Virtual Grocery Store Tour Part Three: The Middle Aisles

By now I think you understand that, based on the products you see inside of it, the grocery store could care less about your health.  They are a business whose focus is making a profit.  They will stack bottles of soda, boxes of cookies and bags of chips into massive displays to get your attention and tempt you into putting them in your cart.   Remember– YOU are in charge here.  You are responsible for looking after yourself and your family.  You do not have to buy junk that does not support a healthy and strong body and mind.

So far you’ve got your cart mostly filled with fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce department (and perhaps a small amount of some animal products if you eat them).  If I had to estimate a percentage of the middle aisles that contained packaged foods unsuitable to be a regular part of the human diet, I would have to say it’s got to be around 90%.  Every time I shop at my market I am in shock that there is an entire aisle just for soda.  The rows of potato chips, cereals, juices, candy, pasta, bread, etc. etc. etc. leave me completely baffled.  I can’t seem to understand why people are buying this stuff.  It is there because people are buying it.  And then again, people are buying it because that is what they see there (and so it must be normal food, right?)  Wrong.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”  ~Mark Twain

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The packaged foods in your grocery store aisles aren’t all bad.  Of course it’s better to make a lot of these items from scratch at home or buy them in their fresh state, but it’s also nice to have them in your house for those times when you don’t have time to cook/prepare.  Let’s take a look at some of the best picks:

Canned Goods/Dry Goods

  • Canned beans– look for no/low sodium or rinse the salted varieties before using.  There are many types:  black, pinto, cannellini, white, fava, kidney, garbanzo, even lentils.  Ingredients should just be beans and maybe salt.  Keep these stocked in your pantry for quick and convenient additions to meals and recipes.
  • Dried beans and lentils.  Soak and cook these (lentils don’t need soaking first).
  • Canned soups– look for lower sodium varieties and choose bean and vegetable-based over cream-based.  Avoid soups with  pasta or rice unless whole grain.
  • Pasta– 100% whole grain pastas are best.  Look for pastas made from whole wheat, brown rice or quinoa.  Even whole grain versions are considered highly processed foods so minimize pasta intake and go for grains in their whole state more often.
  • Canned coconut milk– keep light and regular on hand for sauce and dessert recipes.
  • Canned tomatoes–to use for soups, chilis and sauces.  Look for low-sodium.
  • Boxed cereal– get 100% whole grain cereals with low added sugar.
  • Rolled oats– not the flavored oatmeal packs, get the plain oats.
  • Non-dairy milks– soy, almond, hemp, coconut, oat, rice, flax– lots to pick from.  Choose the unsweetened versions.
  • Sea vegetables– great sources of trace minerals like iodine.  Try nori and make your own sushi or simply use it for a wrap.
  • Spices–stock your cupboard with a variety that you like such as: cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, dill, cayenne, etc.
  • Good quality sea salt like Himalayan or Celtic sea salt.

Sauces

  • Pasta sauces– avoid added cheeses and oils.  Look for clean, simple ingredients like tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and spices.  Be aware that most pasta sauces are loaded with sodium.
  • Tamari or Shoyu– types of soy sauces that are great savory ingredients for sauce recipes or to add to your salads, veggies and whole grains.  Very high in sodium so use mindfully.
  • Bottled sauces:  peanut-sauce, teriyaki, barbecue sauce, etc.– to keep in your pantry for use when you can’t make your own healthier version.  I love the Organicville line of sauces.  Definitely not a perfect list of ingredients but better than most.  Look for little or no oil.
  • Vinegars– balsamic and apple cider (get this one raw) make excellent bases for tangy homemade dressings or just to splash on salads for added flavor.
  • Salsa!  A nice low-cal dip or topping for your meals– it’s basically just a delicious blend of vegetables.

Nut/Seed Butters

  • Natural peanut butter– should only be peanuts and salt.  No hydrogenated oils or added sugars.
  • Almond butter, cashew butter, pecan butter, sunflower seed butter– for variety.
  • Tahini– made from ground sesame seeds and useful in hummus or homemade dressings.
  • 100% fruit jam/jelly (I know, not a nut butter but it sure goes well with them!)

Baking Staples

  • 100% whole grain flours (whole wheat pastry, spelt, buckwheat, oat, etc)
  • Cocoa powder or carob powder
  • 100% whole grain pancake mix
  • 100% pure maple syrup
  • Raw honey
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Applesauce (no sugar added)
  • Medjool dates (MY FAVORITE SWEETENER!!) Hint-  get these at BJs.

Snacks/Treats

  • Baked potato chips, baked corn chips, popped chips.  (Better than fried chips)
  • Microwave popcorn (no hydrogenated oils, low in added oil/salt).  Better yet, buy a bag of kernels to pop your own.
  • Dried fruits– raisins, dates, cherries, apricots, etc.  Perfect oatmeal sweeteners!  Ingredients should just be fruit– no sulfur dioxide or other preservatives or colorings.
  • Nuts– look for unsalted and raw
  • Bars– great to keep with you for when you need a quick snack.  I hate to keep repeating myself but read the ingredient list so it meets your approval.  Lara bars are my favorite for clean ingredients.  They’re probably as close as you are going to find for a healthy bar.  Check out others like Luna, Clif, Probars, Kashi, and Raw Revolution.
  • Chocolate bars– get 70% or higher cocoa.

Many of the above foods should really be consumed in moderation and used as an accompaniment to whole food-based meals.  But they all have their place in a balanced diet.  If your home is well-stocked from the grocery store you will have dozens of healthy options at your fingertips. If you buy things like cookies, cakes, soda, muffins, oily dressings, white rice, sweet cereals and cans of spaghetti-Os– guess what?  You’ll find yourself eating those foods.  Good health really does begin with your choices at the store.

Once more– read the ingredient lists on all items!  Check to see what the serving size is as well.  Avoid white flour (=wheat flour or enriched wheat flour), sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, white rice, white pasta (=semolina or wheat flour), partially-hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and keep oils to a minimum.

Did that help?  To be honest, it all feels very simple in my head but when I try to put it into writing it sounds like a lot of information.  I really am just aiming to help you not feel overwhelmed and helpless when faced with all the foods for sale in the stores.  I also noticed that I lost a couple of people after my last post on animal products.  I understand and I had mixed feelings about writing about them.  The fact is, I know that most of the people I meet are not willing to give up meat and dairy (and it’s ok!), but I want to get them thinking about where their meat and dairy come from in order to make informed decisions about what to buy.  When I was vegan I can remember reading a blog from a girl whose recipes and ideas I liked until one day I read how she began eating animals again.  I was disgusted and immediately became judgmental about her and her decision.  I have come a long way since then and am very accepting of people’s food choices and their ability to know what is best for them.

I’ll wrap up this blog series next time with what’s left…Frozen foods, breads/bakery, and anything else I can think of!  Have a great rest of the weekend and shop smart!

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