We can talk for hours about benefits of food that are nowadays trending, such as expensive smoothies and overpriced greens. We all know about health benefits of broccoli, turmeric and the importance of adequate Vitamin D levels in your blood. We are all trying (or not) to track all the updates on new or old, forgotten foods that promise to boost our health and release stress. My advise is to go back to the basics and start from where you are today. No matter what you eat or what food preferences you have, it all starts in the supermarket. By simply adopting new shopping habits in the grocery store we can all benefit a lot.
I feel like lots of misunderstanding comes from the very beginning of our shopping experience. As most of us are used to eat what we always eat most people choose the food by 3 factors – the Packaging, the Slogan/Copy or what is on the front of the packaging (like stickers and certificates). And of course: the Price.
The first thing that everyone has to understand is a beautiful packaging. The world is full of well trained graphic and packaging designers that follow the instructions of well trained marketers, whose only job is to study you and your impulses. They refine the design of a cookie box to the point that you are buying the packaging, not necessarily what is inside. You can think about the cookie shelves as a war of brands or a beauty contest. Most of the time there is no real difference between those products.
People usually read what the slogan says or what kind of certificate the box has on it. Some people feel that if it says ‘organic‘ or ‘ecological‘ on the box of cookies they are making a healthier or better choice. I’ve seen examples of products that say ‘ECOLOGICAL’ on the packaging in big letters, but after reading the backside of the box, I found out that the only eco thing about the actual product was its box. Some other products said they are ‘whole grain’, but in fact they contained only 20 percent of ‘whole grains’.
There is also no relation between the price and the health benefits of the product. I know people that would buy products by price. When in doubt they would just choose the more expensive item. Price is never an indicator of quality. This summer I got to learn about the wine process in the South of France, and went to meet the producers of the Domaine La Tourraque wine. Their wine is organically grown and has all the taste qualities of wine from the same region. But the price tag is much lower than the wines that are not organically grown, but are located in the same region.
The only way to fully know the product is to read the list of ingredients in the small typeface on the back of the packaging. This is pretty much the best habit you can ever develop if you shop in the supermarket.
A few tricks that I found useful when I am shopping for groceries:
Never shop when you are hungry. It sounds like something we all know, but it always happens. The easiest way to avoid this situation is to first go inside the shop and get some fruits like banana (1 banana = 1.3 g of protein), some non-roasted nuts (cashews, 30 grams = 5 g protein) and a bottle of water. You can eat them in the car, or even better, outside in the park. After you had your tasty snack you will feel much better and will shop in a better mood. Now you will be able to buy healthier options.
Most of us are used to the same product and we believe they are good, because we have tried them 100 times and all family members love them so much. I always encourage everyone to look on the back of the beautiful packaging and read what you are actually buying and feeding to your loved ones. Some basic things, like a cheese pie, are not what they seem to be. Some of the very easy to pronounce titles are in fact a mix of very hard to pronounce or remember ingredients. So go get what you always get, but this time turn the box around and just read what is inside.
How I would decide whether I should get this product or not:
If some ingredients do not sound familiar, or you just do not know what they are, then drop that box, and remember that this product is not for your shopping cart. Sometimes I just see way too many ingredients on that list, and that scares me. I do not want to eat something small that is made out of 15 ingredients. After all my grandmother always cooked my favorite dishes with only 2 to 5 ingredients, and that should be enough for any product.
It seems like lots of work, reading the ingredients and examining so much beloved products. In fact that is not that much work if you approach it with playfulness and curiosity. You need to learn about products just once and then you remember this box. If you turned it down one time, you will never have to examine it again. Getting to know this box is interesting and will help you shape a better opinion about what you want to put inside your body and the body of your loved ones.
If you find yourself in the cookie isle it is hard to leave it quick. If I look at some new product that looks cool to me, my rule #1 is to look on the back of it. If sugar is one of the first ingredients, that tells me right away that this product is not for me. Sometimes the word ‘sugar’ is not there, but could be hidden in words like Dextrose, Fructose, Maltose, Xylitol and some other more difficult words. The good thing is that none of them sound very natural, so it is easy to spot them.
I find it hard to part with some products that I have been loving since I was a kid. Like ‘Haribo’ candy (Yep, that is actually me in the picture!). I loved it so much. When I first turned vegan, it was one of the most difficult things to turn down. Most of Haribo’s candy is not vegan due to the gelatin. Gelatin is obtained from various animal by-products. But I found very useful trick to avoid buying it: I would choose my favorite Haribo’s and place them into my shopping cart. As many as I want. But as soon as I get to the cashier I take them out and won’t buy them. I found out that for me the effect is achieved and that the mere thinking of the sugar rush comes from the anticipation of buying it.
The other surprising trick that I have discovered works like a charm as well: When you desperately want a Coca Cola (or other soda), just get the ice cold water with gas. It triggers exactly the same feeling that you achieve with a bottle or can of coke. So if you get that feeling of really desperately wanting to consume a coke, just try and drink a Mineral water. If you still would want a coke just go and get it. But I PROMISE IT REALLY WORKS!