The times, they are a-changin'
Grocery stores have changed a lot over the last 50-75 years. In the 1940s, the average grocery store was 3,000 square feet. Today, the average Kroger is 67,000 square feet and contains over 40,000 individual items!
On one hand, we enjoy more variety than any other time in human history. We can eat tomatoes in January (even though they won't taste very good), choose from an entire aisle of breakfast cereal, and select milk from cows, nuts, or seeds that might be organic, homogenized, local, low fat, full fat, unbelievably cheap, prohibitively expensive, small batch or industrial farmed.
On the other hand, we as consumers are facing more confusion than ever. Do we really need 30 barbecue sauces to choose from? Should I buy the cage free or omega 3 eggs? Why is "good food" so expensive and "junk food" so cheap? Navigating today's supermarket is harder than ever.
While grocery stores have been evolving rapidly, we are entering into a period of huge disruption and transformation in the industry. This is the perfect time for consumers to demand change, because now more than ever, grocery stores are listening and responding to our demand signals as they try to increase market share in today's competitive world.
So... What are you telling them? Do your food purchases reflect your ideal diet (whatever that means to you)? If not, what is keeping you from accomplishing your goals?
Take action! Reflect on the following:
1. What does "good food" mean to you?
2. What values do you want your purchases to reflect?
3. What is standing in your way?
4. What is one thing you can do tomorrow to work towards your goals?
3 Simple Rules to Smarter Shopping:
1. Use Common Sense.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Linking specific nutrients to improved health outcomes is hard, and new studies can be misleading. When in doubt, stick to foods that have been around for 100 years or more.
2. Make a plan.
Of the 40,000 items in a typical grocery store, the ones that are placed directly in our line of sight are typically the most profitable and, unfortunately, least nutritious (the cost of production is typically low, in many cases this means using highly processed, subsidized ingredients and poor labor standards). If you go into a supermarket without a plan, you are likely to load up your cart with products that look and taste good, but cut into your grocery budget in a big way, displacing more nourishing options. So make a list, stick to it, shop the perimeter where refrigerators tend to keep real foods fresh, and look on the bottom shelves for more budget friendly options.
3. Use the nutrition label and ingredient list like a pro.
Our government mandated labeling ain't perfect, but it's what we've got - so let's talk about what is relevant and how to judge a food by its label.
Shop Like a Ninja:
How to use the nutrition label and ingredient list like a pro.
- Serving size: Often unrealistically small. Determine a realistic serving size for you and use that as your baseline for the rest of the label.
- Sugars: The WHO and AHA recommend consuming no more than 30 grams of added sugars per day (and remember, 90% of the sugar in our diet is sugar added to processed foods). Even "natural sugars" can add up - like the 53 grams of sugar in a single serving of Naked juice (accompanied by 0g of fiber).
- Fiber: Highly processed foods are often stripped of fiber - and high in sugar. If a product has high sugar and low fiber, it will stress your pancreas as your body tries to produce enough insulin to keep up with the sugar rush.
- Ingredient list: Can you picture the ingredients in your head, or does it look like something out of a scientific encyclopedia? Remember, many new additives do not undergo any long-term health studies before being used in our food system, so we don't know for sure how they will affect our bodies. When in doubt, select products with more ingredients you can recognize. Don't assume normal-sounding ingredients are... well, normal. ("Torula Yeast", a byproduct of paper production that was originally used in pet food.)
- Number of Calories: Calories are a measurement of energy in food. Counting them can be helpful for some. But more often than not, we forget that food is much more than calories - focusing on eating nourishing food and listening to your body's signals of hunger and satiety is a better strategy for most.
- Grams of Fat: As with calories, we have become obsessed with the quantity of fat in our food instead of the quality of fat Instead of looking at the grams of fat in the nutrition label, try and figure out what types of fat are in the ingredient list. We recommend eating natural fats that are derived from foods you would eat (olive oil from olives, butter from milk, coconut oil from coconuts) and staying away or decreasing consumption of highly processed oils from foods you wouldn't eat (canola oil from rapeseed, soybean oil from industrial soy beans, cottonseed oil from cotton).
- Cholesterol: After over a decade of scientific evidence supporting the fact that dietary cholesterol doesn't negatively impact blood cholesterol, the 2015 dietary guidelines finally list cholesterol as "not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption." Our bodies synthesize the cholesterol we need in our liver, it does not come from the foods we eat. Egg lovers rejoice!
- Sodium: There is mounting evidence that sodium consumption has little to no impact on overall health. If sodium content is important at all, it is because it can tip you off to the fact that a food may be highly processed (75% of the salt in our diet comes from overly processed foods).
- Protein: We are in the middle of a protein boom, as highly processed protein is being pumped into processed foods and used as a health claim. But consider the following: people in the USA already consume more protein than we need on average, and branch chain amino acids (the types of proteins most commonly added to processed foods) are processed in the liver - excessive consumption of them can lead to health issues, despite many people's belief that the more protein the better. Think twice before assuming that high protein means healthy.
So... You Want To Make A Change
It's easy to get caught up in the desire to make BIG changes when we want to improve things in life. And that's great - in fact, we hope you are feeling inspired to join the movement to reimagine our food future. We like to think of big goals as the image on a postcard - something you can see, imagine, and believe exists. But how do we get there? Let's talk about change, and setting ourselves up for success.
Set small, specific, and achievable goals.
BAD: I will eat healthier food.
How do you know when you have succeeded? If you eat something unhealthy, have you failed? This goal is hard to measure and it is easy to break, since there are no clear directions.
- BETTER: I will eat more fruits and vegetables.
This goal is more specific, but how do you know when you have succeeded? Is one additional piece of fruit per week enough, or do you want to eat more fruits and vegetables every day? At other meals?
- BEST: I will replace my afternoon granola bar with fruit, vegetables and nuts.
This is a specific, measurable goal. You will know when you have succeeded and when you have failed. And if you fail today, you know what to do to get back on track tomorrow.
Other good goals:
- I will cook one meal from scratch this week.
- I will make dinner with my kids every Tuesday.
- I will bring my lunch to work every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- I will replace one unhealthy snack with real food.
- I will tell five people about the GRAS additive loophole.
- I will only drink one sugary drink per day.
- I will try one new vegetable this week.
- I will not buy cereals with added sugars.
- ....the sky's the limit!
The F Word
Let's talk about failure. It is bound to happen. Not because you are bad at keeping goals, but because life happens. That banana that you brought for your "healthy snack" turns out to be bruised and rotten, so you reach for the bag of chips that is in your pantry instead - or you really wanted to make dinner tonight, but a meeting ran late. We can't avoid these things and we shouldn't let them bring us down! The trick to meeting goals is twofold:
1 - make your goals realistic (see above).
2 - acknowledge that change is a cycle - when we fail, we get back up and start again tomorrow.
If you fail more often than you succeed, maybe the problem is your goal itself - remember to keep them small, realistic, and measurable. Rewrite and edit goals regularly.
Refer to that postcard image of where you want to be, don't look back, and redirect as necessary!
Don't go it alone.
Last but not least, change is most likely to happen when you have support! Tell your friends. Support others who have gone through the workshops. Start an article club, host a happy hour, and connect on social media. And keep an eye on our website as we grow - more resources are coming soon!
Recipes + Techniques