What is in your food? This question is deceptively simple. 100 years ago, chicken was chicken, oats were oats, and fruit was fruit. What we eat today may look very much like what we imagine people ate years ago, but that is rarely the case.
Your average superstore offers around 50,000 products, with your typical Jewel or Dominick’s offering between 20,000 – 30,000. One trip to the grocery store means making a lot of choices; choices based on price, nutrition, convenience, and family needs and tastes. Let’s begin in the produce section. Rather than simply picking an apple, you can choose between those that were conventionally-grown or organically-grown. Conventional produce is generally cheaper, as it was grown at a larger farm using pesticides and fertilizers. However, some organic produce has been shown to contain higher concentrations of nutrients and the production methods are better for out planet. At the outset, the conventional produce might seem like the thriftier option…but they likely contain trace elements of the various chemicals used to encourage their successful growth. Those affects could potentially cost you, or your health insurer, a great deal. Which is really the thriftier choice, in the long-run?
Moving from the produce section to the inner aisles of the store, you are confronted with other choices. The cereal aisle, alone, is a testament to the explosion of the food production industry in recent decades. Boxes of sugar frosted processed grains share shelf space with instant weight-loss oatmeal (made with artificial sweetener) and whole-grain cereal fortified with whey protein isolate. Very few of the products on the shelf have less than 7 ingredients, and most contain at least one ingredient that is impossible to pronounce. Supermarket offerings were not always this diverse. “The average number of products carried by a typical supermarket has more than tripled since 1980, from 15,000 to 50,000. In 1998 alone, manufacturers introduced more than 11,000 new foods. More than two-thirds of them were condiments, candy and snacks, baked goods, soft drinks, cheese products, and ice cream novelties.”
What are all these “breakthroughs” in food production and technology really doing for us? Our society can produce an adult-sized chicken in one third of the time required by mother nature, but only by using antibiotics, hormones, processed animal feed, precious environmental resources, and methods many see as cruel. We then pre-cook it in chemical flavorings and stuff it with preservatives, then place it in expensive packaging where it looks waits to be purchased in the frozen-food section. We may be able to put raw oats through a conveyor belt and end up with an artificially-sweetened, iron-enriched, protein-enhanced, low-calorie cereal, but at what cost to our health? As consumers, we have been separated from the origin, production, and true cost of our food. This disconnect can be avoided by simply eating actual food. Buying real food in its natural, unprocessed state may require more effort in the kitchen and a change in dietary habits, but it is an investment worth making.
The next time you go to the grocery store, budget for extra time. Read the labels on the products search for the unprocessed alternative. Take some free cooking classes at your local Wholefoods Market, or ask your GH trainer for tips and ideas on how to make quick, easy, and nutritious meals. GH Personal trainer is number one Chicago Personal Trainer ranked in Chicago Magazine. Food is the fuel for our bodies and our bodies move us through life. Each grocery store purchase represents your values and priorities as a consumer. Not only do your choices reflect the value you place on your health, but financially support companies and foods you believe in. What does your cart say about you?
Marion Nestle “The soft sell: how the food industry shapes our diets”.
Nutrition Action Healthletter. Sept 2002. FindArticles.com. 12 Sep.