Monday, March 9, 2009

Grocery Shopping

It is hard to believe the shear numbers of products on grocery shelves. It is estimated that and average of 10,000 new products have been hitting our shelves for the past few years. The sad thing is most of it is junk. I am a firm believer that no matter where you shop whether it is Whole Foods or Kroger 70% of groceries should be from the fresh produce section, 20% should be from the dry goods bins, and the last 10% should be the dairy and meat. If you approach the process of buying food and ingredients like this you will find it hard to fail as far as good choices. This is not to say that frozen meat and vegetables are not a great resource, they are a great way to save a little money and preserve food. Canned vegetables are also an option; though remember that many of them are stored in salt solutions and need to be rinsed before use. Still the same percentages above apply. Americans tend to eat a lot of simple, refined, carbohydrates (white breads) and meat. If you are looking to make a few small changes to your diet to help with attaining a healthy weight or just to feel better and have more energy start every trip to the store with fresh produce.

When I buy produce I try to buy what is in season as it is usually fresh and priced to move. As a shop I look for produce that has dark rich colures and I try to buy at least three different colors. For example I might buy a bunch of beautiful dark green kale, some orange bell peppers, a few tomatoes, and some blueberries. The dark colors let me know I am choosing foods with high nutrient content and the rainbow lets me know that I am getting a variety of nutrients. Remember that nuts, beans, and roots all fall into produce and if you are a vegetarian they can be an important source of protein.

Often I won't find the nuts or beans with the produce and will seek them out in the next stop which is the dry goods bins. These bins may be intimidating but they have a lot of nutrition to offer for a great price if you are unsure about something don't hesitate to ask for help. I try and buy my grain staples here, different types of rice, and flour. Then I stalk up on beans, lentils, and nuts. I look for lots of color again and the same idea of variety applies here. Depending on the store you may also find things like spices, honey, fresh ground nut butter, dried fruit and other treasures in this isle.

Next stop on the list is dairy. I am an avid milk drinker; I drink low fat or skim cow's milk as well as plain soymilk and the occasional almond or oatmeal milk thrown in for variety. I also find that I like to use different milks for different recipes. If you are a straight from the cow milk drink with no substitutions that is just fine; but if you haven't tried the others recently you may be pleasantly surprised. This is not you crazy Aunt Luna's soy milk from 20 years ago. Be adventurous and pick up a small container and give it a go. Eggs are also on the list, another great way to get some protein in the diet. Cheese, yogurt, and sour cream are on list as well but in very small portions. I will also buy low fat options here depending on what I will be using it for. Only one caveat, read the labels. Some products will remove fat and substitute large quantities of sugar, salt or unrecognizable fillers.*

On to the meat! I am not a vegetarian but I can respect and honor people's personal choices about what they put into their bodies. Nutritionally meat is an important part of most people's diets. However, in our American culture we often over do it and without the beneficial variety found in other cultures. I eat red meat occasionally maybe three times a month and I usually will opt for an organic grass fed, beef or bison when and where available (I only eat pork on the rarest of occasions). Other than that I eat lots of chicken and fish. I am specifically a big fan of chicken sausage and boneless skinless breasts. The two types of fish on my plate most often are fresh wild varieties like salmon and tuna. It's typical for me to have meat in small portions once a day (usually lunch) though I will often have a vegetarian day or two in any given week.

When I follow these guidelines I find I spend less time shopping and I leave the store with better choices. By focusing on fresh whole foods and not walking down the isles with candy, soda, chips, prepared meals, or processed foods I bypass a lot of temptation and lots of empty calories.

*A helpful checklist I use to read labels:
Can I pronounce all of the ingredients?
Do I know what they are?
Are the first three ingredients what I would expect?
Is a type of sugar in the first 3 things listed?
Could I explain to a 5th grader how it's made?

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