Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Read Past the Fancy Labels

In an ideal world, you would have your meat and eggs come from a local farm, your fruits and veggies right from your backyard, and you would subsist from only these elements. In the real world, you probably don't have a farm that close and you don't have enough time to tend to your own garden, let alone have a climate to sustain an orange tree out back. So where do you get food? The next step would be a local farmer's market where they bring food from farms too far for you to drive, but not too far for them to get to a market. Or perhaps you belong to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or to something like we do, a Farm Share Program. Still though, in a pinch you might have to run to the grocery store. You've probably heard of "shop around the perimeter" before, and for the most part, that's a good thing. But what's on the inside of that perimeter? Well, to be honest, it's a lot of junk full of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other nasty items (I'm not even going to call it "food.") But so much of it can be deceiving to people of all nutritional education backgrounds, so how can you read past the fancy labels? Recently I took a stroll through a well-known supermarket and snapped away with my phone so we can take a look at some of the more popular ways stores and brands try to get you to buy their product.

Disclaimer: If at any point I sound sarcastic or cynical, it's because I am. Apologies in advance if you are offended, but there's a ton of backstory as to why a lot of these items are being pushed and sold (government subsidies for corn growers, being able to buy a "healthy" label, etc) so I get riled up when people think these brands have health as a priority when really they are focusing on profits. If you know me personally, you know I don't get riled up about pretty much anything else, so at least give me this.

"Whole Grain." I don't know exactly where it originated, but for some reason a whole lotta folks believe that "whole grain" = good for you. Half grain? No thanks, I'll take WHOLE grain. If someone can tell me one benefit that whole grain products have over real food like meat and veggies, I'm all ears.What I know is that these gluten-containing products cause insulin spikes and inflammation. I also know that anything that you might say is beneficial from these products can be found in naturally occurring food such as vegetables. (Grains are not natural, they cannot be digested in raw form by humans.)

The "healthy" juice. Just because it has a name like "Nature's Promise" and promises to be a great source of Vitamin C, turn to the label and notice that it has 35 grams of sugar per 8 fl. oz. serving. Considering that your glass is NEVER just 8 fl. oz. and is at least 16 fl. oz., that means you're having over 70 grams of sugar in one big gulp. And people wonder why kids who drink juice develop Type II the way, did you know that it used to be called "Adult Onset Diabetes" but since we have gone low-fat, high carb diets and kids started getting Diabetes, they had to change the name.

100 calorie packs. First of all, get off the idea that "calories in = calories out." There is a LOT more to weight gain/loss than just calories. So while calorie restriction may be a start, the fact that these are Doritos (or Oreos, wheat thins, etc etc) pretty much make that point null and void. I doubt supermarkets would go for 100 calorie packs of broccoli...

As we learned in my post about high fructose corn syrup, even diet soda and drinks can make the body have an insulin response, just like their sugary counterparts. And who knows what else that aspartame will do to your body...just look at the number of ingredients in Crystal Light...stick with water, black coffee, and regular tea.

South Beach Living! Twice the protein! Not to mention a New Lower Price! No High Fructose Corn Syrup! First of all, if you want some protein with breakfast, have some eggs. Second, like I said before, just because it doesn't have HFCS, doesn't mean it's actually GOOD for you. It's like saying motor oil doesn't have any carbs. SWEET, pour me a cup!

While I still don't know if marketing towards kids works in real life or not, this box certainly seems enticing for parents who want their kids to grow up healthy and strong. Whole grain guaranteed, good source of Calcium and Vitamin D...what more could you ask for? Besides the fact that cereals made from grains will spike your blood sugar first thing in the morning, you also don't need to take in as much calcium as you think. I won't do a whole post right now about it, but you really want to RETAIN calcium, of which you should be getting plenty if you are consuming the right meats and veggies. Secondly, while I do see Vitamin D as important to take, especially during winter months, your meat and even Vitamin D supplement should be good without needing to resort to sugary cereal. Now that the weather on the east coast is getting nicer, get 20 min. of sun per day and you should be good to go!

I know, I know, you're used to your orange juice at breakfast. While it's good that you're focusing on fruit, the fact that it's JUICE means a ton of sugar very quickly in your system. If you want the taste of orange in the morning, have an actual orange. Tons less sugar and plenty of other stuff like fiber in there to slow the digestion process. I'll say it once again, stay away from fruit juice! Oh and as for fiber, you actually don't need all of those wheat products for the "fiber." The reason a ton of folks are fiber deficient is because they aren't eating enough veggies/fruits in the first place! So just because something says "good source of fiber" again doesn't mean it's necessarily good for you.
Don't get me started on Vitamin Water. Talk to Timmy P. about his former addiction. Over 30g sugar per bottle. 

You probably consider yourself smart. So why not buy a product with the word "smart" in the name? You've heard of omegas in your diet before, so these folks must know what they're talking about, right? Too bad that they're just trying to sell stuff made from corn. If you heat up vegetable oil, there are a whole host of problems that can come from it. Namely, oxidation of those omega-6s and big inflammation in your system. Stick with coconut oil, real butter (pastured cows or goats), or animal fat/lard/tallow to fry your eggs, veggies, etc. And while olive oil is great to have on salad, don't heat it up for similar reasons as vegetable oil. Need a good hint as what to use to fry stuff in? Fats that are solid at room temperature. It's ok if your coconut oil turns solid back to liquid and it's ok to fry with animal fat.Seriously.
 If you're going "no dairy" then butter is off your list anyway. But if you are looking for something to fry your eggs in, or put something on your coconut pancakes, go with REAL butter. I mean from pastured cows or goats. The same stuff that I said above about vegetable oils applies to margarines and all of this fake butter. Despite it's claim, you will NOT have a healthy heart after this stuff.

I know, we all like our frijoles, especially in our chili or for Mexican night. But remember that beans are legumes and legumes have these nasty things called lectins in them. They cause small
holes in your gut lining and cause you to digest things improperly.

SPEAKING of lectins, did you know that peanuts are legumes (not nuts?) So that means that peanut products have lectins and can cause those same small holes as beans. Is it any wonder that there are an inordinate amount of kids with peanut allergies? Chances are even YOU suffer from similar symptoms, but they may be too small to detect compared to others'. I know it's "Nature's Promise" but let's stick with almond butter or sun butter (made from sunflower seeds).
While you can find some quality things in the "Organic" Aisle, you can also find some junk disguised as healthy. For instance, Ian's Cookie Buttons may not contain any wheat or gluten, but it still doesn't mean it's good for your health. So while it gets points for NOT having things you DON'T want in your system, it also doesn't HAVE things you DO want.


Did you fall into the trap to believe soy products are good for you? Don't worry, I did too. I was a big fan of Silk milk, especially the chocolate variety, for awhile. But then I learned that soy is a legume and should be treated as such. Not to mention all of the things added in a product like this...So toss the tofu burgers and grab yourself a grass-fed beef burger.

Man, not only does the pasta come with a sauce, but it all comes in a super convenient bowl that you can keep! I can't deny that this is enticing as a work lunch, but if we remember to stick with animal protein, veggies/fruits, and good fats, and to stay away from grains and sugar, we won't fall into this awesome marketing trap.


This was just funny. Anyone care to pay a premium on spring water ice??

While I would shy away from the microwave-ready bowl of pasta, I also know you have busy lives and need to feed the kids in a pinch. One great modern convenience is a steambag full of veggies. These are great to have on just pop them in on High for a few minutes and presto, a great side for dinner. If you're looking to save a few bucks, you also can go with the bulk 5lb. bag of veggies and just steam them in a tupperware in the microwave. Take your pick, this is a good choice!

Food from produce junction. All of it grew, will perish easily, can be found on the perimeter of a regular supermarket, and will be used by the body in a nourishing and healthy way. Good times!

On more than one occasion, I've been known to buy 11lbs. of meat and chop it up for various things like beef stew, jerky, even steak, and then freeze the rest. Gotta love unit pricing!

So in general, buy food that doesn't NEED labels to sell itself. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule such as the frozen steambag of veggies. Ask questions like "does it grow?" "Can it die?" "Will it perish quickly?" "Could I find it naturally occurring in nature?" "Could I eat it raw?" "Did people 10,000 years ago eat this?" "Does it have less than five ingredients?" While you don't always need to meet every single criteria, these are good starting points. For more on what I personally buy and eat, check this post out. What stuff you do you guys stay away from in the supermarkets? What do you tend to buy consistently?


  1. GREAT post Plentus! Especially for those who are starting out!

  2. Well I learned that I'm a sucker! The bag of
    pretzels you pointed out are in my pantry for
    the purpose of this challenge. I thought they were
    a good choice:(. I did, however, buy the microwaveable
    steam veges!! Thanks for the great information.

  3. Sorry to burst your pretzel bubble Patti!

  4. Hi Chris!!
    Great Post!
    Would like to add if I may...
    I usually tend to stick to the outside perimeter as well but I will absolutly make very specific detours on several ilses. The candy Isle is one...YES, I said the candy Isle. I'm always looking for different chocolate bars.. My rule is 85% cocoa or higher in content. The other isle I go for is the isle they keep the canned fish on. I'm not after the tuna either. I go for the SARDINES!! Packed with O-3's, protein and easy transportabiltiy in a pinch. If you look hard enough you can find the No salt added varieties in virgin olive oil. I prefer the King Oscar 2 layer in virgin olive oil. Yummy! I've been seen eating these for breakfast! The last detour I usually make is the isle where they keep the coconut milk! Thai Kitchen Full Fat Please!
    Anyway, enjoying following the blog!
    Looking forward to next weekend

  5. Is no one concerned about sodium?

  6. Not to play the devil's advocate, Chris, but what about the environmental effects of excessive meat consumption? Maybe this post doesn't really apply to this particular article (since you touted the benefits of shopping locally), but reading it made me want to reply anyway. :)

    Even free-range, hormone- and pesticide-free, organic-certified meat has its share of problems when it comes to mitigating our collective carbon imprint and reversing the effects of climate change. Much of organic meat available for purchase (save for farmers' markets as you know) travels thousands of miles to arrive at the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. How much CO2 is expeled solely for transport? There's massive habitat deconstruction and deforestation associated with rearing cattle and other livestock (since organic farming is less productive than its conventional part it needs more land to produce the same amount of food). Beef and poultry are the top contributors to greenhouse gas emisions, and methane released by cows via flatuence and eructation is twenty times more noxious than CO2. Why is it that many forward-thinking environmentalists and journalists encourage the consumption of meat more as a side dish/condiment than an entree?

  7. Hey Susannah,

    Love the discussion point. Certainly true that even "organic" doesn't mean "local." The Farm to City program I mentioned draws from local Philadelphia farms such as Hendrick's (Telford, PA) and Lancaster farms, so ordering from them guarantees local farms. Also, I can't claim to be an expert on the environmental side of things. I write to an audience that wants to improve their performance in the gym and live strong, healthy lives. Science has shown one of the best ways to do that is by eating animal protein. I suppose everyone will have a different reason for eating and we need to respect those reasons while providing good information. So in the end, I do like how you brought up the sustainability issue, as it may spark some extra thought in folks when they go out shopping.

  8. I acquired a dehydrator today. Gonna have fun playing with this puppy. First experiment is Chris's beef jerky recipe.

    Thanks for this great info. You really help to simplify some complicated stuff.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Blog has moved, searching new blog...