Ever found yourself wandering the aisles of a large grocery store, unable to find that delicious morsel for your cart?
Of course you have.
That happens to everyone, but sadly I cannot help you get around your local store any more efficiently. However, there is a healthy way to utilize the ridiculous number of options the grocery store offers, and it starts with the way these stores are built.
Grocery stores are constantly restocking products and in this age of efficiency, they have designed the layouts of stores to decrease food waste and employee hours. New food comes into the back of the store on trucks and from the stocking room (or in the case of our local TJs, directly from the truck to the shelves) the employees must put it out for consumers. Logically the most perishable items in the store are found closest to that stocking room, around the edges of the store. Most stores even have a flow to them that naturally keeps you moving around the edge with forays into the middle aisles for select items. At TJs, Haggen and Whole Foods you are directed right away into the produce section, Fred Meyer and the Co-op are more of a free for all.
You might rightly be asking at this point “So What?” Well, here is the answer. Food that goes bad quickly is typically better for you, as I will explain below. To keep food on shelves longer companies have come up with all sorts of clever chemical and packaging additions to prevent spoilage. Flour that is bromated, sulphites in wine, plastic sealed packages that block light and air, sodium benzoates, BHA and BHT and many others keep food around for years. The problem is that those food additives are often not good for our bodies or the effects are unknown (and the track record of preservatives already outlawed isn’t a walk in a field of sunshine). Furthermore, companies spend millions of dollars on marketing so that product labels espouse great ideals by association. Examples like “natural”, “earth rated**”, “whole”, “pasture-raised” and many other seemingly regulated terms.
Following this discussion then, here is the Number 1 Rule for grocery shopping:
Stay on the outside as much as possible!
The food along the outside of the store goes bad. It is colorful on its own, not because of a plastic bag or box. It likely requires some work to use, and it will keep you healthier by providing (relatively) unadulterated nutrients as fuel for life.
There will be a time in the next few days or weeks when you find yourself lost in a maze of aisles in the middle of the store and that is just fine. We all want some sweet marinade/sauce or crackers or ice cream from time to time but realize that once you enter that middle area, your chances of being swindled into a food product that is not good for you increases greatly. Food producers know this. They know that you are confused by the “gluten free” shelf, that you love colorful packaging. They even know where on the shelf you are most likely to buy from (and of course food companies pay big money for the prime spots).
Finally remember that your time in the grocery store has wide reaching effects on your life. If you buy the candy YOU WILL EAT THE CANDY! If you buy the sweetened cereal, you and your family will eat it. I recently did food sensitivity testing with a young patient and after removing some harmful foods from his diet he was ecstatic, yet he lamented the choices in the fridge by saying “all we have in the house are ingredients, I miss food.” Take a page from his book and enjoy some “natural” foods in your life. You might just feel better for it.
** As a sidebar here I would mention that just because a product is good (or better) for the earth does not mean that it is healthy for your body.