{Supermarket Staples} What to Buy from the Grocery Store (And Why)

I mentioned earlier this week that I’d be posting my purchases from the grocery store since I was out of town on the day my farmer’s market was open. It’s taken me all week, but I’m finally getting around to it! I’m going to separate this post into two parts: produce and meat (more specifically, poultry and seafood). My goal is to explain the tools and information I use to decide exactly what to purchase. There are shelves upon shelves out there filled with misleading food labels, each screaming that they are “better for you” than the next. Hopefully this can shed some light on specific items to look for when shopping. Don’t go blindly down those aisles throwing whatever looks “good” or “convenient” into your buggy! The key to being intentional about the food you put into your body is to be intentional about the food you put in your shopping cart.

Produce:

Produce is tricky. Even if you frequent a rather nice grocery store like I do, it’s easy to be fooled by fruits and vegetables that look clean, or ripe, or fresh, but actually are not. Produce is known to carry lots of chemicals due to the large amount of pesticides (organophosphate insecticides) that are used to keep away bugs, or due to “ripening sprays” (such as ethylene) that are used to make fruit look ripe before it is biologically ready. According to research by the Environmental Working Group,

“These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. But they are not banned and still show up on some food crops.” (emphasis my own)

In order to reduce the amount of pesticides we consume via fruits and vegetables, I make a conscious effort to adhere to EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pests and Produce. In a nutshell,

“The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranks pesticide contamination for 45 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 60,700 samples taken from 2000 to 2010 by the USDA and the federal Food and Drug Administration. Nearly all the studies on which the guide is based tested produce after it had been washed or peeled.” (emphasis my own)

Two guides have been published, one titled “The Dirty Dozen” and another named “The Clean Fifteen.” The Dirty Dozen lists includes the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables, now expanded to include green beans and leafy greens. It is recommended by EWG to buy these twelve food items organic in order to substantially reduce intake of pesticides. The Clean Fifteen highlights the fifteen fruits and vegetables that contained the lowest levels of pesticides. When buying from the grocery store, these two guides are the first “rule” that I follow. It helps that I have an ap on my phone (Good Guide) on which I can easily access both lists plus any updates while I’m at the store.

The second “rule” I stick to when buying produce from the supermarket is to buy local. The fewer miles food has to travel to the grocery store the fresher it is, and the less pollution is emmited into our environment. Look at the sticker or the label on the sign. My first choice is produce that has been grown and harvested within my local region or within my state. My second choice is fruit and vegetables that have been produced with in the United States. Yes, it may be a bit more expensive to buy organic or buy local, but this is the best way to ensure the freshest, healthiest options for consumption.

Above you can see a picture of what I bought this week, clockwise from left to right: {1} Washington State cherries, {2} red cabbage, {3} Louisiana sweet potatoes, {4} asparagus, {5} Louisiana purple hull peas. The other two items, Louisiana brown rice and Ak-Mak crackers, I’ll talk about later.

Meat:

I will focus mainly on poultry and seafood in this post because that is what I bought on this trip. It seems there has been a big push lately for healthier meat. I’ve seen loads of options at my store. Everthing from 99% lean, to pasture raised, to organic, I’ve even seen ground chicken, turkey, and buffalo. Yes, buffalo! While I am thrilled to have so many options to choose from, I still select my meat very carefully. Without question, any meat that I buy at my mainstream grocery store is organic. Period. Organic meat means two things. First, that the animal was not given any growth hormones or antibiotics. Second, that animal was fed only certified organic food. Again, it is important to me to reduce the levels of chemicals that I consume. Buying organic meat is one way to do that. Make sure you find the USDA Organic label on the packaging to ensure the product met the appropriate standards to be classified organic.

Another label I look for when buying meat, dairy, or eggs is “pasture raised,” “free range,” or “cage free.” Now there are varying definitions for each of these three descriptions, but they basically all mean the animal was exposed to a natural habitat at some point in its life, or was allowed to eat grass from an open space. It’s important that the animal live as natural a life as it can in these circumstances. I know that most animals are raised in stock yards standing ankle deep in manure, or in chicken houses that are so cramped the chickens can’t move (find more information about this in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan or in the documentary Food, Inc.). So it gives me a little comfort and a clearer conscience to know that at least some animals raised for food are also treated respectfully.

You can see that the chicken I bought is both USDA certified organic and free range. You probably also notice that I bought boneless, skinless chicken thighs rather than leaner breasts. Again, organic meat is quite expensive, but there are a couple of ways to offset the higher price tag in order to not break your budget. The first way is to buy a less expensive cut of meat. The thighs are a good $5 cheaper than the breasts. Although the breasts are leaner, I can feel comfortable with eating thighs since they are both organic and from a free range chicken. The second way we can afford to buy organic meat is because we have chosen to lessen our meat consumption. We generally only eat meat one or two nights a week for supper, and never for breakfast or lunch (yes, that includes bacon, too!). I’m not saying this is a choice everybody has to make, but it’s one we’ve personally made. If you’d like specific reasons on why it’s not necessary to eat as much meat as you might think, watch Mark Bittman’s short speech called “What’s Wrong With What We Eat.” You can find a link in my Resources.

When purchasing seafood I follow basically the same principles. I went into detail about seafood consumption in this post, so for today I will mention two points.

1. Purchase Wild Caught seafood. Seafood from its natural habitat eats food that it can find in the wild. On the contrary, most seafood that is “farm-raised” is not eating food it was biologically created to digest.

2. Purchase seafood that is a Product of USA. It is rather difficult to find seafood at my grocery store that is both wild caught and from US water. You won’t find it in the freezer section, individually shrink wrapped and perfectly seasoned. Most of those bags are from Thailand or Chile. On the rare occasion I come across fresh seafood that meats my criteria I grab it, no matter the cost. Then I put it in my freezer until ready to thaw and eat.

Non-Perishable Pantry Items:

I also buy a few things from the shelves in the center aisles of the store. Those things include canned organic tomatoes, dry beans, brown rice, nuts, and a certain type of cracker called Ak-Mak. The ingredients list for these items (besides the crackers) contain one ingredient. For example, the rice bag says “brown rice.” The bag of beans say “black beans.” No salt, no water, no xanthan gum, no soy lecithin. Nothing but pure food in a natural state. You can read about Ak-Mak crackers in this post.

I hope this has given you a clearer picture of how I grocery shop. I’m telling you, these few changes in your purchases will make a huge difference in the nutrients going into your body, and subsequently your overall health. So don’t sweat if you miss a week of the farmer’s market! Make up for it the next Saturday by loading up on good produce and follow these guidelines when you go to the supermarket.

4 thoughts on “{Supermarket Staples} What to Buy from the Grocery Store (And Why)

  1. Pingback: {FMF: Peaches} Basil-Peach Chicken with Brown Rice | Whole-Foodista

  2. Pingback: {Farmer’s Market Find: Cucumbers} | Whole-Foodista

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