How To Choose Healthy Foods At The Grocery Store?

Author: Chef George Krumov

Healthy foods

The majority of people think that every kind of food that is being sold in a store, while not necessarily always healthy, is safe for consuming. How do I know that? Well, I was one of these people for way too long. I am glad that I woke up. The good thing is that once you know how to choose healthy foods, it becomes impossible for you to un-know it.

But, is really every food sold in stores at least safe for your health?

No, it isn't. Food is either healthy, or the opposite. The mass media would tell you things like that: "eat your veggies", "reduce your salt intake", "avoid saturated fats" and other cliches. I am laughing at this kind of over-simplification when it comes to healthy food. The government recommendations have as much truth in them as the 15-second "news" on TV.

Once I realized how many dangerous foods there are on the market, I started taking great care to buy only healthy foods, and to support food producers who have at least some integrity. Most people sense that many foods aren't healthy, and therefore shouldn't be consumed, but have very little strength to do something about that. I blame the lack of will in those people on too much TV watching and fluoridation of the public water supplies. What's the connection, you might ask. The connection is healthy brain at old age. Ageing should not be equal to diminishing IQ and dimentia. I believe that as you are becoming older, you should be becoming smarter as well, because you have been through more life experiences. Unfortunately, in our times it is rarely the case.

Choosing healthy foods doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, it should be exactly the opposite, because healthy foods have higher nutritional value. Once your body re-learns how to live on healthy foods, it can extract much more energy from less quantity of food, therefore utilizing your money better. My theory, that I repeat often, is that we should try to eat the way our grandfathers ate in the times before the chemical industry was created.

Below, I will detail how I choose healthy yogurt, eggs, salt, honey, sugar, bread, snacks, oils, meats, cheese, vegetables and fruits.

Bread: That should be an easy one, but it's not. Obviously, the best choice would be to bake your own bread, but most people won't. The second best choice is whole wheat bread made with spring water and as little ingredients as possible. The spring water might seem not as important, but if you don't drink tap water, what do you think the dough is mixed with. It is especially important to avoid foods made with tap water in areas that fluoridate the public water supply. When choosing healthy bread, you can come across many fake health claims on the front of the packages. It is best to disregard those claims and go straight to the ingredients list on the back of the package. The healthy bread should have as a first ingredient "whole wheat flour". The multigrain bread is not as healthy as it might seem, because it is basically white bread mixed with some seeds and whole grains. And the main rule about bread is simple - avoid white breads in its many forms: in fast food, snacks, or anything else made with white flour. Don't worry about missing on the synthetic vitamins that are added to white flour to make it supposedly "enriched". You would be better off with the real thing.

Salt: There is nothing secret about this one either. The best salt is Himalayan salt or rock salt, followed by unprocessed sea salt. Table salt, that has been stripped of all its other minerals, is not good for your health. Table salt usually contains other unnatural ingredients, called anti-caking agents. Some sea salts also contain those ingredients. Most people have been programmed to believe that any salt (or sodium as they call it) is bad for your health. This is complete nonsense. When authorities don't have the will to blame people's health problems on the real culprits - gmo, food chemicals, medication, air pollution - they find a boogeyman that everybody consumes to blame it on, and one suitable boogeyman is the salt. In fact, salt is good for your health. but only the natural forms. If you stop buying table salt, don't worry about missing on iodine, that is added to the table salt. Simply take a capsule of kelp daily, instead.

Yogurt, cheese and other dairy: With dairy products it is best to choose organic, especially if you live in North America or other country that allow GMO crops. I usually prefer conventional goat milk to organic cow's milk. Unpasteurized milk is the best, however it is illegal, again you guessed it, in North America. I have had unpasteurized milk many times in Europe, and can confirm that it is safe, tasty and healthy. The total opposite of this is the UHT milk. UHT stands for milk pasteurized at ultra high temperature. This milk has unnaturally long shelf life, usually in years, and it doesn't need refrigeration. Grocery stores usually still keep it in the refrigerators for better marketability. People wouldn't trust milk that isn't refrigerated. I read somewhere that the UHT pasteurization changes the milk protein molecules in such a dramatic and unnatural way, that when consumed it allegedly triggers an immune response in some people.
I usually buy yogurt that contains no corn starch, gelatin, pectin, modified milk ingredients, and other funny ingredients. Ideally, all it should contain is milk and bacterial culture. Organic kefir is also a very healthy fermented milk product. It is good for digestion and immune system support.
Most of the same things apply for choosing healthy cheese. I like cheese with as few as possible, natural ingredients. I avoid cheese made with modified milk ingredients, or a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. Cheese made from unpasteurized milk is better, but is harder to find.

Meats: This is the most controversial one. And again, organic is better, regardless if it is chicken, beef, pork, or something else. People are programmed to believe that chicken equals healthy. That possibly makes the chicken nuggets in McDonalds the "healthy" alternative to burgers for their kids. Both are junk, of course. Another wrong belief is that the defining factor whether some meat is healthy or not, is its fat content. Before humans learned how to extract oils from plants, the only source of fat in their diets was animal fat. I believe that we are perfectly suited to use animal fat for energy. However, there is big difference between fat from organically grown free-run animals, and ones that are fed on unnatural and GMO diets, confined in small spaces and deprived from exhibiting their natural behavior. The latter animals' fat is packed with toxins and is truly not healthy.

Processed deli products are the worst possible choice for your health, when it comes to meat. I can't think of too many things worst than bleached meat scrapings, mixed with fillers, artificial colors and food chemicals.

Eggs: The healthiest eggs are those that you can purchase from people who keep free-run chickens. The second best option is free-run chicken eggs from a grocery store. I do not endorse mistreatment of animals, so I never buy the conventional eggs.

Healthy oils: The kind of healthy oils that I use on daily basis are extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and sunflower oil. Other healthy oils that I use occasionally, because they are expensive, are avocado oil and rice bran oil. I avoid oils from GMO crops, such as canola oil, corn oil and soybean oil, and most of those 3 crops in North America are GMO.

Healthy snacks: Healthy snacks are usually made of only 1 ingredient - natural almonds, hazelnuts, fruits (papaya, pineapple, watermelon, banana, grapefruit, oranges), tomatoes. If you need to snack food with lots of calories, then you may need to adjust your metabolism. How someone can adjust his/her metabolism? - By applying some self-control for several days, and after that your body will figure out that it can survive even better without junk.

Other healthy foods that should be on your grocery list: unpasteurized honey, organic molasses, cinnamon powder, fresh basil, fresh cilantro, loose green tea, dark chocolate (70% cocoa content, or higher), avocados, some wild-caught seafood, and maple syrup.

Even if you cook your food at home from scratch, eating healthy is more often a matter of what you shouldn't eat, than what you should eat. For example, you choose some healthy vegetables, but you need some spices to make them tasty. If you use a store-bought seasoning mix, you are most likely seasoning your vegetables with MSG and other questionable chemicals. Another example is a sauce in a jar or a can that lists one of the ingredients as "spices". I don't buy anything that lists "spices" as an ingredient, because I want to know what exactly "spices" means. After doing a lot of research, I am convinced that "spices" is just a disguise for MSG. Another problem with canned foods is that the lining on the inside of the cans always contains the hormone-mimicking chemical BPA. I do sometimes buy foods in a jar, but only after carefully reading the ingredient list and find that there aren't any questionable ingredients. Again, I don't trust any health claims on the front label of the package.

The best way to eat healthy is to grow your own vegetables. If you can't grow your own vegetables, try to shop more often at local farmer's markets. I find that the vegetables and fruits at farmer's markets are less likely to be coated in petroleum-derived waxes. Farmer's market produce have usually ripened on the vine, not in boxes on the back of transport trucks.

When I am choosing healthy foods, I often use one other method that most people largely ignore. This method requires a little attention from your part, in order to listen to what your own body tells you. Try to notice your energy levels after eating certain foods. Your body will most definitely tell you what kinds of foods are giving you energy and what kinds of foods are screwing your energy levels. All you need to do is learn how to listen to it. I have worked 14-hour shifts of intense stressful work on my feet without taking breaks, with only a small plate of sushi to eat, and haven't gotten tired. That's possible because I have trained my body to extract maximum nutrition from little, but good quality food.
Read my follow-up article on how to choose healthy food in a restaurant, here.

Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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