Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where's The Food?

I went grocery shopping last week with one of my children in tow and while I was stopped in an aisle crossing items off my list and adding up my total, my child was doing something I haven’t done in a long time. He was reading the ingredients off the back of a bottle. Pretty soon he started asking me what some of those words meant and really, they sounded like something out of my high school chemistry class. When I took a look at the bottle myself I realized that only two of the listed ingredients were actually food, you know, something beneficial to my body. The rest was unpronounceable, laboratory created additives of some sort. I started to sweat a little as I tried to rationalize our diet. I assumed we were healthy eaters since we make most of our meals from scratch and eat a generous amount of fruits and vegetables. But as I walked down the aisles full of bleached flour, pesticide treated fruits and vegetables, and packages full of ingredients I could barely pronounce I had an epiphany: There wasn’t much left in the store that was actually good fuel for my body.

Now, it’s pretty unrealistic to think I could easily switch to organic gardening and raising my own hormone free livestock by the next time I need to grocery shop. In fact, a drastic switch to more expensive albeit more natural foods just isn’t in my budget. But I can start small and work on eliminating some of the worst offenders from my family’s diet as we slowly transition to more natural grocery items. So here are some ideas to make some changes in your diet and work towards having more natural foods on your plate.

• Pick the five most frequently bought items on your grocery list and start researching what their healthier alternatives might be. Produce is a simple place to start and then work your way up to milk and meats. Don’t try to change everything at once or you run the risk of getting overwhelmed and giving up.

• Make sure you understand what organic means or doesn’t mean. Organic foods aren’t foods that are just grown on a farm. Foods that have an organic label are grown without toxic chemicals or synthetic hormones. Look for the USDA organic seal which means that at least 95% of the product is organic.

• Remember that foods with less chemicals and preservatives don’t have as long of a shelf life so make sure that you are buying the right amount for your family. It would be a shame for it all to spoil before you get a chance to eat it.

• Read the labels. The smaller the ingredient list, the more likely that it is a healthier form of food. If you can’t pronounce the names or they sound like a chemistry assignment put it back on the shelf and keep on looking.

• Be willing to do some research. One of my biggest processed-food weaknesses are artificial sweeteners. I prefer to chew my calories so I try to make sure that all my drinks have no calories in them. Water is a no brainer but my coffee, tea and sodas all have chemical sweeteners. My first goal is to experiment with my options and switch to honey, raw sugar, pure maple syrup or agave syrup.

• Food closest to its natural form is always a healthier option.

Switching to real foods and a healthier less-processed diet doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Making small changes each time you shop will set you well on your way to a grocery cart full of nutrition for you and your entire family.


Anonymous said...

Great post ! i try to buy mt stapes organic if available (vegetables,flour, sugar, milk, eggs, soy milk) they cost twice or more the price of non organic but it worths it to my opinion.
there is no organic fruits in, my aera, so i peel them.
Cooking from srcatch is indeed a good tip to avoid most chemichal and preservatives.

WKen said...

I'm right there with you.

It's not easy, and it's not cheap, but my family does what we can to eat natural and healthy. There are exceptions, and that's the way it goes. Still, we try.

One thing we've found is that as we plan and think and really put some more work into our food, it becomes less daunting to think about how much processing is in the food. Like counting up veggie content, it's just a little part of the calculation.

Good luck!

Kelly said...

Hi Gayle!
I love reading your blog and find all kinds of tips. Over 5 years ago, I gained 45-55 pounds (it varied here and there :)) and I learned some major things when I finally decided to lose the weight. It wasn’t a “plan” of any kind. It was as simple as reading the labels.
Each 10 to 14 days or so-depending upon how hard that type of food was to give up-I gave up ONE type of bad ingredient at a time.
1. First was anything with “Enriched” or Enriched Wheat Floor. It basically means that anything good for you in that item has been stripped and filled back up with all those weird science project words.
2. Next was artificial sweeteners-changed to honey or sugar. I even used real half & half-not the flavored creamers because they are science experiments as well. I used real butter-no more odd ball “healthy items” or margarine. I gave up all SODA products completely. That was a 2 week adjustment! :)
3. My hardest was night snacking and I saved that until last! No chips, crackers, chocolate, etc. after 8pm or so. I did NOT WANT to give this habit up, but it was the final hurrah! But it also includes ALL of the bad junk items that I had already given up.

I had more things that I gave up but as time goes by-I’ve lost track of the exact order.
I also had a huge realization that my portions were the exact same size as my husbands! He is 11” taller than I am and weighed 40-50lbs. more and I was eating the same amounts! Yikes! Portion awareness and control was a huge reality check for me.
I also had always thought that I was doing a great job cooking most meals from scratch down to the spaghetti sauce. It was all the “extra” low fat, fat free items (the science projects!) and huge portions that were adding the weight and/or keeping it on.
I cannot attribute all of this to myself-it was listening to so many health guru’s over the years but most especially, Dr.Oz. If you are going to eat it-eat the real deal and leave the odd ball things on the shelf!
So the bottom line-it was a nice, slow, steady weight loss. I didn’t feel starved-if I did want some pasta- I had it-just 1/3 of a cooked cup instead of 1 to 2 cups!
I lost my 45-50lbs. over 9-12 months and have kept it off for 2 years. I did add the elliptical machine and the Wii Fit for cardio and strength training but I have never become crazy about it.
I just thought you and your readers should know that all of those science experiments in your food labels are NOT good for you-heart, cholesterol, and weight. I do still have some of those items BUT I am aware that it is a treat and I still do not eat the huge portions.
Again-nothing extreme-one type of science experiment at a time-and I lost 1/3 of my weight that I had never had before!!! Read those labels!!!
Most sincerely,
Kelly-A Cooker/Shopper of 5!!
Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

You should check out this site:

Johnlyn ~ Frugality and Homemaking said...

This is where I ended up last spring. I really thought our diet was healthy and I would have argued until I was blue in the face.

Fast forward one year and a higher grocery budget I wish you would have posted this a year ago!

I was completely overwhelmed...however I just did a lot of research and figured out what worked for our family.

If you want, check out this post where I compiled a bunch of controversies of healthy eating (I don't have very many posts on that blog):

Stevia is another sweetener that I'm researching right now...not sure about it yet.

Not sure if Azure Standard is anywhere near you, but that is a great option.

One more thing about grocery prices...I've heard in several different forums that they are going to continue to keep going higher.

Thanks for the tips!

Jennifer said...

One thing I have found that helps is to pick a couple of the worst food additives and avoid them. So we avoid HFCS at all costs and also try really hard to avoid artificial colors. This automatically limits us to healthier options. It doesn't usually cross off an entire item, it just forces me to find a healthier brand - for example yoplus yogurt instead of regular yoplait or danimals for the kids instead of gogurts. It does take time and energy to eat healthier, but I think it is worth it.

Jennifer said...

Those are some great suggestions! Thanks for the encouragement that even people who need to watch their budget can eat more healthy, nourishing foods. It is sad that there is so little "real food" left in grocery stores. But one thing to do is always read the labels and compare brands. It can be surprising how even some generic brands can be made with more natural ingredients.

As far as consuming less artificial sweeteners, and not eating a lot of high calorie sweeteners, try very slowly decreasing the amount of sugar you put in baked goods and things like iced tea. If you decrease it dramatically right away, it doesn't taste very good, but if you slowly back off on sugar your body gets used to it.

Jackie said...

We have been trying to do the best we can too--best of luck in your journey. :)

We use stevia now in our coffee and tea. It's a natural, no calorie sweetener. Trader Joes has it's own brand that is not very expensive and doesn't have the additional chemical additives like the commercial processed Truvia.

Julie Sellers said...

I'm with you Gayle. That's exactly why we joined a CSA this year.

It's been interesting, but I noticed the more we make healthy food choices, the more we stay out of the middle of the grocery store.

I'm also researching CSA's for eggs and meats as well.

It sure is an adventure!


Come along on our adventure!

Ceuson from Olympia said...

Gayle, this is a great post. I want to encourage anyone worried about cost to stop worrying.

My dear friend loves chickens and gathered a rather large flock, which resulted in affordable eggs for those who thought to ask.

A young man and his girlfriend rented land in our neighborhood 3 or 4 years ago and put in veggies. Now we have the best farmstand in the county. They compare the co-op and Farmer's Market for their pricing, and the food is sooo fresh - well we were all shocked at how long some of it stayed fresh in the fridge. Lot's of gardeners might want to make some money, or trade, off of their labors.

We have land and raise beef and pork on occasion. This is usually a pricey option because of buying a half or quarter of an animal. It's not the only way, though. Some producers can sell small lots. My neighbor had a glut of hamburger and sold to anyone to free up freezer space. And a group of friends can split a section and provide small portions. The drawback is that meat is mostly done in the fall and not year round.

(The reason meat can be a pain is meat has legal considerations to prevent the producer from becoming retail. The idea in my state (WA) is to raise and slaughter the claim someone has to an animal, not to sell cut and wrapped meat. Laws differ, so ask what's possible in your area.)

I've learned that just wanting better food was enough for me to discover some great, affordable, local sources.

I've also ordered dry goods from Azure Standard for years. They are a whole foods and farm supplier from eastern Oregon that delivers for free over most of the western US, including barges to Alaska (that might not be free). They also ship UPS (definitely not free). Some products are 50lbs, others are a single box of crackers, noodles or toothpaste. Lots of folks order once a month with a minimum of @ $50 by joining the drop point in their area.

And, finally, this year I'm reading Eliot Coleman - I forget the title,:( - and I intend to experiment with winter gardening. My kale overwinters with no help from me, so I'm curious to see what happens if I actually put in some effort.

WOW, this post surprised me. I've admired Gayle's shopping skills for over a year now. I'm not the spendthrift I was. In that year I've gone from @ $150+ a month to @ $100. Thanks Gayle for the example.

Anonymous said...


I went through this with my family a few years ago. You are smart to start small and change small things first. Have you tried sweetening with Stevia? We drink much more water now, but lets face it, it gets boring and then old habits start to come back. FYI, Crystal light has a "on the go", "Pure" product out now that uses Stevia for sweetening. I just picked up some more tonight at the store and noticed they have several new flavors now. You have to really read the label to get the correct product, and don't go by the suggested amount to use. I use it to "flavor the water, not to make a flavored drink. Does that make sense? I use 1 tube of dry mix for 40 oz. of filtered water. I bet you could even stretch it further if you wanted. I've even used lemon juice/lime juice and sweeetened with Stevia for lemonade/limeaid. I am also going to play around this summer with mashing fresh berries (possibly straining), mixing with Stevia and adding to my water for a change. I hope my ideas will help!


Deb Wolf said...

Great post! Lots of helpful comments from your readers too. I'd like to add my 2 cents. As you're trying to decide which vegetables and fruits to buy organic, go organic for the ones with thin skins or skins you'll eat. The pesticides are concentrated on the skins. Since we don't eat banana peels or avocado skins, I don't buy those organic. But I do look for organic potatoes and grapes :).

momma-lana said...

I have been going to a kinesiologist for my allergies and basically what is being done is removing toxins from my body along with any infections and parasites. She found that I had aspartame in my body and it has been 35 years since I drank diet soda so that is scary. Apparently it sticks around like a heavy metal-we are killing ourselves with that stuff. She recommends Truvia as a sweetener. Also I use something called Liquid Detox to soak all my fruits and veggies in. It breaks down the pesticides and herbicides in the foods. I bought apples on Monday and they smelled like chemicals. I soaked them in Liquid Detox for 10 minutes and they just smelled like apples afterward! The kinesiologist has tested foods before and after this soaking and they test clear of chemicals. I don't know where you could buy this in your area but I can tell you it works and will save me a ton of money.

Marcia said...

I had one of these moments just recently. While I was in the health food store buying tart cherry juice, I heard the woman at the register ring up steel cut oats in a bulk-buy bag at 1.80 a pound. I have been buying McCann's in a fancy tin can at Walmart for almost $7.00! I'm going back there and buy in bulk when I'm out of oats; ditto for wheat germ! Great post.