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A shopper's guide to navigating the supermarket

Hungry for Change Supermarket Choices

From Laurentine ten Bosch and James Colquhoun, authors of Hungry for Change.

In a time-pressured world in which we’re all juggling the responsibilities of a job, paying our rent or mortgage, managing family commitments, and dealing with the demands of daily life, our desire to “eat healthy” can become a challenge—especially when facing the overwhelming choices at the store.

A regular American supermarket has on average 24,000 grocery items, meaning we’re bombarded with an ever-increasing number of options when we go shopping. When this is combined with misleading food marketing and product labeling, it’s no surprise that so many of us are confused about what we should be eating.

Here are some simple guidelines to help you make the most of your grocery shopping experience and assist you in choosing the best possible foods for your health:

1. Stick to the Periphery of the Supermarket, Not the Center Aisles: Have you noticed how all the fresh items—like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat—are positioned on the perimeter of the supermarket, while the packaged foods are all on the inside aisles? Save time and get more bang for your nutritional-buck by sticking to the outside of the store!

2. Focus on Nutrients, not Calories: The primary foundation of good health is eating whole foods. These foods are the ones that are as close to their natural state as possible, have been minimally processed, and offer the highest nutrient density. Some examples include fresh and sun-dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

3. Learn How to Read Labels: Labels are notoriously deceptive, with ingredients listed in order of their proportion in the product. This means the first three ingredients are what you’re primarily eating, and therefore matter the most. Watch out for MSG, the flavor enhancer that tricks our brain into thinking we need to overeat. MSG is often disguised by other names including: E621, monosodium glutamate, glutamic acid, hydrolyzed vegetable oil, yeast extract, and mono-calcium glutamate. Look out for sugar, as well—also disguised as barley malt, corn syrup, and maltodextrin—and make sure it’s not listed in the top three. When in doubt, remember one simple tip: If you can’t pronounce it, if it includes numbers, or if it’s written in code, don’t eat it!

4. Look for Shorter Ingredient Lists: Do your best to avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients—the more ingredients a product has, the more it’s been processed. Food manufacturing today is aligned with profit, not compatibility with our health. More ingredients does not equate to more nutrients!

5. Avoid Products Making Health Claims: Scientifically engineered products typically make the boldest health claims (such as “now with added vitamins,” “fat-free,” and “sugar-free”), masking the fact that the product has been overly processed and stripped of all its nutrients, which oftentimes have to be artificially added back in!

6. Choose Organic Where Possible: Certified Organic fresh produce contains more vitamins and minerals than its conventional counterparts, particularly if it’s been picked ripe and grown locally. It is also safer to eat because it’s grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), all of which have been shown to have harmful effects on health. If you eat animal products, choose natural dairy from pasture-raised cows, organic free-range eggs, and naturally reared grass-fed or wild meats. This is especially important when consuming animal products as toxins tend to accumulate in the animal’s fat tissue.

Many supermarkets now stock their own organic range, or at the least, carry some organic food. In addition, farmers’ markets, health food stores, and individual farms are excellent sources of organic food.

7. Know Where Your Food Comes From: Knowing where your food comes from is an important step in improving your nutrition. Speaking with farmers at your local market and checking the origin of your foods in your supermarket will indicate if the food is local or has been shipped in from afar. Generally speaking, the more local and in-season your foods are, the better it is for your health, the environment, and your local food economy.

8. Choose Healthier Alternatives: What many don’t know is that there is an abundance of delicious and healthy alternatives to some of the foods they think they can’t live without. For example, you might consider swapping soda and pop with freshly squeezed juice or sparkling water with fresh mint and lime. So, before you think that healthy eating means deprivation, take a look at this Healthy Food Comparison Chart found in our new book Hungry for Change, and learn how you can transition to healthier versions of processed foods.

Healthy Food Comparison Chart

Less Healthy More Healthy
Conventional Milk Organic milk, almond milk, macadamia milk
White Bread Pumpernickel, organic whole sourdough, buckwheat crackers
Cereal Buckwheat, quinoa, porridge, steel-cut oats
Mayonnaise Hummus or mashed-up avocado, apple cider vinegar, and mustard
Chips and Dips Nuts or flaxseed/buckwheat crackers with pesto, hummus, olive tapenade, guacamole, salsa verde, or organic pate
Pasta Raw vegetables or 100 percent rice/buckwheat noodles
Ice Cream, Cake, and Cookies Avocado chocolate mousse, nondairy coconut ice cream, quinoa, and rice pudding or quick banana ice cream
White Sugar Stevia, raw honey, coconut sugar, or pure maple syrup
Table Salt Unrefined sea salt, seaweed flakes, miso, tamari, or soy sauce
Coffee and Tea Chamomile, jasmine, nettle, mint, green, or roasted dandelion and chicory root tea
Soda and Pop Water, freshly squeezed juices, fresh lime with sparkling water plus optional ginger and mint
Milkshakes Berry yogurt smoothie, superfood smoothie, freshly squeezed vegetable juices

For more practical tips and recipes, please read Hungry for Change, available at, or visit


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