1. CHOOSE YOUR STORE
As a certified nutritionist, I can tell you that I've never once done my weekly grocery shopping at Whole Foods. You don't need a health store to find healthy food! You can find budget friendly, quality items at stores like Costco, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Kroger, Publix, Aldi, or Safeway! My personal favorites are Costco and Sprouts! It's also important to add that supporting your local agriculture is vital to your health and your community's economy! Search your area for local ranches and farms, or hit up your local farmer's market or CSA for produce.
Whatever store you have locally is a great place to start. You can find quality products almost anywhere if you know what to look for, so let's start with that!
2. WATCH FOR SNEAKY MARKETING
Food marketing can be so hard to navigate. I have so much passion around this subject, I soon hope to write an entire book about it, but we'll start simple today! If your food has a label, it has some sort of marketing. Remember, marketing doesn't have to be obvious for it to work; in fact, subliminal messages can be received better by the consumer.
Animal Products: Cage free, organic, natural, vegetarian fed, USDA Choice, antibiotic-free, etc. I'm sure you recognize these words from purchasing beef, chicken, pork, and eggs. So what's actually worth the extra money? Well, very little of it, actually. When it comes to beef, our very best option is grass-fed/grass-finished beef which has the best omega 3:6 ratio, is higher in vitamins, and contains cancer fighting CLA. If your label says "organic", but NOT grass-fed, it simply means your beef was fed organic grain feed. The problem is, the feed often given to cattle isn't that of it's natural diet, and contains corn, soy, and other by-products we want to avoid. Remember, you are what your food eats!
Chicken and eggs are also heavily marketed with things we actually want to avoid. You might find the words "cage free, vegetarian fed" on your chicken or eggs, but this isn't what it's made out to be. Cage free doesn't mean they're let out to pasture or that they have any outdoor space at all. Free range follows closely behind it, with very little outdoor space. The word we want to look for is pastured, meaning they have open, free, and constant access to the outdoors. Why does that matter? If you're an animal lover, you can value the welfare of chickens in their natural habitat but even if you're not, pastured chickens are the healthiest chickens! They are free to roam and absorb nutrients like Vitamin D and consume their natural diet which isn't the vegetarian feed touted on the labels. Pastured chickens love to eat bugs and worms which keeps them healthy and in turn, provides quality eggs. Pastured eggs have 2/3 more Vitamin A, 2x heart-healthy Omega 3, 3x more Vitamin E, 7x beta-carotene, and 4-6x more Vitamin D than conventional eggs. You can visually SEE the difference by cracking open a pastured egg next to a conventional egg. The color of the yolk and the taste will show you the difference! You can see where your favorite brand lands here.
Produce: Do we choose organic or non-organic? That's a great question. The organic movement is still fairly new. Up until the shift in agriculture in the early 1900s, most food was organic and sourced from the farmer so this new world of organic, non-GMO food is still being explored in both science and health. So what does YOUR family do? You make the best choice you believe in. Personally, in our home, I choose primarily organic as to ensure we live the most toxic free life as possible. That's where my personal values and convictions lie, but you can decide differently. Ultimately, if you're filling your cart with a wide array of vegetables, organic or not, I'm happy! If you're on the fence, my rule of thumb is to choose organic if I eat the skin. You can also follow along the guidelines of the EWG's Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen.
Products: Here is where marketing gets all sorts of tricky! While the labeling on products in grocery store aisles, IS regulated by the FDA, it doesn't mean it has your best interest at heart. So we're going to completely ignore the front of the packaging and it's claims about heart health, low-sugar, or being "clean". Flip that product over then skip the nutrition panel. What?! Yes, skip it. We want to look what's in the product. The first thing I look for is sugar, including artificial sweeteners that don't show up on the nutrition panel (which is why we ignore that!). There are over 60(!) names of sugar with more hitting the market all the time. Learn the names of sugar and avoid products with this as the first three ingredients or use more than one form of sugar. Also, skip junky crop seed oils (hello, inflammation!) like canola oil, vegetable oil, safflower, or soybean oil which are actually more damaging to your health. If you don't recognize an ingredient, your body won't either. Keep ingredients limited and to things you can understand.
3. Save Money
When you begin to pass on processed and choose real food, the sticker shock can be a little hard to swallow. This requires a bit of perspective shift, as food is medicine so you have to see it as an investment in your health, family, and legacy. Beyond that, there are some simple ways to save money!
Double Ad Days: Find out if your local grocery store participates in double ad days. Sprouts does Double Ad Wednesdays where the have both the previous week's specials on the same day the current week's specials hit. This gives you a bigger variety of sale options! Just last week, grass fed beef was half off so I stocked up on the same day my favorite eggs were on sale! This is my favorite way to save money.
Skip specialty products: It's tempting to go buy all the newest protein bars, snacks, sauces, and dressings but if you're on a budget, simply skip these items. You can easily make sauces and dressings for cheaper at home, and snack on real food items like hard boiled eggs, vegetables, and snack-sized protein like chicken or burger patties. Keep your spending to protein and vegetables and you'll have everything you need to succeed!
Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen: If you can't afford all organic but want to include some, stick the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen that we talked about above so you're getting the best bang for your buck!