The best, easy way to learn how to eat healthier starts with a trip to your favorite grocery store. If eating healthier is a goal for you, this post is the first of several in a series. I’ll focus on all the good stuff to keep in mind that you most likely know, and some bad that you may not be aware of!
What Healthy Eating Used to Mean to Me
I grew up with a mom that cooked and baked a lot. We had a fairly large garden and I have fond memories of shelling peas and picking berries with my brothers and sisters right in our own backyard! However, we also ate our share of canned fruit, sugary boxed cereals, and macaroni with fluorescent orange cheese sauce. Everyone did for the most part, so we certainly weren’t the odd family out.
Then, as a young adult, I got fixated on fat phobia, just like the rest of the country. It was diet soda and fat-free everything. In retrospect, I shudder to think about all the chemicals in those supposedly healthy foods. However, I’m a firm believer in “when you know better, you do better”. These days, I have a much firmer grasp on how to eat healthier. In this particular post, I’m talking fruits and vegetables, which I eat in abundance every day. So let’s go to the grocery store, shall we?
Let’s Start with Fresh Produce
Some fruits and vegetables are decidedly “cleaner” than others. That means they grow well without pesticides and are okay to eat as non-organic. However, when you buy produce at a store, you have no true idea how if it was sprayed or if fertilizer was put in the soil that it grew in. I prefer to eat almost every fruit and vegetable I buy in a store as organic just to be safe. But my very first choice is to grow what I can in my own garden, free from chemicals of any kind.
Some fruits and vegetables, like strawberries and apples, should only be eaten organically. Tip: Look for stickers on your produce that end with the number eight. This is due to the high amounts of pesticides that are used to grow and treat them otherwise. You may be thinking that if they were unsafe to eat, they wouldn’t be on store shelves. Unfortunately, food safety isn’t regulated as well as you may think. Every year, EWG, Environmental Working Group, releases their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. I keep this list in my wallet to reference as I shop.
Because what’s the point of filling up your body with fruits and vegetables that are laced with toxins?
How to Eat Healthier Frozen Vegetables and Fruit
Fresh vegetables and fruit are always going to be your best and healthiest bet. But frozen vegetables and fruit are a good second choice as long as you follow a few caveats.
- Skip frozen vegetables packed in sauces, as well as meal kits in a bag. These are not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. They’re full of preservatives, oils, and extra and unneeded calories. It’s far better to buy plain, frozen veggies and add just a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper or a small amount of organic butter for extra flavor. It’s also much cheaper!
- Organically grown applies to frozen fruit too. Strawberries are so delicious in smoothies, but since non-organic ones are pesticide-laden, plan to buy your frozen fruit as organic too. Yes, it’s going to be a bit more expensive, but your health and peace of mind are worth it.
- Just say no to pre-made cauliflower and broccoli tots, as well as tater tots and french fries. I’ll be getting into this in a future post soon, but the extra hydrogenated oils and preservatives listed on the bags should be avoided, even if you plan to bake them instead of using a deep frying method. However, if you just have to have them, try slicing some up fresh potatoes instead. Put them in an air fryer or bake them with the skins on. It’s a lot healthier and just as tasty.
What About Canned Fruits and Vegetables?
Diced tomatoes, pumpkin puree, and canned beans, such as black and garbanzo are fine. However, the nutritional value is largely diminished in most commercially canned vegetables and fruit, even if it’s packed in juice instead of syrup. Fruit canned in syrup is full of sugar. And canned vegetables are usually a dull color and lack the flavor of fresh and frozen.
Ultimately, your produce goal in a grocery store should be to load up on as much good-for-you, fresh produce as possible. Buy frozen choices judiciously, and for the most part, avoid most of the canned stuff. Any canned items you buy should be marked as non-BPA.
Isn’t Organic, Fresh Produce Really Expensive?
You will be amazed at how much money you can save if you skip all the packaged, steamable veggies in fake butter and cheese sauce and most of the canned fruit and veggies. And those savings will allow you to spend your money on the good, fresh versions instead. In fact, I’m convinced that most Americans could really turn their health around if they learned to pay more attention to food labels instead of convenience. This is true even with fruits and vegetables!
How to Eat Healthier at Farm Markets
Farm markets are a great resource for you to try locally grown produce and support area growers. Before you buy, though, be sure to ask the vendors how they grow and treat their produce. Do the same with u-pick produce that has distinct seasons, such as strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and apples. I wash everything regardless by soaking produce in a 1-part white vinegar to 4-parts water solution for 10 minutes. Then I rinse them with clear water and let them air dry when possible.
One more thing to keep in mind. Vegetables and fruits aren’t all one and the same. Some, like kale and blueberries, are superfoods. They’re nutritional powerhouses. Others, like corn, are for lack of another term, junk veggies. In fact, corn isn’t even completely digested in your body! Although you should try to eat most “good” fruits and vegetables, variety is key to round out vitamins and minerals. Arm yourself with these tips, and learn how to start eating healthier, one step at a time.
Watch for my next post in this series that will cover baking, bread, and cereals!
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