Healthy Shopping: How To Outsmart The Food Industry

Taking Charge With Healthy Shopping

Nutrition, exercise, and motivation – the three main principles of living a healthy, sustainable life. Man, I’m like a broken record! One of the hardest parts of nutrition, considering all the crap food that is constantly marketed towards you, is simply buying the right foods in order to make it as effective and easy as possible. Today’s featured expert helps us tackle that issue by discussing some key tips that make healthy shopping easier!

Healthy Shopping Tips

Could the health foods you buy at the grocery store actually be sabotaging your efforts to be healthy?

With so much conflicting nutrition information out there and a sneaky food industry stamping health claims on every box, grocery shopping can be an overwhelming and confusing task these days.

Here’s the surprising truth about some popular “health foods”, and how to really make the smarter choice.

1. Nut Milk

Nut milk is all the rage these days.  Even Starbucks has jumped on bandwagon, offering their version* of coconut milk in an effort to appeal to a more health-conscious crowd (*unfortunately it is more of a sugar-water concoction.)

The truth is, real nut milk – made with raw nuts and water – is healthy and can be a great, nutrient-dense alternative to dairy milk. But “real” nut milk isn’t typically what you’re getting from a box at the store.

When you look at the ingredient list you might be surprised to find a whole myriad of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, and some other more familiar, yet still undesirable ingredients (like added sugar).

groceryMost also contain carrageenan, a common food additive made from seaweed. Sounds innocent, right? Carrageenan has no nutritional value, and for decades has been linked to inflammation, digestive issues, and even cancer.

Research has shown that even the small amount you ingest from eating processed foods containing it is enough to cause inflammation in the body.  So what should you do? Well, if you have a little bit of time you can make your own nut milk at home.

If you’re buying, look for a kind that’s unsweetened and doesn’t contain carrageenan. Both Silk and Trader Joe’s offer these better options.

2. Fat-Free Foods

If food is claiming something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for “fat free”, “light”, and “diet”.

These foods might seem like the best choice when trying to be healthy or slim down, but the labels are just trying to trick you into buying the product. Most of these foods are highly processed and filled with sugar and other chemicals.

Some common offenders you might be picking up are “light” salad dressings and “fat-free”  yogurts.  The problem is that when you take the fat out of food, it tastes bad.

So to make it taste good again, food companies replace the fat with sugar. AKA a disaster for your health and waistline.

Also, research has shown over and over again, eating good fats won’t make us fat, and can actually help with weight loss and a healthy heart.

If a food has to convince you it’s healthy, it probably isn’t. Ever seen a “fat-free” label on an apple? The bottom line here is don’t be afraid of fat. Fuel up on natural sources like those found in olive oil, nuts, avocados, and even full fat (organic!) dairy products.

3. Sugar-Free Foods

So by now, we all know that sugar is bad for us. But that doesn’t mean  “sugar-free” options are any better. Foods labeled as “no sugar added” or “sugar-free” are usually chemical cocktails and best avoided.

Aspartame, perhaps the most recognizable artificial sweetener on the market (used in diet sodas), has been linked to headaches, IBS,  cancer, and other scary health problems.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, aspartame can be really bad news for those looking to lose weight.  Studies show that it can stimulate appetite, increase carb cravings, and stimulate fat storage.

Yikes.  Stick to beverages that are naturally sugar-free like water, tea, or plain seltzer, and if you need some flavor, spruce it up with mixed berries, or slices of fresh lemon and lime.

They even make these cool fruit infusion water bottles now, so you can have your healthy hydration on the go.

4. Whole Wheat Bread/Cereal

shopping cartYou might think you’re making the smart choice by opting for wheat bread over white, but unfortunately, there isn’t really much of a difference in terms of the effect on your body.

To make whole wheat bread, grains are pulverized, processed, turned into flour, and mixed with sugar and other ingredients.  Depending on the product, they are also often “enriched”, which sounds like a good thing, but actually means the grains are stripped of all their fiber and other natural nutrients.

The result is a high glycemic food that spikes your blood sugar and creates inflammation in the body.

Chronic inflammation is very dangerous and lies at the root of virtually all diseases – everything from obesity to heart disease to autoimmune disorders and even cancer.

To explain it another way; eating wheat bread has basically the same negative effect on your body as drinking a soda. Real whole grains in their natural form have a lower glycemic index (meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar as refined grains do) and can be a part of a healthy diet.

When eating grains, it’s best to eat them in their natural form (think quinoa, brown rice, millet, barley, etc.) In terms of the best bread?

Look for a brand that is 100% whole wheat and sprouted (sprouting provides extra nutrients), and has a short, familiar ingredient list.  My top pick is Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Bread.

Wrap-Up: Bottom-Line

At the end of the day, the food industry is just another business trying to make money.

They aren’t prioritizing your health, so don’t pay attention to packaging or misleading buzzwords on the front of a box.

Use the nutrition label on the back as your guide. Skip down below the calories and fat, and head straight to the ingredient list. The food you think you’re buying should be the first ingredient.

The rest of the ingredient list should be short and recognizable. Steer clear of added sugars and mystery ingredients you can’t pronounce, and remember – the best foods at the store, fruits, and veggies, don’t have any packaging or nutrition label at all.  Happy shopping!

Kara Levine is a New York City based Pilates Instructor, Holistic Health Counselor, and founder of Blush Wellness - a company that provides personalized programming for brides looking to lose weight, get in shape, and get healthy for their big day. Kara's favorite thing is helping others get fit and happy. Some of her other favorite things include rainbow sprinkles, running in Hudson River Park, and singing with her a capella group.
Kara Levine
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