Shopping for “Healthy” Food

I used to shake my head at the Whole Foods phenomenon. I could not understand why people would pay those prices or want the things they could get there. Now that I’m on my journey to get healthy and lose weight, I thought, “Now’s my chance to see what all the fuss is about.”

And guess what? The more I learn about food the fonder I am of Whole Foods.   For one thing, the healthy options are much greater than at the average grocery store. But I can tell you there are plenty of non-healthy items at Whole Foods as well.  Just because something says natural does not mean it’s “natural!” Read those labels… but be smart about how you do it.

Many people will tell you to read the label for calories, fat, daily nutrients and carb percentages to determine if the food is healthy for you or not. I used to read labels that way all the time.

Like most everyone else I used to reach for the “non-fat” items on the shelf.  Not any more. Now I almost never look at the calories or the nutrition label just because I know that they won’t mean anything to me.

Many of you may be scratching your head and thinking SERIOUSLY?  You don’t count your calories? NOPE, almost never.

Here is why.   It’s not the percentage of daily this and daily that that I look at – it’s the ingredients. The ingredients are the only things that really matter.  What is in the product is more important than the nutrition information. You want to know what you are actually eating!

Rule of thumb: 5 ingredients or fewer

Is such a thing possible? Yes. (Think about a bunch of carrots – only one ingredient – carrots!) Does shopping this way restrict the way you eat? Yes, but in a good way!

All 5 ingredients (or fewer) in a product should be completely natural. You should not only recognize every ingredient, you should be able to pronounce it too! Knowing the ingredients ensures that the product has not been overly processed. Processing simply takes all the natural nutrients out of a product. Some companies remove the nutrients that occur naturally in a certain food item, and then replace them with laboratory manufactured nutrients. How does that make any sense? So, processed food is almost always nothing but empty calories – calories with no real nutrition. That means you are essentially starving your body of nourishment while gaining weight.

Recently I started teaching my 9 year old son about label reading.  It’s not easy but he is receiving an education that I hope stays with him for the rest of his life.  If it does it will make all the difference as he matures.  We are all susceptible to marketing, which makes it hard to decipher what is healthy and what isn’t. Knowing how to read a label will protect my son, and all of us, from falling prey to misleading advertising and let us really know what we are putting into our bodies.

The best plan of action when changing your eating has always been to shop on the outside aisles of the grocery store and to stay away from the middle.  The outside was the healthy stuff – produce, fresh meats and fish, maybe some dairy. The organic and natural sections used to be separate, and usually on the edges of the store as well. However, due to smart marketing on the part of grocery stores, it is now becoming more difficult to do that.

My local grocery store is Publix.  I have grown up with them and am definitely a lifetime customer. They have been listening to their customers and have been slowly adding in healthier products which makes life a little bit easier for me!   When they first started carrying their “Green Wise” products they had half an aisle dedicated to organic products.  Now they have more (or it appears that way) and here is why.  They have gotten smart with their marketing and now have the organic and healthy products mixed in with the processed food throughout the entire store.  So if I want almond butter I have to go down the baked good aisle or peanut butter and jelly aisle.

Again the marketing prevails.  It’s smart on their part but can be dangerous for you when trying to make your decision on which item might be healthier than the other. When the organic almond butter is mixed in with the Jif and the Skippy, how do you decide? Reading the labels takes time, but it is worth it.

So since I brought it up, let’s talk about peanut butter.  HUGE market right?  So many brands to choose from.  This is what I have learned.   First  I quit buying Jiff because it has sugar in it.  When I looked at their website I learned that even their “Natural” peanut butter brand has sugar listed as their number one ingredient!  Number 1!!

Here are the ingredients on the label:


Okay, there is a plus side to this.  You can READ the ingredients!!   So yeah for Jiff!

However, one has to ponder why do they add oil? Peanuts have their own natural oils. Adding more is adding injury where none is needed. Why sugar? That is simply to cater to our addiction to sugar, an addiction that has been created by food processors who started adding sugar to… everything. Tomato sauce, cereal, salad dressing – everything! Once we are accustomed to that much sugar in all that we eat, we feel we can’t live without it when we try to cut it from our diet! Peanut butter really only needs one ingredient: PEANUTS.

So, to sum up, here’s what I’ve learned on my journey so far about healthy shopping:

  1. Read labels for ingredients that you recognize and understand;
  2. Don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients, but even then (as the Jiff label shows) check what the ingredients are.
  3. Buy fresh, single ingredient items like veggies but when you want something from the “center of the store,” check to see which ones are natural and simple and good for you, and which ones are processed and just “empty calories.”

Do you have any questions about label reading?  Post them below and share any label reading tips that you use!







Leave a Reply