Healthy tips for grocery shopping
Navigating the Grocery Store
By Vital Plan Posted 06-25-2012
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Next trip to your local grocery, allow time to take a good look around. Really explore the place. Take stock of all the food and the way it is presented. Once you venture past the produce aisles, the majority of what you will find has been artificially manipulated in some way. The food industry long ago learned that selling packaged and processed food products is much easier and more lucrative than selling fresh food.

Chiefly derived from wheat, corn, and soybeans, these processed food products are specifically designed to touch all human food cravings. They show up on grocery store shelves in attractive and inviting packages; all designed to capture your attention and provide ultimate convenience (just throw it in a microwave and dinner’s ready!). Packaged meals, breakfast cereals, bread products, cookies, crackers and chips account for at least half (50%) the food found in an average grocery store. Other canned and processed foods and grocery store meat comprise another 25%.

Admittedly, these homogenous mixes of processed ingredients are hard to resist. That donut may call out to you ever time you pass by, but unfortunately your body is just not designed to withstand the abnormal concentrations of sugar and starch it contains.

Eating these types of carbohydrate-rich processed food products damages your body in many ways. Your body just wasn’t designed to process already processed food. But moreover, your body was designed to process whole, natural, and organic foods.

Excessive starch and sugar are not the only problems associated with processed food products. These types of products also tend to be laden with refined fats.

Most people think of fat only as an energy source, but fats (fatty acids) have many important functions in the body. From use as important chemical messengers to making up the cell membranes of every cell in your body, fats are essential. Saturate your body with “bad” fats and nothing works properly.

Another source of “bad” fat is low-grade meat. Livestock (poultry, beef, pork) are typically fed an unnatural diet consisting mostly of corn and soybeans. The sole purpose is fattening up the animal as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible—neither your health nor the animal’s health is a concern.

Regular consumption of abnormal fats from artificially fattened meat or processed food products promotes poor health. It is also a primary driving force of cardiovascular disease.

All systems of your body are affected by consuming artificially processed food, but your digestive system is especially hard hit.

Regular consumption of processed food and fast food inhibits digestion—the body just can’t handle these unnatural foods. Everything backs up into your stomach and poor digestion is the inevitable result. Food festers in the stomach, creating an ideal environment for an unbalanced microbiome. Throw in some everyday stress and you’re in real trouble.

Bile, secreted by your liver and stored in your gallbladder, is essential for digesting fat, flushing toxins and ridding your body of excess cholesterol. Sluggish bile flow, ubiquitously associated with processed food consumption, leads to toxin overload. Starch and sugar also encourage growth of abnormal bacteria and yeast in the gut. Resulting damage to the lining of the intestines allows foreign proteins from food to “leak” across the intestinal barrier and stimulate the immune system.

Hyper-stimulation of the immune system contributes to food sensitivities.

Only 25% of food found in the grocery store fits the definition of real food; fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts and beans, whole grains such as oats and brown rice, wild caught seafood, naturally produced meat, farm-raised eggs, and cold-pressed oils. These foods offer more than just caloric value; they provide vital nutrients that enrich life and support a healthy body.

We are actually fortunate to have this 25%. A hundred years ago, fresh foods were only available intermittently in small quantities. Today, because of modern distribution systems, real foods are readily found in most every grocery store across the country. If you are really serious about being healthy, this 25% must become your 100%!

My trips to the grocery would be best described as restocking trips. Sometimes I carry a grocery list, but most of the time I have a fairly good idea of what I need in my head. Usually I go one to three times per week.

My typical supermarket routine
First stop: the produce section. I buy a general selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables that my family and I can consume in a week. Fresh berries, leafy greens, and vegetables such as summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are more perishable and are generally purchased in smaller amounts with plans to use them over the upcoming several days.

Vegetables such as carrots, winter squash, onions, and sweet potatoes will keep for a while and I usually keep them on hand all of the time. Occasionally a seasonal or special vegetable will give me an idea for a specific meal.

Next on my route is the bakery for a fresh loaf of organic stone ground whole grain bread. Fresh grass-fed meat and hard cheese are sometimes on the list.

The remainder of my grocery shopping trip is usually just replacing staples from the pantry and refrigerator; this list typically includes pomegranate juice, 2% organic milk, soy-milk, organic yogurt, free range eggs, organic peanut butter, bottled sauces and salsas of different varieties, whole grain cereal and varieties of hot tea. During the winter, I usually keep fresh frozen berries and vegetables in the freezer when fresh items are not available for a reasonable price.

Avoiding the prepackaged foods section
This routine is referred to as “perimeter shopping” (as the processed food aisles are typically located in the center aisles of the store), which is an effective strategy for choosing healthier foods. My cart very rarely includes processed foods such as cookies, processed crackers, or packaged meals of any type. Life can be practical, healthier, and more wholesome without those items.

During the warmer months, supermarket trips include regular visits to local seafood markets and fruit and vegetable stands for locally grown produce. Shopping at local farmers’ markets is also a great way to support community agriculture.

Mail order can also be a practical way to obtain quality, healthy food for a reasonable price. Free range meats of different varieties are available online. I frequently opt to mail order mixed nuts; my freezer always contains a large package of nuts obtained from a reputable source instead of a local grocery.

Thomas Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” 

This concept applies to many areas of life – especially in the area of breaking unfavorable eating habits and replacing them with positive ones that will revitalize your body.

Making changes is by no means easy, but it is something worth fighting for!

about the author
Dr. Bill Rawls
Dr. Bill Rawls has practiced conventional medicine as a gynecologist for
over 20 years and is also the co-founder and medical director of Vital Plan, a wellness and herbal supplement company.
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