Sliding into the second month of the year, it can be a struggle to stick to resolutions, and the grocery store doesn’t make it easy to navigate the healthy world. Items claiming to be healthy, low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar…the list goes on and on. How do you know what to eat and what to leave behind? Let’s decode some of the labels and talk about how to get through the grocery store fast without a headache.
First off, I always separate my grocery store into 5 sections: produce, meat, dairy, shelf, and freezer. I grocery shop at Trader Joe’s most often, so I start in the produce section, but start where it makes sense for you – usually, it makes sense to start with the shelf, then work your way to the cold sections of the store, ending with meat, which should be kept the coldest. This way, you’re not running back and forth throughout the store, running back to get this or that.
We use this pad to keep track of meals, as a jumping off point for our grocery shopping, then write the list for the store on the back. Make yourself a similar list to track exactly what you need when you head to the grocery so you’re not left mid-recipe without a key component.
Now, let’s talk about a few food-industry labels. First off, ingredient lists on the sides of boxes are in order starting with the most used ingredient and down to the least used. A word of advice – when learning the terms of the trade, stick with this general rule: compare to the original version to the one you’re looking at to see the difference in ingredients, nutrition, etc.
Another few to watch out are:
Light: Usually you’ll see “light” on salad dressings, mayonnaise, yogurt, dairy, etc. It can mean light on calories, but sometimes the difference is made up with sugars or other chemicals so the taste isn’t comprised.
Low-fat: This means somehow, there is less fat. Watch out for this one, too, because like “light” usually the flavors are made up in another way – something could have no fat but be chocked full of sugar.
“Made with Real Fruit”: Don’t trust the claim – check the ingredients. If the fruit isn’t within the top 3 ingredients, you may not be getting what you expected.
Multigrain v. Whole grain: Multigrain means there are several grains included, however these may not be whole grain. Whole grains are more nutritious, so look for whole grain items (again, check the ingredients!)
Natural v. Organic: Natural doesn’t have a definition from the FDA, so be wary of this claim. Organic usually refers to how a plant or animal was raised and harvested, but doesn’t make the food healthier or less caloric.
Do you have other labeling questions or grocery store tricks and tips?