Are you easily lured into grocery store gimmicks? Do you think that because it’s in the “Health Food” aisle it means it is truly healthy? I know. They make it so tempting with the promises of being gluten free or packed full of nutrients. But, that is often not the case, in fact, the opposite most times! Here are some easy ways to be a “food detective” and in turn, your very own health advocate.
First, let’s talk produce. Did you know that the key elements missing in most diets today are fresh fruits and vegetables? Yes, it really is that simple. Adding more of these to your daily intake will benefit you in so many ways, guaranteeing your health and vitality for years to come! The best way to navigate the produce section is as follows:
• Choose local, seasonal, and organic produce as often as you can. And it’s true…consuming produce soon after harvest results in more nutrients.
• Eat “the rainbow” to ensure that you're getting
the full spectrum of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. Deep greens are amazing for strengthening the immune system, nourishing the nervous system, and purifying the blood. Red fruits and veggies such as beets support heart and brain function, and are a wonderful detoxing agent. Orange fruits and vegetables are full of beta carotene and vitamin C which help improve eye health and immunity. Yellow fruits and veggies improve circulation. Blue and purple foods are rich in antioxidants and can prevent early signs of aging and heart disease.
• Keep fresh herbs such as garlic, onions, and ginger on hand year round. In addition to offering a wide variety of nutritional benefits, these herbs can make a bland dish exceptional!
• Loading up on sweet fruits and vegetables will help reduce sugar cravings and are a safe go to when choosing to eat healthy. Crowding out the cookies, cakes, and unhealthy choices with butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, grapes, berries, and watermelon, will help with that transition.
Next, let’s review some healthy protein sources. Everyone has preferences as to how they choose their protein, and that's fine. We are all unique, and we all have different ways of digesting and processing our nutrients. Some people feel good eating animal protein while some prefer plant-based. Protein is key for building cells, maintaining tissue integrity, and producing critical enzymes, hormones, and other chemicals the body needs to function. It’s really important to tune into your body and see how much or how little protein you need, and your body will “tell you” by how you feel when you eat it.
• When purchasing animal protein, including eggs, it is important to look for the terms organic, free-range or cage-free, certified humane, and grass-fed. Certified organic means that the animal products/byproducts come from animals that are raised on organic feed without hormones or antibiotics. Free-range or cage-free usually means that the livestock are allowed to roam free but doesn't necessarily mean that they have access to the outdoors. Certified humane means that the animals have sufficient access to the outdoors and are free to behave naturally. Grass-fed simply means that the cattle were allowed to forage and graze for their own fresh food. They may be given close substitutes like alfalfa during the winter, but unlike grain-fed animals, the emphasis is still on providing the closest thing to a natural diet as possible.
• There are many choices for plant-based protein such as tofu, tempeh, miso, many vegetables, protein powders, nuts, lentils, beans, and seeds like chia and hemp. The list goes on. I love to make smoothies with green veggies and vegan protein powders.
• Seafood is another source of protein, and is a major supplier of omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for heart and brain health. When purchasing, keep in mind it is best to purchase fresh seafood if available, in which case you would want fish that was recently “off the boat” so to speak. But for the most part, ocean seafood is iced on the boat, “flash” frozen at the processing plants, and then shipped to distribution centers and retailers. Flash frozen seafood is the next best to “fresh”…and retailers are supposed to have signs in their cold cases noting that the product has been “previously frozen.” Except in coastal restaurants and a few non-coastal high-end places that fly fresh seafood in, everything you get is previously frozen.
Dairy products are the next subject. It’s a topic that generates a lot of controversy. I understand that everyone has their opinion regarding what they can and like to consume. I suggest experimenting with dairy products to see how they affect you. Here are some tips for choosing dairy and non-dairy alternatives at the store:
• Again, choose high-quality products such as free-range, organic, and grass-fed.
• A substitute for butter is Ghee (clarified butter), which adds flavor to your meals but can help balance excess stomach acid.
• If dairy doesn’t work for you, there are PLENTY of options! Try soy, rice, oat, coconut, and a number of other nut milks such as almond and hazelnut. When looking for non-dairy milk or creamers, choose the ones that have the fewest number of ingredients and are certified organic. Also, opt for the unsweetened version as the sweetened ones can add up to 25 grams of sugar per cup. (Yeah…Wow!)
When it comes to grains, including gluten and wheat-free, all I can say is READ LABELS, READ LABELS, READ LABELS! This is where you really have to be careful as product marketing is often deceptive. Many product containers suggest the product is full of healthy ingredients and grains, but if you check the label, you may find otherwise.
• Check the ingredient list on a product claiming to be whole grain. Whole grain must be listed first in the ingredient list - not “wheat” or “enriched wheat” or “enriched flour.” Wheat grains include bulgur, cracked wheat, and spelt. Wheat-free and gluten-free grains include amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, rice, and quinoa. Oats are not gluten-free unless specified as there are issues with cross contamination during growing and processing. We now have the option to purchase them gluten-free, which is great!
Healthy fats are essential to good health and are imperative for brain function and vitamin absorption. You can get healthy fats from oils, nuts, seeds, coconut, and avocado. When purchasing oils:
• Look for brands that are organic, cold pressed, and unrefined. Avoid hydrogenated and bleached oils. Look for oils in dark glass bottles as this helps keep them their freshest. Also remember that certain oils make fantastic natural moisturizers. Using coconut, almond, or sesame oil to hydrate your skin after a nice warm shower is a perfect option!
When choosing healthy condiments at the store, remember these pointers:
• If you are looking for a sour and tangy flavor, try apple cider vinegar, or balsamic for something a tad bit sweeter. Prefer a spicy taste? Try some hot pepper sesame oil. For a nutty flavor, sample tahini, nut butters, or sesame salt. Tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce that can be used on grains, vegetables, in soups, and pretty much in any recipe that calls for salt. Seaweed flakes are full of nutrition and are also a great salt alternative. When shopping for salt, look for naturally harvested Celtic sea-salt, which has a grayish tint and looks almost damp because it hasn't been bleached and therefore retains many of it's important natural qualities. Also Himalayan Sea Salt, which is the one that I tend to gravitate toward. If you are concerned about getting adequate iodine in your diet, consider adding in foods such as seaweed/dried kelp that can easily be used as stated about, as a salt source. Also foods like hard boiled eggs, a variety of beans, and certain seafoods.
If you choose to add sweeteners to your foods there are natural, chemical free options that can add a sweet touch without all of the added junk. Consider these, but in moderation:
• Local honey is a great way to sweeten up a dish while also combating seasonal allergies, especially if you purchase it raw and unrefined. A little goes a long way!
• Organic maple syrup is another way to add some sweetness and minerals to your diet and can be used for more than just waffles and French toast. It’s great to use in baking as well.
• Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener, but keep in mind that it is 40 times sweeter gram for gram than refined sugar.
• Try to avoid ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and refined sugars.
Shopping can be enlightening and empowering when we know how to make healthy selections. Armed with knowledge, you can be our own advocate and health coach! Don’t be afraid to experiment. Those of us who must observe dietary restrictions are fortunate that the organic and natural food industry is growing rapidly. Their products are now offered more widely in both health food and chain grocery stores. But, when possible, I recommend supporting your local Farmer’s Markets and Co-Ops. Little steps in the right direction lead to a path paved with good health, and good health is the most valuable condition of all!
Please reach out to me for a free consultation, and I will lovingly help lead you down your path to vitality and wellness.