Have you ever walked into Whole Foods and asked yourself “Why is food here so much more expensive?”… yeah, me too… and even though I do not have an answer, I believe is because doing things the right way without shortcuts take more time and time is money, and because usually the higher the quality, the higher the price. Reality is natural whole foods are a little more expensive than the “bleached/processed” stuff our culture has gotten us used to as our “food”…. and so my very first tip is more like a warning:
•Eating more “real” natural foods is not only going to take a little adjustment in our minds, but also a little adjustment in our budgets.
But do we really need to be buying those organic pop-tarts and organic TV dinners to have peace of mind? No, not really, “organic” does not always mean the best choice, so here are some tips for when organic is the best bet and how to conquer healthier grocery shopping:
•Buy conventional fruits and vegetables that are part of the Clean 15 list, many of these have either a thick rind or peel that you discard before eating or a strong odor that naturally fends off pests, therefore lowering your exposure to pesticides residues. Clean 15: Onion, Corn, Pineapple, Avocado, Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Mangoes, Eggplant, Domestic Cantaloupe, Kiwi, Cabbage, Watermelon, Sweet Potatoes, Grapefruit, Mushrooms.
•Buy organic fruits and vegetables that are part of the Dirty Dozen, these traditionally have the most pesticide residues. Dirty Dozen: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Nectarines, Grapes, Sweet Bell Peppers, Potatoes, Blueberries, Lettuce, Kale/Collard Greens.
•Either way always try to buy grown is the US and as local to your area as possible, domestic produce is easier to find and cheaper if you buy in season.
•You can also go for the convenience of frozen fruits and vegetables, because produce is allowed to fully ripe before freezing (when fresh, most of the time is picked before ripe to allow it to ripe while it makes it to the market) more nutrients develop and are trapped. Follow the “clean” and “dirty” lists here as well and pick the ones with no sugar or sauces added. I have read many places that microwavable bags are safe, as they are tested by FDA to prove they can withstand high temperatures without leaching dangerous chemicals, and they are made without BPA.
•Canned fruits and vegetables tend to have fewer pesticides residues, because they are made for the purpose of canning and do not need to look “perfect”. Canned foods (including beans) are washed multiple times during the canning process, which gets rid of a lot of the pesticide residues. There is also plenty of organic canned options. But you should limit your canned goods consumption as most of them contain the chemical BPA (used in can liners), which has been linked to a number of health problems.
•Remember that the health benefits of eating a lot of produce still outweigh the possible risks of pesticides. So whether organic or not always try to incorporate fruit and veggies in your everyday family diet. Just make sure you wash it thoroughly under cold running tap water.
•When shopping for rice, bread and pasta don’t concentrate so much on organic, but focus on whole grains which aren’t as processed as white carbs. Make sure the word whole in the first ingredient. Breads should have at least 2 to 3 grams of fiber per slice and pasta 5 grams or more per serving.
•Buy 2%, 1% or skim milk for the whole family which helps limit the saturated fat intake. The jury is still out on health dangers of growth hormones (rBST and rBGH) in dairy, but the best bet is to stay away from them and go for the organic or the conventional that guarantees they do not use artificial growth hormones. For a bit more get milk that is fortified with nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, vitamin E and CLA.
•Buy organic eggs, produced without antibiotics and synthetic pesticides, as they contain less saturated fat and more omega-3s and beta-carotene than conventional ones. No need to go for the “cage free”, “free range” or “all natural” those terms aren’t closely regulated.
•Splurge on grass-fed meat, which means the cow exclusively ate grass and hey its entire life, and was not fed corn which is a modernism of industrial farming and it has proven to be harmful to the cow’s health. Yes it can be about twice as much, but it contains more heart-healthy omega-3s and other good fats. When buying ground beef opt for 90% to 95% lean. Good thing is that not being able to spend that much on grass-fed red meat, will end up cutting up on its consumption and that is another health benefit.
•Buy organic poultry, meaning animals were not administered antibiotics, were treated more humanly and specially offers the clear benefit: no arsenic which is approved by the government as a dietary supplement for commercial chicken feed. Meds provided to animals may also create drug-resistant superbugs that could be passed to people.
•Consider swapping some of your meat and poultry for seafood about twice a week. Go with seafood from US as much as possible to save money and get the best quality. Seafood has lower levels of saturated fats and more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Save more: pick up canned salmon and which contains more calcium than fresh.
•Stay away from the frozen prepared foods as much as possible. Yes, there might be a few out there that are worth a second look; but most of the time, no matter how “natural” and “organic” they promise to be, they still contained chemical preservatives and/or high levels of sodium. If you do, buy them look at the ingredients and make sure they are not loaded with stuff you can’t even pronounce. Stick to thin/whole-grain crust pizzas and chicken nuggets and patties with about 10 or fewer grams of fat.
•Checkout the imported food choices. They will not be “certified organic” products, but it doesn’t mean that they are not organic. Most of the other countries don’t use all the junk ingredients that Americans do. Seriously, just compare the ingredients of one particular product between domestic and imported, and you will be surprised as to how much longer and harder to understand ours is. This is why I rather buy the kids “international” cookies.
•Check these 17 tips for buying organic on the cheap.
So again, always try to use your common sense and remember that an “organic” stamp at the supermarket does not guarantees the best nutrition; and that if there is a certain food(s) that you or your family eats a lot of (i.e.: ketchup), you should be going for the healthier choice.
I will do my best to keep you updated on my fave organic and conventional products and please feel free to share your own little tricks for healthy food shopping.