A nutritionist gives us the run down on what to look for when food shopping:
Shopping healthily doesn’t get any easier. There’s a plethora of choice out there and ‘paralysis by analysis’ can occur.
If you’re anything like me, you forlornly (and rather desperately) scan the shelves, looking for labels that shout out ‘HEALTHY FOOD! BUY ME!!’
With so many food terms out there, this can get confusing and most of the time, shoppers are taken advantage of by clever marketing.
Understand the Food you Buy
As a nutritionist and naturopath, I get asked repeatedly what certain terms and labels actually mean.
Here are five food terms that pop up regularly, and what they mean for your health.
Grain fed is plastered over supermarket meat shelves, and boasted about in fine-dining restaurant menus.
However, if you buy grain fed meat thinking you are making a healthy choice, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. It is a classic example of food terms being misleading.
Think about what sheep, cattle and pigs, happily meandering about in the wild, naturally eat. Nope, it is not grain!
Grain is fed to livestock to fatten them up before sale. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of our health.
The grain feed is unnatural and creates greater amounts of omega 6 fats in the meat.
Unlike anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids, Omega 6 fats (found in large amounts in grains), are pro-inflammatory in your body.
Consumption contributes to inflammatory conditions such as digestive disturbances, oxidative damage (rust in the body), weight gain, liver disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease and premature ageing.
My advice is to to leave grain fed meat on the shelf and off your plate.
Buying grass fed meats is recognition that the livestock has been raised on its natural food, grass.
When animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs consume this natural diet, the meat is therefore high in beneficial omega 3 fats.
Omega 3′s have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, as well as supporting brain, digestive, cardiovascular, hormone and skin health.
Our western diets are generally deficient in these essential omega 3′s, therefore it is important to find quality sources such as grass fed meat (along with fish, green leafy vegetables, chia, flax and hemp seeds).
Although choosing grass fed meat does not suggest organic practices are followed, it is still a very positive step towards improving your health.
To be accredited free range by Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia, chicken farms must follow certain guidelines, including hormone and antibiotic free practises and allowing birds a customised area for shelter, shade and vegetation. There are also restrictions on stock density.
You can read all the FREPA Standards here.
Although free range does not mean organic, it is much better for your health to support these chicken farmers and serve your family free range poultry, and eggs over conventional produce.
My recommendation for free range chicken? Anything that displays the FREPA food label.
One of the newer food terms, raw food practice involves preparing foods without using heat over 40 degrees.
Heating foods can destruct micro nutrients (through altering their shape and chemical composition).
It is therefore beneficial to include a portion of raw foods through the diet, to supply important antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, along with probiotics and enzymes.
Although you can find many raw snacks and dessert foods on the market (a raw dessert full of agave syrup is not exactly what I call healthy), it is best to source from fresh wholefoods, such as organic fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
If you are game, (excuse the pun), you can even try raw meats.
I personally find my health is best on a diet of around 50:50 (cooked / raw foods), from sources such as fresh vegetable juice, salads, sauerkraut, fruit, nuts, seeds and coconut yoghurt.
Buying organic is high on my shopping priorities.
Conventional farming practices all too often use toxic chemicals, which can enter our foods through means of fertilisers, sewage sludge, pesticides and herbicides.
As much as we are told otherwise, these toxins are absorbed into the farmed foods and therefore enter your body once consumed.
Although washing your produce can help to decrease some of these toxins, the majority of pesticides are absorbed into the food and cannot be removed before consuming.
To purchase and enjoy foods free from these chemical, you must look for certified organic produce. In Australia, look for:
- Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
- National Association Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASSA)
- Organic Certification of Australia (OGA)
- AQIS Australian Certified Organic (AQIS)
- Organic Food Chain (OFC)
- Organic Retailers and Growers Association Australia (ORGAA)
- Tasmanian Organic Dynamic Producers (TOP)
For more info, you can read the Organic Standards and Certification in Australia.
If you struggle to buy 100% organic, check out this guide to seek foods that are most commonly affected by chemicals during conventional farming practises.
These are the foods that you should focus on when buying organic.
According to the Australian standard, buying certified biodynamic produce ensures that organic practices have been followed. There is a welcome extra emphasis on soil quality that is high in biological activity and rich in humus.
Biodynamic Agriculture Australia explains the farming practise.
In Biodynamics we seek to enhance soil structure and nutrient cycles resulting in maximised plant growth and development, with the use of specific Preparations that are made from farm-sourced materials.
My favourite biodynamic produce? Triple B – Burns’ Biodynamic Beef.
Next time you head out for your weekly food shop, take a look carefully for these food terms and support the farmers who support your health.
With acknowledgement and thanks to Casey Wilson, naturopath.