With more and more foods sporting health claims and labels such as “fat-free,” “low-fat,” and “all-natural,” it can be confusing figuring out what to buy and what not to buy. But healthy food shopping doesn’t have to be a mystery. Some of the best advice I have ever read about healthy eating is also the simplest: do most of your grocery shopping on the outer aisles of the store. In most supermarkets — aside from some newer ones that have relocated the frozen foods to one end — the outer aisles contain many of the staples of a healthy diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins.
Similar to this guideline is the principle of buying primarily foods with few or no ingredients. In fact, the healthiest foods don’t contain a list of ingredients at all, such as fruits and vegetables.
It’s important to remember that the food industry is a commercial industry just like any other – they want to sell you their food, and they’re going to say whatever they can to make you buy it. Yes, there is some regulation from the Food and Drug Administration, but consumers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that they purchase and eat healthy foods.
The best way to ensure that you aren’t putting harmful substances into your body is to get into the habit of reading labels. If you see something in an ingredients list that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, don’t buy it. Generally, the foods with the fewest ingredients are healthiest. All of the ingredients should be easily identifiable.
Frank Lipman, M.D., author of Spent: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again, recommends avoiding the following ingredients, all of which can contribute to serious health problems:
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils
- Artificial sweeteners
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Sulfites (sulfur dioxide and sodium bisulfate)
- Potassium bromate
- Preservatives (such as BHA, BHT, and TBHQ)
- Artificial colors
- Artificial fats (such as olestra)
At our grocery store, I do a loop that starts in the produce department, swings by the meat section for some chicken and salmon, hits the frozen foods to pick up frozen blueberries, and ends in the “health market,” where I pick up staples such as quinoa, almonds, walnuts, almond butter, almond milk, and organic salad dressing. I rarely, if ever, venture into the center aisles.
The next time you go shopping, see if you can eliminate some of your “center aisle” foods in favor of foods with fewer ingredients. Try switching packaged snacks for more fruits and vegetables. If you must buy packaged foods, compare ingredients lists and buy the version with fewer ingredients, less saturated or trans fat, less sodium, and less sugar.
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