre-cut veggies, zoodles or cauliflower rice. There’s no need to weave your way in and out of the middle aisles. The shelves are filled with processed foods, and you may be tempted to fill up your trolley with products that aren’t good for your health or the environment. Plus, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and money!
Be a food label bandit
Brands pour a lot of money into marketing, and labels can be deceiving. In the supermarket, “healthy” has a broad definition. Manufacturers have to disclose if they’ve added artificial ingredients or GMOs to their products, but other labels aren’t as regulated. For example, brands will slap an “all natural” claim onto their products because they know that’s what consumers want.
These are some of the most common claims to look out for:
- Low fat or fat-free
- Low sodium
- Fortified (with vitamin D, for example)
- Naturally flavoured
- Made with real fruit
- Made with whole grains
- Good source of omega-3s
It’s up to you to scrutinise your food before deciding if you want to put it into your body. The best way to do this is to scan the nutritional label on the back. This label will tell you everything you need to know.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Expiry, ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date. The reason why packaged foods last so long is because they’re packed with preservatives. Fresh is best. For packaged goods, the shorter the expiry date, the better.
- Ingredients. By law, the ingredients must be listed in descending order. The first ingredient is what makes up most of the product, and so on. Let’s say you’re reading a label for peanut butter. Peanuts should be at the top of the list… But you’ll find that many commercial peanut butters are full of sugar and vegetable oil.
- Serving size. The nutritional panel spells out how much sugar/fat/fibre/energy are in one serve. The issue is, the servings tend to be on the smaller size. For example, a yoghurt might say it contains X amount of sugar per 100g, but the tub is 200g. That means you need to double those numbers.
- Sugar content. If the product has more than 5-10g of added sugar per 100g, put it back on the shelf.
- Sodium content. This is hidden in many packaged foods. Stick to products with 250-300mg of salt/sodium per 100g.
- Saturated and trans fat content. These are the ‘bad’ fats that can potentially clog your arteries. Start by looking for products with 0g trans fats, then move onto the ingredients list. If a product contains vegetable oil (canola, rapeseed, peanut or soybean oil), keep searching. Vegetable oils may sound healthy, but they’re cheap, mass-produced oils of very poor quality.
- Artificial ingredients. Our bodies don’t recognise these ingredients, so many people find them hard to digest. They may be listed as artificial sweeteners, colours and preservatives, sugar alcohols, synthetic trans fats, food additives, high-fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
The golden rule? If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, don’t eat it!
Artificial ingredients come in many forms. We’re talking things you wouldn’t stock in your pantry, and names you can’t pronounce on the ingredients list of packaged food products (excluding superfoods like ‘quinoa’ and ‘acai’, of course!). Our bodies just don’t recognise these ingredients so they can be difficult to digest or tolerate.The team at GoodnessMe Box is on a mission to help people to fuel their bodies with whole foods. They’ve put together a detailed guide for reading food labels – and it’s free! Download it here.
Buy seasonal produce
Seasonal produce is fresher and more readily available, and because of that, it’s cheaper! If you want to take it up a notch and support your region’s farmers and growers, buy local too. The easiest way to do this is to hit the farmers markets. As a bonus, you’ll know exactly where your food is coming from.
When you see seasonal produce on sale, buy extra and freeze it! Future you will love you for it.
Choose organic goodies wisely
The organic debate has been a hot topic in the health world for a while now. Eating organic food decreases your exposure to pesticides and boosts your nutrients, but it’s also expensive. Here’s our advice. If you can, buy organic meat, poultry and dairy. Then, use the ‘dirty dozen’ as your guide. These are the foods most affected by pesticide sprays, as their skins are thinner. Foods with thick skins, like pineapples and bananas, tend to be safer – so don’t worry too much about those.
The dirty dozen includes:
Give conventional produce a good rinse, then soak in water with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to get rid of pesticides.
Look up and down
Supermarkets tend to put their most profitable products at eye-level, so you’ll pop them in your trolley without thinking (and kids can easily spot them). Healthy and more obscure products tend to be pushed to the highest or lowest shelves, so be sure to scan all the shelves!
About the author
Peta Shulman is the founder of GoodnessMe Box, Australia's largest health food sampling service. Peta was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition 5 years ago and it took a heavy toll of her body and it was around that time she started learning about the healing power of whole foods. Shortly after Peta created GoodnessMe Box to help people lead a more convenient healthy lifestyle.