Nothing as It Seems: My Endless Conflict with the Grocery Store

*By: Linz Bordner*

Photo: Nathalia Rosa

Going to the grocery store can be exhausting and time-consuming when you are trying to suss out the good from the bad.  The shiny, red apples are sprayed with chemical pesticides, the colorful box of crackers with the cute animal shapes are filled with artificial colors and flavors, the plump Christmas roast is chock full of antibiotics and hormones, and the list goes on and on.  Nothing as it seems, and that’s why we have to look a little closer.

My way of thinking about food has drastically changed over the years. I often thought that if a label said low-fat, diet, and even natural that it was a good choice. I later found out, that was exactly the opposite. It was actually worse. Food ridden with chemicals to trick your palate into craving more. I also assumed if a product had zero grams of fat that it was a healthier option. I never cared to look at sodium, sugar, or even the ingredient list. I zoomed in on ONLY the fat content. Again, this way of thinking was all wrong.  Now, after many years of research, I have my approach as to how to go about the never-ending conundrum that is, the grocery store.

  1. The first thing I look at are the ingredients.  THE INGREDIENTS ARE THE TRUTH.  Whatever terms are splashed on the front of a product is all marketing to lure you in.  
  2. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.  A product with an ingredient list the size of Texas is most likely an unhealthy option.
  3. I buy organic when I can. Sadly, it costs more to eat healthy, but ultimately, it’s your budget and your choice. I usually buy organic fruits and vegetables that are exposed with no peel/shell. I also buy organic meat and dairy products, which are typically more prone to added growth hormones and antibiotics given to the animals. 
  4. If you can’t pronounce the word, it’s probably a chemical additive and not good for you. Case in point disodium guanylate (found in the ever so tasty Utz Party Mix). What the HELL is that anyway?
  5. Avoid foods with ADDED SUGAR. This is sugar added to a product and not naturally occurring. Other names for added sugar include: dextrose, molasses, invert sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. Sugar in fruit (fructose) and dairy products (lactose) is naturally occurring and deemed OK.  It is now mandatory that added sugar is noted on the nutrition labels of most food products. 
  6. Limit processed meats and cheeses also known as “most of the deli counter.” 
  7. Steer clear of “The Hateful Eight” oils, which are canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, and rice bran oil.  I just became aware of these industrialized seed oils and they are found in more foods than you would realize.  

I didn’t know much about industrialized seed oils until I saw a recent interview with Dr. Cate Shanahan, a respected physician and dietitian for the LA Lakers.  She asserts these oils are compromising our immune systems and believes the majority of people dying from coronavirus already have underlying medical conditions, which correlate with people’s daily diets.  I did some more research and found a number of studies attributing industrialized seed oils to greater inflammation and incidence of chronic disease.

After discovering this, I rummaged through my cupboards and looked at the ingredients in some of my staple foods. A number of things I found contained one or more of these seed oils.  For someone who already thought they ate pretty healthy, this was soul crushing. 

One of the worst is salad dressing.  I could only find one salad dressing at the grocery store without any kind of seed oil and it was double the price of the others. (Scroll down for an easy salad dressing recipe). Same thing with bread and crackers. Seed oils were found in every brand I looked at, even the healthier choices.  A lot of my kids snacks also contained seed oils, most notably the popular Goldfish crackers.  

  1. Lastly, I shop mostly the outer aisles (i.e. produce and frozen/dairy/grains). The middle aisles comprise 80-90 percent of the grocery store, which is where a good percentage of processed foods are found. 

Sometimes I walk out of the grocery store feeling like I just fought a war. A war against the deceptive food manufacturers who continue to manipulate the way consumers perceive food and health.

My goal is to not eat healthy ALL the time.  How boring would that be?  Eat well most of the time and splurge some of the time.  I love baking and especially love dessert.  It’s really about eating whole, real foods.  It amazes me how much food out there is really not good for us and our kids.  

If we all had extra time and money, the best bet would be to have your own greenhouse and grow your own shit.  Then you would know the truth.  In the meantime, we have to rely on the food companies to keep us guessing.

Easy Salad Dressing Recipe:

1 small shallot minced

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

¾ teaspoon agave

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Recipe courtesy of Giada DeLaurentis

Some of my staple foods

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