How To Be a Savvy Shopper in a Super-marketed Supermarket
Written by Josh Graber
“The best way to get the nutrients you need is from healthy, natural foods.”
We tell our clients this exact thing on a daily basis. But we also live in the real world. The reality is, almost none of us are able to get all of our nutrients and calories from the most ideal fresh/natural sources. That leaves us with the alternative of doing the best we can with what fits our daily lives & busy schedules — eating out at restaurants or making our own meals from groceries we buy. In this short blog, I’m going to focus on the latter.
There are over 38,000 grocery stores in the United States. From large chains to specialty stores to mom and pop markets, our options as consumers are vast. This is both an opportunity and a threat to our healthy eating goals! In my opinion, one of the biggest threats to our dietary endeavors is the presentation of our product choices — how our options are marketed to us as consumers.
The good news? We live in an increasingly health-conscious society. The bad news is that the companies who stock the shelves of our stores know this and often use it against us. If you’ve been to a grocery store in the past month, you’ve probably read or heard one of these “healthy” promotional lines used:
- Made with Whole Grains
- Natural Ingredients
- Low Carb
- Made with Real Ingredients
- Naturally Sourced
Any of these ring any bells? What you’re reading/hearing is – more often than not – marketing from companies who want to sell you their products.*
now Let’s break this down
Let’s use the first on the list – Made with Whole Grains – as an example. Sounds healthy, doesn’t it? It’s probably honest, too. One of the ingredients in that loaf of bread or box of crackers/cereal/etc. probably is a whole grain — but what are the rest of the ingredients? Just because it’s made with whole grains doesn’t mean it is made exclusively with whole grains. But the food producer can say it, slap it on their packaging and parade it around as much as they want to because it’s not technically a lie. (Here’s a good, quick read on what I’m referencing on bread)
That’s where you come in. As the consumer, it’s up to you to determine what’s really going on. What products are actually healthy vs. promoted as healthy?
How do you make that determination? Here are a few easy rules to follow:
- Read the Labels
While companies can get away with a lot when it comes to how they present their products, False Advertising is still a thing. They can get away with some deception, but typically, the labels don’t lie (completely). Check the nutrition facts, read the ingredients list. That’s a great place to start!
- Count the Ingredients
I don’t practice this as much as I should – I typically stop at the nutrition facts, BUT — if your grocery item has 347 ingredients on it, it’s probably not great for you. Some suggest the “Five Ingredient Rule” — while I don’t always follow it, I do believe the merit is 100% there.
- Read the Ingredients
If you don’t know what they are, maybe look them up. If you can’t pronounce them, look them up. When I was growing up, my parents used to tell me, “If you don’t know what a word means, you probably shouldn’t let it come out of your mouth.” Solid parenting advice, mom and dad! Mine is the same with the food you’re eating — If you don’t know what it is, maybe don’t put it in your mouth.
- Inform Yourself
Don’t rely on the front of a package to tell you what’s healthy and what’s not. If you want expert-level help, go to an expert for nutritional guidance! There are resources available to you.
Doing the legwork on this kind of thing can seem intimidating, but it’s absolutely worth it. Invest in learning and putting the preparation in once → reap the benefits for a lifetime for you and your friends & family!
***Let me be clear, I’m not bad-mouthing all marketing — that’s my degree and a large part of my job! I’m not even trying to down all large food production companies, for that matter. Marketing is a tricky thing. Some companies use it for good to differentiate their actually healthy products because they actually care about their reputation and their customers. Others? Not so much. Again, it’s up to you to discern the difference. You’ve got this!