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How to Grocery Shop for Optimal Health

I recently read a Washington Post article that said that 8 out of 10 Americans are confused about what is healthy. People are right to be confused. There are so many health claims and misinformation out there that it is hard to know who and what to trust. This makes navigating the various aisles of your local grocery store for healthy food complicated and frustrating. It often feels like you need an expert to help you grocery shop. However, eating healthy should be accessible for everyone, not just nutritionists and dietitians. Especially for those struggling with mental illness, healthy food is essential to feeling your best in the short and long term. That is why I recommend these two general principles to help you fill your cart with nourishing foods.

Principle 1: Only shop along the outer rim of the grocery store. Have you ever noticed that the outer rim of the grocery store is where all the fresh food is? Fresh produce and meat are your targets when you grocery shop. You cannot go wrong in these aisles. If you want to go above and beyond by minimizing your toxic exposure and have the budget for it, look for words like organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, and pasture-raised within this framework. I especially recommend reducing toxic exposure for those with mental illness and chronic illnesses such as autoimmune disease and inflammatory diseases.

Here are some reasons for eating the whole, real foods that reside along the outer rim:

  1. Whole foods have their nutrients intact and nicely packaged amongst other beneficial complexes such as fiber, polyphenols, enzymes, etc. that aid in digestion, nourish the body, and help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, autoimmunity, inflammatory diseases, and cancer. Whereas processing often removes or damages nutrients, so eating foods that have been pre-prepared and packaged (like those found in the center aisles of your grocery store) will not be as nourishing.

  2. Processed foods are often high in sugar--particularly those that claim to be low in fat. Did you know that more than 1 in 3 Americans are pre-diabetic? Chronic exposure to elevated levels of glucose (one of the building blocks of sugars and starches) can lead to diseases like diabetes. There is some suggestion that diabetes is also associated with Alzheimers. The best way to prevent these diseases is to minimize your sugar intake. Large amounts of sugar can have a variety of profound negative impacts on the body. To find out if sugar is effecting you, I recommend taking our RESTART® class this fall that has a 3-week sugar detox included in the class.

  3. GRAS, "generally recognized as safe," ingredients do not need to be tested for their safety and do not need to be listed on ingredient labels. You may not even know what you are buying and ingesting with processed foods.

  4. The triage theory of nutrition: this theory by Dr. Bruce Ames suggests that when your body is even slightly below optimal levels for vitamin and minerals stores it will prioritize acute or immediate health problems over long-term health. For example, vitamin K is used for blood clotting and for clearing up calcification in your arteries. Blood clotting is obviously a more immediate need for life in your body, so if you are deficient in vitamin K your body will use what it has on blood clotting and not on preventing calcification of your arteries. So slowly over time, your arteries will calcify, but you may never notice it until bad things start happening. When you replace a nutrient-dense meal with a nutrient-poor meal you miss out on the opportunity to replenish your vitamin and mineral stores for optimal nutrition and long-term health. Just because you feel full does not mean you have nourished your body. Choosing foods that are in their whole, unprocessed forms ensures that you will be getting the valuable nutrients you need.