If you are just starting your Real Food journey, then you might be wondering how you are going to be able to buy your food from now on. The supermarket can seem a scary and overwhelming place once you start learning about highly processed foods, additives and trans fats.
And let’s face it, it’s not always possible or even desirable to pop into your local health food shop or to go to a farmers market on the weekend to buy your fresh fruit and vegetables pantry staples, and sometimes you just need things to be easy.
I am a huge supporter of local food producers and small businesses selling awesome food and other grocery items. As much as possible, I buy from them which sometimes means I have to order in bulk and wait for it to arrive, or place an order and share it amongst a group of people, but for me, that’s a priority.
It hasn’t always been like this. When we first changed over to Real Food, I spent hours doing grocery shopping. I had to re-learn all I thought I knew about food products, I had to traipse around the city to find specific ingredients that at the time just weren’t available in the supermarket. I had never been to a farmers market and I certainly didn’t grow my own food.
So I realise that it is really important that when you are starting out, or if your life is busy, you just needs things to be simple and easy and available when you need it.
So, I’m here to tell you that you CAN shop for Real Food at the supermarket.
Shop around the perimeter of the store
Most supermarkets display their fresh and frozen produce, meat and dairy around the outside of the store and this is a great place to do the bulk of your shopping.
The aisles in the middle and at the ends of each aisle are typically filled with tins, boxes and jars with marketing claims like “fat free!” and “natural fruit flavour!” and contain loads of added sugars and additives.
In some of those aisles though, you will find Real Food – you just need to know what to look for and what to avoid.
- Stick with packets, tins or jars that have only a small number of ingredients in them, and make sure those ingredients are things you would usually find in a kitchen and not in a laboratory (salt, peppers, apple, spelt flour etc).
- Look for healthful oils such as avocado oil, extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and coconut oil.
- Look right at the top and bottom of the shelves as there is sometimes smaller, healthier brands tucked away there.
- Beware of the “Health Food” aisle – many items in this aisle may not necessarily be healthy at all. There are hundreds of ‘gluten-free’ items on the supermarket shelves these days, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t full of sugar, cheap vegetables oils and additives. Always read the ingredient labels.
- Stick with single herbs and spices rather than blends. These typically contain additives to help them to stop sticking together or cheap vegetables oils. Make your own blends at home.
- Instead of pasta sauce blends, buy bottles of passata and add your own herbs and spices. Passata is plain pureed tomatoes.
- Avoid items that list sugar as one of the first 3 items in the label. Sugar can also be labelled as many other things, so be aware.
- While the word “natural” can sometimes be a marketing trick, you can find some items such as natural nut butters in the supermarket that will be a lot cheaper than a health food store and contain only Real Food ingredients – Mayvers is a great brand available in most supermarkets.
If you can’t buy fresh produce – head for the frozen section
Frozen produce is a great alternative to fresh if it’s not available to you – especially through the winter months when local fresh produce can be limited. Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness, a time when—as a general rule—they are most nutrient-packed
As with fresh produce, stick with single frozen items such as peas and beans or veggie mixes as opposed to those that are marketed as as meal. These frozen ‘meals’ will often contain some sort of dressing or sauce that can be added when cooking. You can just discard this, but be aware – you are probably paying a whole lot more for the ‘convenience’ of a meal in a packet. You can save money buy buying individual frozen items and mixing them up yourself.
Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen
If you’d like to buy all organic, but can’t stretch the budget that far, then stick to the the “Dirty Dozen” list. This is a list of the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides and other chemicals used to grow them. The “Clean Fifteen” is the list that uses the least chemicals to grow them.
If you still can’t afford to buy, or can’t find the dirty dozen organic, then don’t exclude them from your diet altogether. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a healthier choice than processed foods and will still contain essential nutrients your body needs.
Organic, Free Range, Grass-fed Produce or Conventional?
So all meat, chicken and eggs are Real Food, but there is plenty of variation in the quality, availability and price at the supermarket.
As well as the ethical considerations, studies have found that grass-fed beef has a healthier fatty acid composition (that’s a good thing!), compared to grain-fed beef, organic produce contains more antioxidants and less pesticide and heavy metal reside than conventionally grown produce and organic eggs contain 2/3 more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta carotene than caged eggs.
So when shopping at the supermarket, consider purchasing organic, free-range and grass-fed options when you can as you will be getting more nutrition bang for your buck. Always look for specials and bulk buy options as this will help to reduce your costs.
Bulk Buy When You Can
Bulk buying Real Food options at the supermarket can help save you time and money. This can be done with fresh produce – if broccoli is on special, buy up big and blanch and freeze. I also buy passata for $1 a jar as I buy 6 at a time when they are on special.
Avoid food products that make health claims
This can be tricky as almost all packaged food has some kind of health claim these days. Whether its “cholesterol-free”, “vitamin enriched” or “high in fibre” you can be assured that most of these products are full of ingredients you’d never find in your kitchen.
I will also say here that ‘foods’ that you see advertised on TV or have a cartoon character on the packaging should also be avoided as they are typically full of additives, sugar and vegetable oils.
Always read the ingredients label so you know exactly what you are buying.