Episode 91 – Decoding the Grocery Store
Michelle Rogers, ND, MSAOM, FDN-P
Over the past several years, I’ve created the most accessible, streamlined and effective virtual practice working with high-achieving women entrepreneurs, go-getters, and other badass women all over the world.
I intentionally blend my background of Functional, Naturopathic, and East Asian Medicine with my extensive experience in the online business world to help provide my clients with the personalized blueprint and strategy they need to get the mental focus, energy and business strategy required to share their gifts, better serve their clients and show up even more for the people they love.
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Hey there, and welcome back to another episode of The WELLthy Woman podcast, I am your host, Michelle, and today, I want to chat with you about how to decode the grocery store and shop like a WELLthy Woman.
For those of you who follow my instagram stories, you know that I recently put together a conscious shoppers guide for Costco wholesale stores. I don’t dive into specific nutritional advice, so you’ll see some gluten, dairy, eggs and even soy on the list. I’ll leave it up to you to make the final choice, but if you do want to dive into a more personalized nutrition plan based on your metabolic type and digestive health, then let me know.
In my guide, which I’ll link to in the show notes, I go into pantry items, beverages, fridge and freezer items, snacks, treats, options for kiddos, your home and your pets. It’s AWESOME, so definitely get your hands on it.
So, to be honest, I live in a health food store bubble, meaning outside of New Seasons, our local health food store chain here in the pacific northwest, local portland food co-ops, whole foods and natural grocers, I rarely go to conventional stores.
BUT, I recently signed up for a Costco membership. I’m not affiliated with Costco in any way, but I remember going to Costco as a kid and people are ALWAYS gabbing about their screaming deals, so I decided to give it a shot. Before signing up for our membership, we got a tour of the store, so we were able to make sure that there were products we could actually buy and eat…
Smart, conscious consumers, right?
So, my experience going through Costco, inspired me to, not only create a Costco-specific buyers guide, but also create this podcast episode to help you shop at ANY local store you have access to — grocery shopping shouldn’t be a trip filled with confusion and frustration.
So, once we got past all the electronics, household goods and booze, we got to the produce section.
By the way, I actually saw some pretty cool stuff like a Vitamix, Blendtec, pyrex food storage containers… things that I’m a total fan of (side note, I wish there was an awesome blender that had a glass container, but oh well). We just use an Oster at home, because they have a glass base.
So, back to the produce — any store you go to has a produce section. Start here.
Check your Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists and use them as guides, until you know them by heart. These lists are generated each year from the Environmental Working Group to bring awareness around which fruits and vegetables have the most and least amount of chemical spraying — things like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemical toxins that can accumulate in our body causing issues with hormonal imbalances and inflammation — no bueno.
Of course, if you can — ALWAYS choose organic, because it not only has increased nutrient density, due to the fact that the plant has had to fend off bugs and disease with its own defenses, BUT it also helps support the environment and local sustainable farming practices. Win-win.
So, as of 2019, the Dirty Dozen — or the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the MOST spraying — aka the 12 fruits and vegetables you want to ALWAYS purchase organic are:
- Number 13 is Peppers, so I get those organic too — what can I say, it’s the overachiever in me.
If it’s not on this list, you can probably get by with purchasing conventionally grown varieties, but just be aware that it’s still been sprayed.
Something else to take note of is when eating out, it’s really difficult to count on organic produce, so have your lists with you when ordering, and try to choose produce items that are on the clean 15, when eating out.
Alright, so one thing I noticed, as I was going up and down each and every food aisle, is that there are some REALLY confusing labels out there.
The word “natural”, for example, is rampant, and it can be REALLY misleading, when you’re trying to choose the best products for you and your family.
I hate to break it to you, but the word “natural” doesn’t mean a damn thing. Literally — it doesn’t mean anything about the quality of the product, at all.
I also saw a lot of products that try to catch the health-conscious consumer’s eye by having green and white boxes or logos. This is brilliant marketing, but again, this can be super misleading.
The key — always and forever — read the ingredients list. I’m not talking about the nutrition facts, but I’m talking about the specific ingredients in any packaged food item you buy.
Even if it seems simple, like a bag of nuts — read the ingredients. Sometimes there are nasty preservatives, color enhancers or other toxic chemicals that we just don’t need to be exposing our bodies to.
Now your packaged food doesn’t have to be 100% organic, but when it’s not, be sure to check for non-GMO labels on the box, and again, check the ingredient labels. If it’s a packaged food item that has fruits or vegetables in it, cross check your dirty dozen list — if it’s on the list, then make sure it’s organic. If it’s not on the list, then it’s probably okay.
Keep in mind that NO artificial preservatives, colors or flavors are ever allowed in organic food, BUT there are still close to 40 synthetic substances that can be used in organic packaged foods.
So are these 40 synthetic substances safe?
According to the EWG, federal regulators AND independent experts have to screen these substances before approving their use in organic packaged foods. And, these ingredients are only permitted if there is no natural or organic alternative.
Ingredients that “have an adverse effect on human health” are prohibited from use in organic packaged foods, as are synthetic ingredients that adversely affect the environment. In addition, synthetic ingredients added to organic packaged foods must be reviewed by independent and government experts every five years to ensure they continue to meet these strict standards.
AND, when you’re reading the label — you can actually pronounce a lot of them.
So, no you don’t HAVE to always get organic packaged food, but I’d recommend it, especially if you’re trying to decrease your overall toxic load.
Aside from the dirty dozen and choosing organic, whenever possible, another thing I always look out for are GMOs.
So, this is something I find a lot of doctors, practitioners and even some nutritionists overlook, but it is SO incredibly important – not just for our digestive health and the potential to exacerbate leaky gut, but also because GMOs play a huge part in hormonal disruption.
Since GM crops are modified to tolerate loads of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, which we then eat, we end up ingesting chemical estrogens or xenoestrogens that can really throw our hormonal balance out of whack.
These chemical estrogens bind to hormonal receptor sites and either block or disrupt the function of our own natural hormones.
That being said, I want to give you 4 simple ways to avoid GMOs:
- First, buy organic whenever possible — organic automatically equals non-GMO
- Second, look for non-GMO verified labels
- Third, avoid known GMO foods – things like corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, aspartame (gross anyway), sugar not listed as 100% sugar cane and avoid sugar beets
- Unfortunately, also more than half of Hawaiian papaya is GM, and a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash, so get organic to cover your bases.
- And fourth, there’s also a few apps that’s out there to make your life easier. The institute for responsible technology is a great source of information on GMOs.
Lastly, I want to talk about animal products, because they’re not listed on the dirty dozen or clean fifteen, but they are SUPER important. Animal products matter a lot — like more than the produce, because if you think about an animal, like a chicken or a cow, they eat food, and so that food needs to be clean, otherwise they end up accumulating toxins in their tissues, or eggs… that we then eat.
Dairy: raw, grass-fed and organic whenever possible — this goes for milks and cheeses. Ghee is a delicious alternative to butter and it doesn’t have the dairy proteins in it.
Eggs: pastured — you might not see organic or non-GMO labels on here, but that’s okay, it just means that the hens are out and about doing their thing all day, eating bugs and seeds and whatever else they love to eat. They’re not being confined to any type of pen and are not force fed GM corn all day.
If you can’t find pastured eggs, the next best is USDA organic.
Chicken: Short answer — buy directly from your farmer or farmers market, but there are a few things I want to touch on.
Now, remember how I was telling you that the word “natural” doesn’t mean anything on packaged foods, well the same goes with chicken — the terms “Humanely Raised” and “Natural” are not properly regulated, so they don’t mean what they should.
Another misleading term is “No Added Hormones”. When you’re shopping for chicken (or any type of poultry), know that growth hormones have already been banned from poultry production.
The same is true for “Cage Free” on chicken, because only chickens raised for eggs can be caged. So, ALL chicken meat has been raised without hormones and cage-free, and the using terms is just a brilliant marketing strategy to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about a particular product.
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) – This label ensures independent certification that the chickens were raised on sustainable pasture-based family farms — these chickens are healthier and more nutritious, because they have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Global Animal Partnership — steps 4 or above.
Unfortunately, Certified Organic chicken can be raised in factory farm conditions and having this label doesn’t mean they were raised any more humanely than conventional chickens.
However, they were raised without routine antibiotics and GM food. Organic chickens also have to be given access to the outdoors. So, if you see the certified organic label, also look for the Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, or the Global Animal Partnership labels.
When it comes to red meat, like beef, I look for 100% grass fed organic varieties and steer clear of grain fed or even grain finished meats. Grain fed meats tend to be more inflammatory to our bodies due to the omega-6 content.
Ideally, I love getting more gamey meats like grass-fed lamb, bison, venison and goat. You can get these at some supermarkets, but the best place is your farmers market — check with the farm or farmer, if you’re curious about their practices. It’s always great to get more connected with your food and where your food comes from.
Lastly, fish — always choose smaller wild caught varieties. I love making sardine salad in place of tuna salad, and I keep my larger fish, like wild caught salmon, to a minimum throughout the month.
Alright, I hope that was helpful — so in SUMMARY
- 1. Use the dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists to shop for produce
- 2. For packaged foods, always check ingredient labels and get certified organic when possible
- 3. Avoid GMOs completely
- 4. Look for raw, grass-fed and organic dairy.
- 5. Look for pastured or USDA certified organic eggs
- 6. Look for animal welfare approved, global animal partnership or certified humane chicken
- 7. Look for 100% grass-fed and organic beef
- 8. Experiment with some different game meats for added nutrient variety.
- 9. Choose smaller wild caught varieties of fish whenever possible.
Alright, if you found this episode helpful, please share it with someone you love.
Be sure to download your costco shopping guide at wellthywoman.co/costco.
Also, if you’re feeling drawn to work together, I encourage you to check out my WELLth Activation program and book a WELLth Strategy Session, if it feels in alignment.
You can check that out by going to wellthywoman.co/activation
So, tune in next week for more awesome and actionable info!
Chat with you then!