Updated: Mar 11
I'm a firm believer that the old saying to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store is a bunch of hooey.
There is definitely good stuff on the inside, you just need to know how to look.
Ok, so how do I do this.
When you're looking at anything with a label, there are a few things that you need to be aware of.
1) The Nutritional Label on the package can be "out" by as much as 25% - so take that information with a grain of salt.
2) Don't rely on manufacturers claims - first, there is actually a small margin that is allowable in a product per serving - Trans Fat Free for example - The American Heart Association states "products can be listed as “0 grams of trans fats” if they contain 0 grams to less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving". Second, some products never contained the "offending" ingredient to begin with - one you regularly see is the NON GMO labeling. In Canada, only Canola, Soy, grain corn (not the sugar corn you eat), and sugar beets are GMO. In the USA, you're looking at Corn, Soy, Cotton, Potato, Alfalfa, Canola, Papaya, Squash, Apple, and Sugarbeets. So just be aware of what a company is trying to sell you.
3) Learn to read the ingredients. That is where the gold is information wise.
3 Ingredients to Avoid When Grocery Shopping
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - this ingredient is a major red flag that the food in the package is processed junk. HFCS is cheaper to use than sugar.
HFCS is made by taking corn syrup (almost 100% glucose), and adding some enzymes to convert the glucose into fructose. The resulting syrup can result in upwards of 90% fructose now! The range goes from 50/50 Fructose:Glucose as HFCS 55 to 90/10 Fructose:Glucose.
HFCS 55 (which I have never actually seen labeled...it is usually just HFCS/High Fructose Corn Syrup), is roughly the same Fructose:Glucose ratio as table sugar, but one problem is that in table sugar the Fructose/Glucose is bound together, and HFCS has had those binds broken apart. This results in a free for all for the fructose to go directly to your liver for processing - and when there is too much, you'll have the excess converted to fat (lipogenesis). Fructose also facilitates the conversion of glucose to glycogen (the storage form of sugar in our bodies), but excess fructose without glucose turns to fat in the liver. The end result is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; upwards of 20% of Canadians and 25% of Americans are afflicted which can result in liver failure.
Soft drinks that are sweetened with HFCS are high in carbonyl compounds, and these are elevated in people with diabetes. They are also blamed for causing diabetic complications such as foot ulcers and eye and nerve damage.
HFCS and table sugar are both drivers of inflammation. This causes an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So read your labels. Plain yogurt will still contain sugar (lactose), but it is naturally occurring. Read your labels to see how many types of sugar and how much is in a single serving (and then think, do you eat just one serving?
2. Hydrogenated, Partially Hydrogenated or Shortening - Any product that has any type of hydrogenated product (hydrogenated oil, partially-hydrogenated, shortening, some margarine) should be a zero-acceptability product.
Hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils (see below) whose chemical structure has been altered to prevent rancidity in foods, which increases shelf life and saves money for food manufacturers. It hardens vegetable oils making them solid like butter at room temperature.
The process of hydrogenation involves the addition of hydrogen atoms to the oil's available double bonds. As the level of hydrogenation increases, the level of saturated fat increases and the level of unsaturated fat decreases. The hydrogenation process converts what are known as “cis” double bonds to “trans” double bonds. This is where the term “trans-fat” originates. The way the trans double bond alters fats, is that it allows the fat molecule to lay flat, thereby being able to tightly pack together, causing blockages.
Trans fats work against the body in many ways. They increase bad cholesterol --low-density lipoprotein, or LDL -- and decrease good cholesterol -- high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. Furthermore, they block the production of chemicals that combat inflammation and benefit the hormonal and nervous systems, while at the same time allowing chemicals that increase inflammation. This means that trans fats promote inflammation and negatively impact cholesterol levels. Think of fats as a lock and key system. The lock being various cells in your body that require fat (all of them). When a trans-fat comes along, it can fit in the lock, but cannot activate the mechanism, and then jams in the lock. The proper fat comes along looking to do its job and cannot fit into the lock because the trans-fat is now uselessly jamming the space.
Trans fats are found a lot in baked items, snack and deep-fried foods. Even at minimal levels, this man-made fat is poisonous to your system. Two off the top of my head contain hydrogenated products are low fat peanut butter (why would you do this to peanut butter - by removing the fat, you have to add something to make it creamy still), and Cool Whip. You need to become an label reader and know which ingredients to stay away from: hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, shortening, and many margarines.
A health goal should be trans-fat free (but again, be aware of manufacturers using Trans Fat free labelling as above!)
3. "Vegetable" Oils - this includes soy, corn, safflower, canola, peanut and sesame oil. All of these oils are refined; so using heat or a solvent to express the oil from the plant. They are often further purified and refined, and even chemically altered. Sometimes they are even enriched, because so much of the nutrition has been stripped from them in the refining process. Refining and processing leads to a lack of nutrients.
Due to the processing techniques, these oils may already come to you rancid from the exposure to solvents, heat, light, and oxygen. They are also more unstable and prone to oxidation and rancidity.
The manufactures focus on the fact that these oils are unsaturated oils, which are good for heart health, but they fail to disclose that they are also high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fats are highly inflammatory. Over-consuming Omega 6 fats can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, cancer, psychiatric disorders and auto-immune diseases.
We generally don't have an issue getting Omega 6 fatty acids in our diets due to their prevalence, and should be focusing on Omega 3's which we are often deficient in.
Wild meat and grass fed beef contain about 7 times more omega 3 fats than industrially raised animals that have virtually none. It takes less than 90 days on a grain fed diet to change the fat profile in an animal.
Not only are Omega 6 fats highly inflammatory, they can undo the benefits of eating your Omega 3's! They also reduce the conversion of plant based essential fatty acids to the usable EPA (anti-inflammtory Omega 3) and DHA (brain boosting Omega 3) *animal essential fatty acids come pre-formed and don't have to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA.
How to Choose an Olive Oil
There is an absurd amount of Olive Oils available out there, but how do you choose the best one? Did you know that a large majority of olive oil available actually isn’t 100% olive? These are the rules when it comes to picking an olive oil (from T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter)
1. Always Purchase “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil
Always buy olive oil certified to be “extra virgin.” The terms “pure” or “light” indicate that the oil did not meet international standards for “extra virgin” and has been chemically refined to mask defects. Also, ignore terms like “cold-pressed” or “first pressed.” They are meaningless. Unrefined = more nutrients.
2. Look For Dark Glass Bottles
Buy olive oil in dark glass bottles, tins, or other opaque containers. Clear glass bottles might be aesthetically pleasing, but they do not protect the oils from natural or artificial light. (Prolonged exposure to light hastens deterioration of the oil.) At home, store olive oil in a cool, dark place—not next to the stovetop.
3. What is the Country of Origin?
Look for the country of origin on the label. Spain, Italy, and Greece may be the world’s largest producers, but high-quality olive oils are also being produced in Chile, Australia, the US, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, and even Croatia.
4. The BIG Secret
The Olive Oil Secret: freshness is key to flavor and nutritional value. Forget about “use by” or “best by” dates. Look specifically for a harvest date on the label. Be suspicious of bottles that don’t include this information—as many don’t. Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. Anything over a year old is past its prime. Above all, remember the BIG Olive Oil Secret: freshness! The most flavorful, healthful olive oil is fresh pressed from the latest harvest.
I am a huge fan of those store that you can taste the olive oil before you buy it like On Tap Oil & Vinegar. Take the opportunity to talk to the owner about the oils, when they were harvested, where they come from - and the best part is that you can taste them before you buy them (a trick, the "peppery cough" is a good thing!).
Navigating a grocery store doesn't have to be complicated. You definitely can find good things on the inside isles - just start by picking up and reading the label before making a decision on if that item will help you move forward towards your health goals!
And when in doubt, pull your phone out and google the ingredient! When in doubt, leave it out!
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