How to Shop for the Right Food in Your Regular Grocery Store in 10 Easy Steps

By Dr. Joseph Mercola
     with Rachael Droege

Your health is the most important thing you own, so investing in it through the right foods is the best investment you can make. However, I realize that finding the “right” foods can be challenging for some. If you:

  • Can”t always order the healthy products recommended online
  • Don”t have access to a natural health food store
  • Have a very tight budget and are restricted to a regular supermarket

… then the following steps will help you to find the best possible foods no matter where you are or what your budget. It will help if you take a new approach to the way you look at buying food. According to a nutrition counselor here at the Optimal Wellness Center, American consumers make their food choices based on the following five food criteria: taste, price, convenience, appearance and shelf life. Notice that these have nothing to do with health. He says:

“If you are making all your food choices based on these [criteria] you may be indulging your taste buds, staying within your budget and minimizing your trips to the grocery store but your cells may all be starving for nutrients that they aren”t getting because they are not in those foods. I am not saying to ignore taste, price, convenience, appearance and shelf life. Go ahead and consider those, but consider those after you consider the nutritional value because nutritional value is the real reason we need to eat–the body needs nutrients and it is important to wake up to that and the sooner you wake up to that the better.”

So where do you go once you commit yourself to focusing on a food item”s nutritional value? Whether you live in a rural area with no access to a health food store or are simply on a very tight budget, there are ways to weed through the offerings in any grocery store to come out with the most nutritious food available, and the following principles should help to guide you along your way.

Learn Your nutritional type

This is the first step you should take, and it”s an important one. Learning your nutritional type will allow you to choose the proper foods for your type, and this can vary drastically from a focus on meat to a focus on vegetables or healthy fats. My Total Health Program–the culmination of my last 20 years of work–is designed around nutritional typing, and will give you everything you need to assess your general nutritional type and gives you a full plan to start eating the right macronutrient (proteins, fats and carbs) ratio for your type. It will also teach you how to “listen to your body,” that is, it will teach you how to subtly adjust and fine-tune your macronutrient ratios so that you feel your best. Take our quick and easy test to find out your nutritional type.

Learn How to Shop Smart

Now that you”ve determined your nutritional type, be sure to tailor all of your groceries to your individual type, whether it”s protein, carb or mixed.

Buy the Freshest Items

The fresher the food, the more nutritious it will be. Only buy produce that is fresh and firm, otherwise you are wasting your money on food that has passed its prime, in terms of both nutrition and taste. This also applies to meat, poultry and fish. If it”s not fresh, don”t buy it.

Pick the Leanest Cut of Beef, or Request Bison

Free-range meats and poultry are always the best choice, but there are other options if these are not available to you. In terms of beef, choose the leanest cuts as most of the toxins from hormones and antibiotics will settle in fattier tissue, so the fatter cuts tend to have more toxins. Lean cuts of beef include flank steak and round steak.

Another option is to ask the butcher to order some bison. In general, bison are raised much more naturally than other livestock, which means they”re not given antibiotics or hormones and the meat is very lean. If you haven”t ever tried it I suggest you give it a try, as in my opinion it”s one of the best tasting of all meats. Its flavor is similar to prime beef, but sweeter and more tender.

If the Chicken is From a Factory Farm, Don”t Eat the Skin

Most chicken sold in typical grocery stores is raised in factory farms. Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space. These extremely overcrowded conditions pave the way for disease. Many are also genetically modified, and due to genetic manipulation, 90 percent of broiler chickens have trouble walking. If you don”t have access to free-range, organic or cage-free chicken, be sure to remove the skin before eating. Also be sure to follow the white meat/dark meat guidelines based on your nutritional type.

Fresh Food is Always Better Than Frozen, but Frozen is Better Than Canned

There is some confusion over whether frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh vegetables, but you can rest assured that fresh vegetables are always preferable to frozen ones. The freezing process causes damage to the cells in the food, which compromises its nutritional value. Eating pre-frozen food is acceptable, however, but be careful to not overload your diet with pre-frozen foods. If you have no choice and must choose between frozen or canned, frozen would be the better option.

Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods, including canned goods, are among the most nutritionally devoid foods. Plus, they tend to be expensive, especially when you get into all of the packaged, name-brand junk foods. Save the money that you”d normally spend on pricey and unhealthy items like potato chips, cookies, ice cream and frozen pizzas, and spend it on some fresh vegetables or meat instead.

Check Prices on Organic Food–It”s Not Always More Expensive

If you have access to organic food, don”t just pass it up because you assume it”s too expensive. Sometimes organic food is actually less expensive than traditionally grown food, especially when it”s on sale. It may also be only slightly more expensive than a comparable regular item, and in that case the increased nutritional value (and lack of pesticides, etc.) would be well worth the extra price. So be sure to compare prices and choose the best value, which may in fact be organic.

Ocean-Caught Fish is Better Than Farm-Raised Fish

I don”t recommend that you eat any fish unless you can be certain that it does not contain toxins like mercury and PCBs. The only fish I have discovered, via independent lab testing, to be free of harmful mercury and other toxins is the Vital Choice brand of salmon.

If you do choose to eat fish from your grocery store, don”t eat farm-raised fish, as numerous studies have found it may be harmful to your health. Instead, your best choices would be fresh, ocean-caught Alaskan salmon, arctic Char (similar to salmon), fresh sardines and anchovies. Remember that these may still contain toxins, though probably a lesser amount than the other options. Sardines and anchovies are likely fine to eat, as they are small enough to have minimal contamination. As fish is not typically labeled thoroughly, you may have to ask the fishmonger where the fish came from (farm, lake or ocean) to be sure.

Adjust to Your New Way of Eating, and Enjoy the Feeling

Once you become accustomed to eating the best-quality foods for your nutritional type and start to experience the increased energy, weight normalization and other health benefits, you may find that you”re inspired to seek out even more of the healthiest foods. You may want to ask your grocer to start carrying some of the healthier foods mentioned in this article or be inspired to try some of the products recommended online.

The habit can become quite addictive and I suspect you”ll discover that healthy foods are available in places you hadn”t thought of before. Local farmers, farmers” markets, and health-food coops represent some great potential places to find healthy, and likely inexpensive, food.

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