Healthy Food Buyer's Guide

Unlimited combinations of medicinal herbs and nutritious nuts

As a functional nutritionist, I often get asked, "Where should I buy my food?" 

Grocery shopping can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience. Many of my clients don’t know where to begin shopping and aren’t sure which foods to add to their cart.

With endless food choices available, it can be hard to know where to find high-quality, nutritious options that won’t break the bank.

The past 15 years I’ve been on a journey to source the healthiest food possible, and I want to share information that aligns with my current values while meeting you wherever you are along your path. 

In this comprehensive guide, I'll share my views about six places to purchase healthy food, so you can make informed choices for yourself and your family.

 

To make shopping even easier I've curated a shopping list of what I would buy at each of the three of the most popular retailers. To get the lists, you can subscribe to my e-newsletter and receive them for free. Sign up before Monday July 24, 2023 and you'll get the lists automatically. If you're reading this after that time, send an email to askme@foodfoundation.com and let us know you want the lists. We'll send them to you and subscribe you to the newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time.

1. Local Farmers' Markets

A local farmers' market is my happy place. They provide a vibrant community where you can meet fellow food enthusiasts and connect with like-minded individuals who share a passion for eating healthy. You can often sample the food, meet the farmers, ask them about their sustainable food practices, and relax to live music. It's an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the local food culture and forge meaningful connections with the people who grow your food.

Best to buy: 
  • This is my top choice to choose fresh, seasonal, and locally grown produce.
  • Vibrant and diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, and artisanal products.
  • Unique foods you don’t see in the supermarket. 

Better to avoid: 

  • The first items you see. Walk around and compare prices and come back when you can make the most informed decision.
  • Anything that’s out of season. Farmers should only be selling what they grow locally, therefore what’s in season. 

2. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

CSA programs establish a direct connection between consumers and local farmers. By subscribing to a CSA, you receive a weekly or monthly share of seasonal produce and other farm products. This approach promotes sustainability, fosters a sense of community, and guarantees a regular supply of fresh, organic, and locally grown food. It also gives you the opportunity to discover new produce and expand your culinary repertoire.

Best to buy: 
  • While you don’t choose specific foods from week to week, some CSA farms can give you a week-by-week preview of what you might expect to see in your box.
  • To find a list of CSA farms by state, check out localharvest.org.
Better to avoid: 
  • If the idea of random new vegetables stresses you out, you may not enjoy this format.

3. Health Food Stores such as Whole Foods Market

Health food stores specialize in offering a wide array of organic, natural, and minimally processed products. These stores prioritize quality. Explore their extensive selection of supplements, superfoods, and specialty items tailored to various dietary needs, such as gluten-free, vegan, or paleo.

Best to buy: 
  • Beans: check out the bulk section where you can buy dried beans, which are cheaper and more eco-friendly than canned beans. Whole Foods also carries a wide variety of canned beans that are consistently cheaper than at many supermarkets. 
  • Bulk spices: you can select the amount of spice you want so you don’t purchase excess.
  • High-quality cooking oils: these are best purchased in small amounts rather than bulk so they don’t go rancid. 
  • Organic chicken broth (unless you make Bone Broth at home). The 365 brand is more affordable than counterparts sold at big-box stores.
Better to avoid: 
  • Salad bar and prepared foods: because of the extremely high markup. Go ahead if you want to splurge, but also keep in mind that some items, such as pasta salads and macaroni and cheese, aren’t healthier just because they’re from Whole Foods. 
  • Pre-chopped produce: it also carries a high markup and also requires excess packaging. 
  • Vegetable oils: Soy, corn, safflower, and canola are all processed seed oils that are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which can be inflammatory. 
  • 365 Veggie chips are nutritionally equal to regular potato chips.
  • Cold cereal and granola: most packaged cereals are expensive and packed with sugar. Try eating oatmeal or your own combination of nuts, dried fruit, and cinnamon. 

4. Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's (TJ’s) is renowned for its affordable yet wholesome food options. They offer an extensive range of organic, non-GMO, and minimally processed products. From fresh produce and high-quality meats and cheeses to unique snacks and pantry items, Trader Joe's is a go-to destination for many shoppers. Just like any supermarket, TJ’s carries some products that may contain artificial additives or preservatives and many products are not organic or sustainably sourced. 

Best to buy: 
  • Unique seasoning blends, such as Everything But the Bagel. 
  • Cauliflower Gnocchi, a fan favorite gluten-free veggie “pasta.” 
  • Bananas, especially if you don’t want a whole bunch. TJ’s sells them individually. 
  • Frozen organic wild blueberries and other produce for smoothies.
Better to avoid: 
  • Nuts covered in sweetener or including sugar-coated fruit. Instead, choose their options with no added sugar.
  •  Cookie butter: contains unhealthy palm oil and sugar. Try the Mixed Nut Butter as an alternative. 
  • Premade wraps and sandwiches are not the healthiest option. According to a report from CBS News, a Trader Joe's turkey pesto sandwich contains almost a Big Mac's worth of calories plus 1,900 milligrams of salt. This nearly meets the USDA's recommended daily sodium intake limit in a single sandwich. 
  • Produce with excess packaging. 

5. Costco

While Costco is known for its bulk purchasing, it also caters to health-conscious consumers. They offer a range of organic produce, frozen fruits and vegetables, sustainably sourced meat and fish, organic pantry staples, and more. Consider Costco as a cost-effective option for stocking up on healthy essentials. Large package sizes may not be suitable for individuals or small households.

Best to buy: 
  • Frozen organic fruit and vegetables. 
  • Organic free-range eggs: unless you have chickens, Costco may be the least expensive option. 
  • Pantry items with a long shelf-life, such as dried beans, rice, or unsweetened apple sauce. 
  • Consume a lot of butter? Go for Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter. 
  • Kirkland maple syrup and pure vanilla extract are a great value. 
Better to avoid: 
  • Any fresh produce you can’t consume or freeze quickly. 
  • Condiments and spices, as they’re not usually consumed in high quantities and lose their intensity after 6 months to 1 year. 
  • Coffee: buying in bulk may save money initially, but coffee is best consumed fresh. 

6. Online Retailers and Delivery Services

The digital era has revolutionized the way Americans shop, and online retailers play a significant role in making healthy food accessible. Platforms like InstaCart, Thrive Market, Amazon Fresh, and local grocery delivery services provide a convenient way to order organic groceries, specialty items, and pantry staples from the comfort of your home. Many shoppers appreciate the ability to compare prices and read product reviews.

Best to buy: 
  • Nonperishables such as rice, oats, and whole grains. 
  • Hard-to-find ingredients: It’s easy to search for food items your local grocer may not carry. 
  • Canned goods, baking essentials, and condiments. 
Better to avoid: 
  • Refrigerated or frozen foods.
  • Seafood: There are some trusted places to buy frozen fish online, such as Ocean2Table. A grocery delivery service is not a recommended choice for high-quality seafood. 
  • Produce that is fragile or has an ideal ripeness. For example, avocados, bananas, and tomatoes can vary from rock-hard to mushy. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get when purchasing online. 

Remember to prioritize organic, locally sourced, and minimally processed foods to reap the maximum benefits for your health and the environment.

Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of a farmers' market or explore the convenience of online shopping, these options will empower you to make mindful decisions when it comes to your food choices. 

If you need any further assistance, feel free to reach out to me at askme@foodfoundation.com.