As fun, easy, and convenient as it may be, eating out at restaurants certainly has its disadvantages. Though restaurant options exist as a spectrum as far as health goes (as do their individual menu choices), in the context of an overall healthy and sustainable life, nothing beats cooking at home.
Cooking at home might make for more work, but the health (and financial!) benefits of making your own food far outweigh any downside in my opinion.
Why is cooking your own food so much better? That’s easy: you control what goes into it! Whether you’re looking to control the macronutrient profile, stay away from allergens, or just make sure your food is fresh and free of preservatives, making food yourself ensures you only put into your body what you want to.
With that in mind, here, in no particular order, are 11 Random Thoughts on making your next grocery store trip as successful and effective as possible.
Random Tip #1
The fewer ingredients listed, the better. Honestly, my first step is to glance at the list before reading it. If the list is short (up to 10 or so ingredients), I’ll read each one to see what’s in the product. If the list appears to be any longer than that, though, I won’t even bother – I’ll just put it down and move on.
That being said, though, you get bonus points for buying foods with no list at all! Fruits, vegetables, meats – they’re like the elements of the food world: they’re not made up of anything, they just...are.
Random Tip #2
Back to the ingredients list, the more pronounceable the ingredients are, the better. If you can pronounce an item listed, chances are it’s an ingredient that’s part of a recipe. If any word looks akin to something you learned about in high school chemistry, though, it’s likely an additive that’s geared at either making your crave the food, masking (or replacing) the flavor, or extending the shelf-life.
Random Tip #3
Sugar isn’t always called sugar. Check out the screenshot below. It’s just some of the first page google search results for “other names for sugar.” Don’t be fooled – do your research!
Random Tip #4
Finding healthy foods in a grocery store can be pretty time consuming before you get a general idea of what’s what. To narrow down your search, take the old advice of shopping the outside aisles. Unless you need to grab a one-off or very specific item, avoid the center aisles where everything is in boxes and bags.
Random Tip #5
Park far away! I’m not talking the very end of the lot, but it’s better for your schedule and your overall health (and physique!) if you don’t drive around looking for an ideal, up-close parking spot.
Walking is an incredibly important and vastly underrated part of what makes a healthy human. And while parking farther away from the grocery store is by no means going to take you all the way to your goals, it is an important habit––in the context of others like it––that is very easy to insert into your everyday routine.
Random Tip #6
Carry your groceries out! I know this one isn’t always feasible if you’re shopping for a family for a couple of weeks, but you should give it a try if it’s at all possible. It might be difficult, but the idea of use it or lose it is very much alive and well in the realm of health and fitness. If you never choose to walk around carrying heavy things, you’ll lose your ability to walk around carrying heavy things.
Plus, walking––with proper posture and core stability, of course––while holding heavy things by your sides in the gym is a version of what we call a weighted carry. People pay a lot of money to go to a gym and have a trainer tell them to do that. And here you are, getting it for free! Go you.
Random Tip #7
If any part of any of your shopping trips requires carrying more than 4 bags or so, I highly recommend grabbing a pair of these carabiner handles (I got mine from a $3 bin in Target’s Dollar Spot). The most obvious perk is that the padded handles make it more comfortable to hold onto a lot of bags. That’s true and a great perk, but what you might not think about is how much easier it becomes to pick your bags back up off the ground if you ever need to set them down (like when unlocking your door, for instance).
Anyone who’s carried groceries in winter gloves knows how much of a pain it can be to try and loop your hands and wrists back through twelve flimsy plastic grocery bag handles. Just grabbing at one, solid target? That’s the stuff.
Random Tip #8
Don’t make any assumptions about the ingredients – check! Ever checked the nutrition facts of a can of tuna packed in water? Why would you? It’s just tuna and water, right?
It’s actually really difficult to find canned tuna that doesn’t contain preservatives AND vegetable broth (thanks, Trader Joe’s!). Sure, vegetable broth might sound completely benign, but I’m skeptical of anything that A: sounds like it doesn’t belong and B: isn’t listed with individual ingredients.
What’s in that vegetable broth? I don’t know. But something tells me it’s not suitable for making soup.
Random Tip #9
Realize that foods get reputations for “being” certain things (healthy, unhealthy, high in fiber, a good source of vitamin C, etc.), but that does not make them the be all, end all in that category.
As far as healthy and unhealthy go, those reputations are pretty well useless. If it didn’t grow in the ground or once have a face, you might want to dig into what criteria were used to make this distinction, and in what context it applies (or doesn’t apply).
For foods touted as being a good source of some nutrient, it’s again important to do just a little digging into where that “fact” came from. I’m not saying that fruits and vegetables are an unnecessary part of a healthy human diet, but did you know that red meat and even beef liver have really high amounts of many important vitamins and minerals, too?
Check out the chart below from Chris Kresser [to put this into perspective, he notes “that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient—including vitamin C...occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver…”]
Random Tip #10
Pre-made spice mixes are often lousy with fillers, anti-caking agents, preservatives, natural and artificial flavors, etc. For a healthier, likely cheaper, more versatile option, simply turn a pre-made spice package around and check out what's in it. Then go buy those ingredients and skip the junk.
Random Tip #11
Remember that the only goal of any packaging on any product in any grocery store is to get you to buy it. Using words like natural or farm is meant to evoke a specific response from the consumer, and often has little or nothing to do with the product or how it was made. While companies can’t explicitly falsely advertise, you’d be amazed at what you can do with some ambiguous and un-regulated terms.
For an example, let’s take a quick look at the term “natural” as defined by the FDA.
Well...we can’t actually do that, because “the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term ‘natural’” just yet (and don’t worry, that’s a quote straight from FDA.gov). Though they say that it basically means “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food,” they end it with the wonderfully ambiguous caveat “that would not normally be expected to be in that food.”
If you want to avoid additives and chemicals and secretions of the anal glands of beavers, it’s best to stick to buying foods in their closest–to–natural form.
What about you? From money-saving tips to finding the best, freshest ingredients, we want to hear from you! Leave your tips below.