Knowing how to eat healthy and shopping to eat healthy don’t always go hand in hand.  In some cases we are left with a struggle between knowing what we want, and making a choice between whats unavailable.  Here are some of the tough choices I have come across and my rational on the decisions of what is more important when it comes to grocery shopping for your health.

More variety vs all organic???

In a perfect world all your produce would be grown locally, organically, and on healthy soil.  If you are like me, this could leave you with a fairly limited number of foods.  Research shows that eating a greater variety of plant nutrients is superior than simply increasing the amount of few plant foods. You can increase variety of organic foods if you have a good grocer near you.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s both have a large variety of organic foods, but many other big names like HyVee , Target and even Walmart are starting to carry more organic foods.  I buy a 5lb bag of organic broccoli from Costo each time I go.  But what if you want even more variety?  When it comes to going non organic you should avoid the dirty dozen (the most heavily sprayed foods) and follow these general rules:

    • Avoid non organic foods that hold a lot of water, like celery because these foods take up more of the toxic pesticides and herbicides we are looking to avoid
    • Avoid non organic foods with very thin skins as these are more easily penetrated by the chemicals sprayed on them.
    • Avoid non organic foods where you eat the skin or outside.  Foods like bananas and pineapples are less important to eat organic because they have a better barrier against the toxins, and we don’t eat the surface that has the most toxic exposure.

Condiments and Dressings

You really start getting into trouble when you leave the produce section.  I remember looking for ketchup one day and struggling between two options.  There was an unsweetened ketchup and several organic ketchups.  The organic ketchups all contained added sugar, and for many of us out there, sugar is one of the worst toxins for our body.  This is where it’s really important to know the goal of your nutrition program.  If controlling carbohydrates is top at your list of goals because you are trying to lose some love handles, then the unsweetened choice might be better for you.  If you are planning on using small portions and it will not be a significant amount of carbs for your body, then definitely choose organic.

The worst item to shop for is dressing.  The simple solutions is to make yourself a home made oil and vinegar dressing with some organic apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  If your needing to spice it up a little bit, and are looking for a store brought product, get ready for a search.  When it comes to dressings, you will see sugar free, low fat, calorie free, and of course organic.  Non of these options scream healthy, and if you look at the labels they are not.  A healthy dressing uses a healthy oil, but almost every organic brand at my local stores uses organic vegetable or canola oil.  A unhealthy food is still unhealthy if it is organic, so these are bad choices.  Sugar free dressings often have artificial sweeteners or high levels of sugar alcohols.  Some of these are worse than others.  Stevia, xylitol, and erythritol tend to get a pass when used in mild amounts.  Don’t go over board on artificial sweeteners though.  If you have to buy store brand dressing here is my order of importance

    1. It uses a healthy oil like Olive Oil
    2. It is low carbohydrate unless you are a carb type person
    3. It’s organic

Meat

When it comes to anything that lives on land, it becomes more important to know what the meat eats, before you eat the meat.  Say that 5 times fast.  Grass fed is the key here and 100% is the number you want.  When it comes to cattle and grassing animals, sometimes farmers will fatten them up on grain just before slaughter to increase their yield and others will feed them grain over the winter.  Still others do grass finishing, which is where they feed the animals grass in the later months before slaughter.  It takes a very short time for the omega-3 and CLA levels to plummet when an animal that should be eating grass gets put on a grain diet. 

Grain finishing is the worst of these options because of this.  Odds are if it says grass fed but not 100%, then this is what you are buying.  In my opinion it is more important than organic.  Generally grass pastures for cattle are not sprayed like commercial crops, but not all farmers are going to go through to process of becoming certified organic.  If in doubt, get very lean grass fed meats, because toxins will be stored in the fat tissue, so limiting animal fat can limit toxins and you can add healthy fats like organic coconut oil or pasture raised butter.  Bottom line is healthy animals feed healthy people.  Cows that eat corn and gluten are even more unhealthy than people that eat corn and gluten.  Don’t eat them.

There isn’t always a perfect solution to your grocery needs, but sometimes choosing the least bad, is the best you can do.  If the worst you do nutritionally is that, you should still be able to optimize your health quite well.  For those things you can not cover nutritionally, there are also great supplements out there that can fill any voids.  Happy shopping.