Sometimes I think this blog might confuse people. Bacon? Cheese? Butter?! Does this girl even know anything about clean eating? I’d like to argue, yes. Yes, I do. I don’t buy into what manufacturers tell us is “healthy”. Rather, I focus on buying a variety of real, whole foods. What type of food you choose is one part of the equation, but the quality of your food is another. When I say I use some bacon in a meal, I’m using stuff made from antibiotic-free pork, without added nitrites or chemical preservatives. Believe it or not, even butter has nutrients if you buy the real thing! Grass-fed butter has vitamins and minerals. What do you get from margarine? A whole bunch of man-made trans fat that tastes like shit. Yum.
So, I thought I’d share some of my tips for clean food shopping. As much as I’d love to urge everyone to shop at farmers markets, I know it’s not an option for everyone. These guidelines will help you avoid falling for marketing scams and outdated nutrition advice, and navigate the store like a healthy pro!
1) Beware of industrial meat and seafood…and dairy for that matter
This is the first and longest tip, because I think it’s the most urgent change one needs to make in their shopping habits. I know it’s a painful one because yes, organic and humanely-raised meat is much more expensive. But if I had to choose between buying non-organic/non-wild caught stuff and eating a vegetarian meal, I would totally pick the vegetarian option. Unfortunately, here in America, our mass-market food system is messed up, and when it comes to meat, it’s downright scary. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch a documentary like Food, Inc (my Amazon affiliate link). Do you want to eat sick animals that eat garbage, are treated like crap, and pumped up with antibiotics? Or eat their eggs and dairy products? I don’t.
This all sounds very dramatic but the proof is in the pudding. Go pick up a packet of shrink-wrapped supermarket ground beef or farmed salmon and look at it. It’s pretty sad when manufacturers need to dye their product to make it look more appetizing. And if you like tasty food (I’m assuming you do if you’re a normal human being), do a taste test and compare grass-fed beef to feedlot beef. You won’t go back to the cheap stuff. Please question where your meat comes from and how the animal was raised, whether you are at a supermarket, farmers market, or butcher, and make the right choice.
2) Choose organic, non-genetically modified produce when you can
I’m a little more adamant about the non-GMO part than the organic part, but I try to get organic when I can because too many pesticides in your body can mess with your hormonal system, and god knows what else. A good hierarchy or priorities is: 1) get organic when you can. 2) If not, at least be strict about buying organic when it comes to the dirty dozen. 3) If you can’t do that either, wash the shit out of your produce. As for genetically-modified produce, I know this is a tough one to identify, and that’s why I buy mostly organic or at the farmers market. If a food was engineered to resist pesticides, chances are it won’t do lovely things to my body. I might be wrong and maybe they’re not harmful, but I’ll play it safe.
3) If local produce is available, get it
Again, not everyone has access to local food. But if it’s an option, do it. The less time it took for produce to get to you after it was harvested, the more nutrients it will still have by the time you eat it. As much as I love bananas, the fruits I buy most often are local apples. Even if they aren’t totally organic, I still usually choose them over bananas that were harvested before they were ready, exposed to ethylene gas to artificially ripen them and turn them bright yellow, and then shipped from Latin America all the way to my grocery store.
4) Skip the low-fat stuff
What is people’s obsession with low-fat food, especially dairy? Fat is good for you. I’d say do full fat dairy products, or 2% if you’re really not comfortable with that. The non-fat stuff doesn’t taste as good or keep you full as long, or other ingredients are often added to make up for the lack of fat. Plus you need the fat to help with nutrient absorption!
5) Look at the ingredients list of everything you buy
There’s a lot of suspicious stuff in processed food. That’s why I like making things from scratch, but I understand that we don’t have the time or energy for it everyday. So I implore you to carefully read the ingredients list before you buy a product. You’ve already got enough weird additives and chemicals getting into your body against your will–you don’t need to actively seek them out too. Anything weird-sounding that you don’t recognize on that ingredients list? If so, skip it. I’m shocked at how even health food brands have so much stuff you just don’t need (I’m looking at you, soy lecithin) in their ingredient list. But hey, real food isn’t supposed to be shelf-stable. If a product’s packaging tries way too hard to sound healthy, you can bet you’ll find some eyebrow-raising ingredients. Example: compare the packaging and ingredients lists of Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Mmmm-hmmm.
6) Don’t take trendy super-foods too seriously
Meh. As much as I like kale and acai, I don’t give them any special status just because they’ve been trendy the past couple of years. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. You’d be surprised how pretty much every food has its positives and negatives. I’m not saying these super-foods aren’t healthy. They are. But there’s no need to obsess over what magazines tell you are the miracle food of the month. Instead, make an effort to always eat a variety of food. That’s how you cover all your nutritional bases. Bought spinach and tomatoes last trip to the store? Maybe pick up eggplants and zucchini this time.
7) Be honest with yourself when it comes to a balanced diet
Yes, whole wheat bread is better than white bread. And yes, quality hard cheeses make a better dessert for you than cookies. But let’s get real about the big picture. What you buy is what you’ll eat. What’s actually in your shopping cart? Is it mainly vegetables and quality protein, with maybe just a few fruits, an intact grains, and one single-serving treat? Or can you barely find a leafy green under the boxes of organic sugary cereal and tofu-based ice cream sandwiches in your cart? If so, turn around and try again.
8) Let your food shopping be the 80% in the 80-20 rule
I’m not militant about eating clean at every meal of everyday. Life would be miserable if you had to follow a bunch of rules about eating and never get to taste your aunt’s fabulous pumpkin pie, or starve because you’re traveling and there isn’t a healthy, organic meal in miles. We can’t control everything we eat all the time. But here’s the thing. You can control that 80% if you make the right choices when you’re food shopping. If you don’t make a habit out of preparing healthy meals most days, it’s a slippery slope. Before you know it, half your calories will be coming from poor food choices. Let your aunt’s pumpkin pie or that airport burrito be the 20%. If you’re eating balanced meals made from quality food most of the time, there is definitely room in a healthy diet for letting it slide once in a while!