How to Make Your Grocery Shopping Trip As Healthy As Possible

Caution: The food you are buying may be “killing” you! That’s a strong statement I know. Read on to get the real deal on what’s really in some of the food you are buying and want to know how to make your grocery shopping trip as healthy as possible.

When you go to your local grocery store it is easy to pick up many food items without even knowing what might be “inside” them.

Having been in the food industry for over 25 years and spending many of those years representing manufacturers, I became brutally aware of the many things added to much of the foods (bakery products in particular) that most people are totally unaware of.

Lots of people have started to become more aware over the past 15 years or so, thank goodness. However, whenever the subject comes up when I’m chatting with people who have not been involved in the food industry at all, it never ceases to amaze me how many still have misconceptions about the food they are purchasing. This is particularly true in the grocery chain bakeries.

For instance, if you go to the bakery department of your local grocery store and purchase something you believe is “homemade” right in the store, you are probably getting something that was manufactured in a large plant and shipped in frozen only to be baked-off at the store. Worse yet, these days many of the items in what we in the trade call “in-store” bakeries is shipped in already baked and ready to price and sell!

There are very few, if any, in-store bakeries in this country that actually make anything from what is known as true “scratch baking” anymore. The true meaning of “scratch baking” is that the bakery starts with actual ingredients such as flour, sugar, shortening and real fresh fruit, etc. Even the ones that advertise things like “homemade” or “baked on the premises” are not truly made from “scratch baking.” At closer examination you will find that “baked on the premises” is very true, but the product came in frozen. This is what we call “proof ‘n bake” if it is a yeast product that was frozen prior to rising and shipped in frozen or “frozen bake-off” if it is done but just needs to be browned or “par-baked” which means it was partially baked and needs to be finished off for a few minutes in the oven. You can just imagine the many chemicals and additives that are necessary to ensure the final product’s performance when they are mass-produced for this type of handling.

You will see many of the par-baked rolls in the restaurants (this food channel is known as “Foodservice”) served before your meal. One of my pet peeves is that so many establishments are in such a rush that they either don’t bake them off enough to get that nice browned look and crispy crust on them or worse yet they don’t bake them off at all! You’ll know the minute you see them as they are still white looking instead of that golden brown you should expect with a crusty outside and soft inside.

When shopping in your grocery store’s bakery you should look at the ingredient labels. If it’s something they bake off there and it isn’t labeled you can ask to see the ingredient lists. They have to make them available to you, it’s the law. If the list has lots of ingredient names that you don’t recognize and you can’t even pronounce then it’s probably full of additives and preservatives. Especially if there are a lot of these listed. They have additives (chemicals) to make the food stay fresh longer, to make it brown perfectly, to make the crumb a certain size, to make it taste a certain way with artificial flavors, to color it, to make it foolproof when it gets handled at the bakery. You name it they can chemicalize it to perform consistently on a mass production scale!

Ok, so by now you are probably wondering “what’s the best thing to buy in the in-store bakery?” Well, there are some excellent “Artisan Breads” that are sold in the in-store grocery chain bakeries that have only basic natural ingredients and the list of ingredients is not very long. They contain just flour, water, yeast, salt and sometimes things like seeds. These are all what we call a “one day shelf life” product. There’s a reason that it doesn’t last longer than a day! It’s not pumped up with preservatives and additives. Word of caution here though, some of the breads that they promote as “Artisan” may have lots of chemicals like “dough conditioners”, etc. so you really need to see the ingredient lists so you know what you’re getting.

How many times have you purchased a birthday, graduation, Father’s Day, Mother’s day or even a wedding cake from a local grocery store bakery? Let’s face it, they are less expensive and times are tough so every penny counts, right? Well, I hate to tell you what might be in those cakes that you thought were made at the bakery in the store. First of all almost NONE of the bakeries in the grocery chains EVER make their own cakes there in the store. Almost all are brought in frozen these days. Even if you found one small grocery chain that actually still mixed anything in their bakery you will find that they started out with a bagged mix. Secondly, ask for the ingredient list on these and you will be amazed at the number of ingredients in these cakes that you can’t pronounce! In fact, some of the chocolate cakes don’t even have any real chocolate in them! There is coloring and flavoring but NO chocolate!! I was even shocked when I found that out.

These cakes are called “high ratio cakes” because everything is measured against the weight of the flour. A “high ratio cake” means that there is a very high ratio of sugar to flour. So in other words it is full of sugar. Not necessarily a bad thing but something to be aware of.

Now to be fair, there are some higher end grocery chains around that actually have their own commissary bakeries and they make some nice products and ship them into their own stores. I would still encourage you to check the ingredient lists to be sure you understand what is in them.

Even many “Mom and Pop” stand-alone bakeries use cake mixes that contain lots of additives so don’t be fooled into thinking if you shop there you will be sure to avoid them. Again, you must ask to see the ingredient lists to verify what is in them.

Also, most of the fillings and fruits, etc. that are added to these cakes comes in buckets and tubs. Not to say that some don’t use some fresh ingredients as well in some of their products, because they do, but for the most part they are using ready-made products that are also preserved, etc.

So what cam “smart” shoppers do to keep their intake of chemicals and additives to a minimum? Well, for starters stay to the perimeter of the store as much as possible. Remember that “Fresh is Best!”

Even though it is impossible to avoid chemicals and additives completely you can minimize the amount you ingest by paying attention to the ingredients in what you buy and feed your family.

Even fresh produce has been treated with sprays and chemicals. Sure you can buy organic and that is the best thing to do if you can afford the extra expense. We all know that organic food doesn’t come cheap. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic then do the best you can with what you have to work with. Some is better than none.

Stay away from processed packaged foods. The more processing involved the more likely it is packed with stuff that isn’t good for you. The deli is full of lots of yummy stuff, but be careful there too, as most of the meats and cheeses are heavily processed and contain lots of additives and chemicals. Look for the ones that advertise minimal processing. Also, people are coming out of the woodwork in droves that have either an intolerance or allergies to gluten. Did you know that gluten is an ingredient in most processed meats? They are just starting to come out with lines of meats without it.

Although I do prefer to make everything at home from scratch, just for the record, I’m not a “purist.” Just remember, anything that has potentially harmful ingredients is better eaten in moderation than indulging with reckless abandon.

Just being aware of these facts is sure to help you make the right choices when shopping for healthy foods for your family.