How to Food Shop in America

I know how difficult it can be to shop for ingredients in United States. I was once one of those people who thought buying packaged whole wheat bread meant that I was making healthy choices. What I didn’t realize was how it was actually packed with sugar and unwanted preservatives that were severely harming my body. It's a big adjustment to make, but with time you learn for yourself what to look out for and what are the red flags when food shopping. When I first started reading labels of the foods I would always buy, I was speachless…even disgusted at the amount of sugars, chemicals, and preservatives in the foods I loved.

From the start: READ READ READ

A good initial rule of thumb: Buy the least amount of pre-packaged goods possible. I buy very very minimal packaged foods: Flour, olive oil, dried beans, cheese, some spices…which are from local producers. And no — it’s not local just because I live in Italy. A simple internet search of local grain, dairy products, oil, etc in your local area will surprise you how many farmers are around you.

I completely understand that most of us are too busy to spend hours in the grocery store looking at ingredient labels. Parenting, working overtime, socializing all take a lot of time out of the day that cooking every night, or shopping for food feels daunting. I’ve created a basic breakdown to hopefully help you feel less overwhelmed when shopping, and bust some health myths. These are a general things to look out for that will help you better understand how to shop.

  1. Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Organic, etc. DOES NOT mean healthy

    We so often see labels plastered with these words and trends to try to get us to bite. Hint: don’t. Read the ingredients first. A lot of times, packaged vegan and gluten-free products are filled to the brim with emulsifiers and sugars to give the same effect as the non-vegan counterpart. Also, I hate to be the bearer of bad news…but deep-fried ‘vegan’ food is still deep-fried and it’s not more healthy just because it’s not cheese ;)

  2. Sugar

    My biggest frenemy. Tastes so good, but are the culprit for an endless list of health-related issues. Even rice malt, coconut sugar, etc are still processed sugars and does not mean better for you. Instead of sugar in my dessert recipes, I’ve recently been blending dried fruits with a little water and it works WONDERFULLY. Just make sure the only ingredient in the dried fruits is the fruit!! No added sugar.

    Sugar is incredibly complex, especially when it’s hiding in over 74% of packaged foods under these 61 names:

    Agave nectar

    Barbados sugar

    Barley malt

    Barley malt syrup

    Beet sugar

    Brown sugar

    Buttered syrup

    Cane juice

    Cane juice crystals

    Cane sugar

    Caramel

    Carob syrup

    Castor sugar

    Coconut palm sugar

    Coconut sugar

    Confectioner's sugar

    Corn sweetener

    Corn syrup

    Corn syrup solids

    Date sugar

    Dehydrated cane juice

    Demerara sugar

    Dextrin

    Dextrose

    Evaporated cane juice

    Free-flowing brown sugars

    Fructose

    Fruit juice

    Fruit juice concentrate

    Glucose

    Glucose solids

    Golden sugar

    Golden syrup

    Grape sugar

    HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)

    Honey

    Icing sugar

    Invert sugar

    Malt syrup

    Maltodextrin

    Maltol

    Maltose

    Mannose

    Maple syrup

    Molasses

    Muscovado

    Palm sugar

    Panocha

    Powdered sugar

    Raw sugar

    Refiner's syrup

    Rice syrup

    Saccharose

    Sorghum Syrup

    Sucrose

    Sugar (granulated)

    Sweet Sorghum

    Syrup

    Treacle

    Turbinado sugar

    Yellow sugar

  3. Citric Acid/Natural Flavoring/Natural Coloring

    This can literally mean anything. Most people think citric acid just means lemon juice because back in the day, it was. Now a-days, it’s chemically created in a lab from black mold. Although the black mold is filtered,

the sugar added to the mold to make citric acid comes primarily from beets and corn, which are among the mostly commonly produced genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

LAUREN BROWN WEST-ROSENTHAL, WELL GOOD

4. Nutrient Facts

I don’t read calories. It’s energy. What’s important to me is the carbohydrates, sugars, and saturated fats. A good guideline of what to consume in a day to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Carbs: ~50-70g per day

Sugars: less than 6g

Saturated fat: less than 5g

There are soooo many technicalities to this, but this is the rubric I used to jump-start my attention level when food shopping. These numbers are about one plate of pasta with tomato sauce versus 1 granola bar…I’ll take the pasta ;)

5. Local Local Local

Hopefully you’re not too sick of me preaching about supporting local farmers, but I can’t stress it enough. Not only does buying local produce and products help support the community’s economy, you’re also contributing to a sustainable future by saying NO to processed, mass-produced, chemical-ridden manufacturers. When you buy your fruits and veggies from the grocery store that doesn’t sell from local farmers, it’s likely that your produce was picked before it was ripe, to ripen (rot) on the trip from different countries all over the world, where the US does not regulate the GMOs, pesticides, chemicals, and preservatives used to grow the crops/keep them ‘fresh’. If you eat seasonally, and locally, you’ll not only taste the difference, but you will FEEL it, too.

Pantry Essentials:

These are the essentials I always keep stocked in the house to easily elevate any meal without spending too much time preparing or shopping. You can throw these into any dish to take it to the next level.

Herbs/Spices/Spreads

  • fresh ginger

  • paprika

  • turmeric (fresh or dried)

  • curry

  • cumin seeds

  • cinnamon

  • sumac

  • hot pepper

  • juniper

  • oregano (fresh or dried)

  • rosemary (fresh or dried)

  • basil (fresh, when in season)

  • parsley (fresh)

  • sage (fresh or dried)

  • Tahini (not hulled)

Olive Oil

  • Pugliese

  • Siciliano

  • Ligurian

Salt

  • course sea salt

  • fine sea salt

  • Himalayan mineral salt

Freezer

  • chopped veggies (from when I bought excess)

  • chopped spinach

  • peas

Dry

  • dried dates

  • oats

  • stone-ground flour tipo ‘00’

  • stone-ground whole grain flour

  • lentils

  • chickpeas

  • rice

  • pasta

I hope this helps tackle any confusion about food shopping in the US! I get a lot of messages asking me how I pick my ingredients, and my answer is always simple. Local, and fresh.

Please message me with any comments or questions, or leave them in the comments below!

Buon appetito!