TIPS FOR 1ST TIME HEALTH FOOD BUYERS
Adapted from: Susan Havala Hobbs
In the Department of Health Policy at UNC
Give yourself time, and you’ll see many natural products can be better.
Natural food stores can be a big intimidating to new comers, with all those unusual, outside-the-mainstream foods like tofu, other foods made of soy and grains such as spelt and amaranth.
Look at your first ventures into your local natural foods store as a shopping safari. You’ll be rewarded by discoveries that can enliven your meals while making them more healthful for you and your family.
The small health food stores of the 1960s and 1970s have grown into natural foods supermarkets today. Stores may differ a bit, but they generally share a set of standards that exclude most of the foods sold in conventional supermarkets.
Foods are free of artificial flavors, colorings, preservatives and additives. They are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible. Breads and cereals are made with whole grains. Most natural foods stores do not stock foods made with hydrogenated fats.
The first time you visit a natural foods store, give yourself extra time. Roam every isle and look at everything. Then, pick up a few products to sample. Assume that when you try new things, you’ll find some you won’t like. But you will stumble upon some new favorites too.
To get you started, here are some products I recommend.
- Fortified soy milk. Sold in aseptic, shelf-stable boxes. Anyone who is lactose – intolerant or wants to avoid the fat in most dairy products should try this. It can be used cup for cup in all the same ways as cow’s milk. Experiment with brands to find one you like best. I buy vanilla flavored for cereal or to drink straight, but plain is versatile because you can also use it in mashed potatoes and cream soups. Allergic to soy? Try fortified rice mild instead.
- Breakfast cereals. They are made with whole grains, and some are sweetened with fruit juice. No hydrogenated fats. Some are great choices for kids, too.
- Tempeh. These whole, cultured soybeans in ½ - inch slabs are usually in the refrigerated or frozen foods section. I add 1 – inch cubes to greens that I sauté with a soy-ginger sauce.
- Powdered vegetarian egg replacer. A 1-pound box lasts a long time. It works wonderfully in virtually any recipe that calls for eggs. A mixture of vegetable starches, its cholesterol – and saturated fat-free. Look for it with the baking supplies.
- Instant soups. The cup-of-soup kind, although it also comes as chili or noodles, even hot cereal in its own bowl. Great for bag lunches. These were the forerunners of the mainstream brands, but they are lower in sodium and made with organically grown ingredients.
- Whole-grain mixes. Pancake and quick bread mixes, rice and couscous side dishes, these are similar to their conventional counterparts but are made with whole grains, less sodium, no hydrogenated fats and not unnecessary additives.
A common concern is that natural foods can be more expensive. But do some comparisons and you might be surprised. Prices are often substantially less than those in conventional supermarkets.