I have argued before that eating healthy isn’t as difficult as you might think. You don’t need to spend too much money or time and it doesn’t have to be boring. You probably do need to use your pots and pans more. And yes, buying a burger at MacDonalds might (sadly) be cheaper and quicker than a proper meal. But otherwise, if you have the right ingredients at hand, you can put together a nutritious, healthy, cheap and fun meal in a matter of minutes.
To put it simply, the choices you make when grocery shopping can make or break your quest to healthy eating: the more real food you have in your fridge and pantry, the better your chances are of eating well.
What do I mean by “real” food? Any food that has undergone minimal processing, such as fruits and vegetables; sea food (especially fish that contains omega 3s such as sardines, herring, trout); local meats, if possible organic; snacks like nuts, seeds and dried fruit in moderation; and whole grains in their most natural state such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth.
Processed foods are not just microwaved meals. Deli meats (think ham, salami etc.), commercial bread, coffee shop cakes and muffins, croissants, sodas, savory snacks such as crisps or cheese/olive pies, frozen dinners, convenience foods, ready-to-eat meals, burgers, donuts, pizza, almost every meal at McDonald, Burger King, KFC and the rest of fast food restaurants are all processed.
Real foods are richer in nutrients, they don’t contain additives, they have more vitamins, minerals and fiber; they are simply better for you. You probably realise this already. But even healthy eating-minded people are surprised by how much of the food they consume is processed once they started tracking it. Let’s look at an example of a day's meals:
Breakfast: Breakfast cereals, or salami, ham etc on white bread.
Morning snack: muffin
Lunch: chicken nuggets with white rice, salad with ready-made dressing
Afternoon snack: chocolate cookie
Dinner: powdered soup in a mug.
If this menu looks familiar, I don’t blame you. Unfortunately the ratio of real vs processed food in supermarkets is around 1 in 10 (this is my own estimation – but I don’t think I’m far from the truth and I’m being generous). This means that you really need to make a conscious effort to find and purchase real and avoid processed food.
Here are some ideas on how to do that:
At the supermarket, stay in the outside aisles where fresh fruits and veggies are stored and avoid “browsing” the other ones unless you need something specific.
Avoid buying packaged products-I know this is very general, but most of the time, if it’s not yogurt or frozen fruits/vegetables, it’s processed.
If you do buy something packaged, look at the list of ingredients. How many are there? If there are more than 5, then it’s best to leave it.
Increase your consumption of fruits and especially vegetables –you’ll have less space in your belly for other foods. Try to fill half your plate with vegetables if you can.
Cook more instead of buying ready-made or fast food meals– you probably won’t deep fry potatoes or make burgers at home. And if you do, they are bound to be a healthier version than the store-bought one.
You don’t have to turn vegan to eat more real food (in fact vegans eat many processed foods -those veggie "burgers" being one example). Just have a look at your pantry and your fridge. How much real food is there? Perhaps you can try better next time you go grocery shopping. You will be doing your health a huge favor. And please remember that nothing has to be 100%. Even if you manage to go from 20% real foods to 25% to 30%, that’s already a step towards the right direction.
How does your body feel when you nourish it with more real foods? Let me know in the comments below!