Last night I had the privilege of leading a supermarket store tour for emPower Training Systems Biggest Loser team participants, as well as a few clients who wanted to tag along for the fun! It's a little more complex than me telling you that all salad dressings and condiments are in aisle 4, I'm sure you could figure that out all on your own. But did you know that eating from the middle aisles could be contributing to weight gain? How about the fact that you're paying double what you need to for spinach or bagged lettuce!?
When shopping at the supermarket, remember these rules in order to avoid the marketing scams:
1. Fewer ingredients = Healthier food
Additives and preservatives indicate added calories in order to increase shelf-life, not added nutrition. The general rule of thumb is, 5 ingredients or less for healthy-for-you foods. Whip out your glasses and read the small print.
2. "Good sources of" might mean "bad for you"
Cereals, crackers and even Pop-tarts use this catchphrase and it holds zero value whatsoever. The food industry makes these claims, referring to the vitamins processors are required to add to enriched flour. You're not getting anything extra, so don't be fooled. Also, check the order of ingredients. Ingredients are required to be listed in order of predominance, so just because it says "good source of whole grains" doesn't mean whole grains is the 1st ingredient. That box of [insert anything here] could contain more sugar than whole wheat.
3. Skate the perimeter
I'm sure you've heard this one before but all the best things for you can be found on the outside edges of the store. The healthiest items in the supermarket need to stay fresh and have expiration dates. The middle (the aisles) represent the nutritional dead zone, with a few exceptions (e.g. unsalted nuts, quinoa, etc.)
4. Raise your gaze
Food vendors pay something called "slotting fees" in order to have their most profitable food items placed at eye level of their target audience. Unfortunately, "most profitable" usually means 'cheapest to make', not the healthiest. Ever wonder why the fruit snacks filled with artificial food coloring and hydrogenate oil are on the bottom? That's where your kids eyes roam. Moooooom, can we please get these!? Search high and low for the shelves occupied by smaller companies.
5. Start smart
Don't fall prey to the big, shiny signs that say you're getting a discount. You might not be. Let's break it down: you might get 5 bowls of cereal out of one box (90 cents per meal, without milk). A dozen eggs, however, makes 6 meals (31 cents per meal). Cereal is 3x as expensive and not nearly as healthy. Put it back on the shelf!
6. Buy frozen
If something isn't in season, buy it frozen if you want your moneys worth. Frozen varieties are often fresher than fresh fruits and vegetables...wait, whaaat? Yep, think about it…those blueberries have been sitting on a truck for days en route to the grocery store and have probably been on the shelf for a few more days. The frozen berries were packaged right away and have been preserved at their freshest ever since. Cheaper, they don't spoil with just as much nutritional value. #win
7. "Reduced fat" might, in fact, be making you fat
Ever wonder why the obesity trend in America has exploded along with the "fat-free" trend? Fat is a necessary macronutrient in our diet. Don't eliminate it and expect your love handles to fall right off. Many times the full-fat versions are much better for you anyway. The fat didn't just disappear, but rather, it was replaced with some other terrible-for-you ingredient like sugar, starch or salt. Take a look at the reduced-fat peanut butter and compare it to the regular stuff next time you're at the store. There's less fat, sure, but I promise you there's more sugar. Eat. Whole. Foods.
8. "Natural" doesn't mean squat
Seriously. Outside of meat and seafood, the term natural has no regulations by the FDA whatsoever. That means something can claim to be natural and still contain a million ingredients you've never heard of. For example, "Natural 7-up" Yeah, sorry, it might make you feel a little better about drinking it but you're still ingesting garbage.
9. Don't buy into the hype
The food industry spends over $30 BILLION (with a B) on advertising each year. Don't choose something based on it's packaging. Read the nutrition label and ingredients. Educate yourself. Sure, the colorful cartoons on the front of the box are cute and who doesn't love the crossword puzzles, but feed your body instead of feeding into those advertising games.
10. Do the math
Just because it's "two for $3" doesn't mean you're getting a deal! Big, bright signs and strategically placed adverts are used to capture your attention and make you think you're saving money, but that's not always true. 10 for $10 and BAM, they've got you shovelling 9 extra cans into your cart because it's a steal! Right!? Not always. Use your brain.
Eat well. Live well. Be well.