Be supermarket savvy
As BNF's Healthy Eating week approaches, it's the perfect time to think about how we can make healthier choices for our weekly shop. For me it's about getting the most nutritious "bang for my buck", so starting with fresh produce is a must.
So how does a Nutrient Therapist fill her trolley? Here are my top "supermarket savvy" tips:
Veg and fruit first: As a third of our diet should comprise fibre-rich veg and fruit, it would make sense to give these prime position in our trollies. This doesn't have to be fresh - frozen versions are often just as nutritious, if not more so, as their nutrients are locked in from the moment they're picked. Choose a variety of colours to boost the range vitamins and minerals - red, orange, green and purple pigments are plants' way of telling us how nutritious they are!
Go organic: As food prices increase, paying more for organic produce is not always easy. If you wish to go organic and avoid harmful pesticide residues, hormones and antibiotics, prioritise swapping the following: cows' milk, yoghurt and cheese; meat (particularly chicken and beef); and the "dirty dozen" - strawberries, apples, potatoes, grapes, spinach, kale, pears, cherries, tomatoes, celery, nectarines and peaches. For other products, particularly fruit and veg with tough outer skins (think bananas, avocados, onions and pineapples) conventional items are fine as any residue is removed with the skin. If you're unable to afford or access organic veg or fruit, scrubbing them before eating can help to remove any lingering chemicals.
Plant or plant?: A simple rule of thumb in making healthier choices is thinking about where the food has come from. Is it natural (i.e. from a plant/bush/tree, a field or the ocean), or man made (from a factory plant)? Choosing options that are as close to their natural state as possible is an easy way of ensuring maximum nutrition and avoiding any added nasties.
Read the ingredients: As a general rule, the more ingredients a food contains, the more unhealthy it will be (an apple for example contains just 1 ingredient, erm, an apple!...whilst a Pot Noodle contains a staggering 32!). As you read through the list of ingredients, look out for any unfamiliar or unpronounceable ingredients (disodium inosinate anyone?). These are often chemically-based substances used to add colour or texture, or increase the product's shelf life; and if consumed in sufficient quantities can lead to a range of negative health outcomes. Looking at the label can also help you identify added sugar in its many guises (most commonly labelled as sugar, syrup, maltodextrin, sucrose, fructose, maltose, glucose, molasses, honey). The Government's traffic light system is a good starting point for identifying healthier options, but is limited in that it doesn't acknowledge the quality of ingredients (nuts being prime example as they are given a "red" rating for fat but are highly nutritious).
Stock up on healthy staples: Keeping key staples in your kitchen cupboard will ensure you always have a healthy option to fall back on if you don't have time to shop. Chopped tomatoes, beans, lentils, eggs, wholegrain rice, frozen veggies and canned fish are all great choices, and bring the added benefit of being relatively cheap and nutritious!
Beware of "Frankenfoods": l love this term as it really sums up horror of some processed foods (or "food like substances"). Products that have umpteen unidentifiable ingredients sit neatly into this category - they are so over-processed and adulterated that, if presented to our great grandparents, they would unlikely recognise them as food! These products are cheap and easy to prepare, but are so laden with salt, sugar, preservatives and hydrogenated fats (the list goes on) that they bring little to no nutritional benefit.
Not all calories are created equal: Another shortfall of the traffic light system is that is labels calories as calories, and doesn't consider the quality of the product - 100 calories of fresh fruit will have a very different effect on our health than 100 calories of Fruit Pastilles! Most convenience food, particularly snacks, contain large amounts of sugar, which provide us with energy but little in the way of nutrients. If this energy isn't used up through physical activity, it's deposited in our fat cells and can lead to weight gain. This includes liquid calories such as soft drinks, alcohol and even fruit juice (drink sparingly!) which are easily over-consumed.
Unfortunately, the healthiest options are rarely the cheapest, and as the UK leaves the EU prices are likely to rise further. In my next blog I'll be sharing some tips for shopping on a budget and making your food go further. Why not book a personalised "trolley makeover" to help you navigate options available at your favourite supermarket?