Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Making a list, checking it twice

It may sound obvious, but a grocery list can be an extremely useful tool when shopping for the week. I write out all of the items I will need and organize them into the sections they are found in at the store. This makes for a much less chaotic grocery trip, and can act as back-up when you come face to face with an enticing two-for-one ice cream deal. NOT on the list! It helps to have a master list that you can refer back to each week, like the Pantry Basics on page 113 in Good Food Great Medicine. I tend to get the majority of my items from Fred Meyer or WinCo Foods, partly because I am a creature of habit and am familiar with the layout of the store, and because I always find a good selection. I am fairly picky about produce, especially apples, and these stores rarely disappoint me.

*Fuji apples, one of my favorites.

*A note on apples: I take my apple selection very seriously. I look for apples that are hard if you press them with your thumb, have their stems intact, and have high shine. These are tips from produce people that have helped me to pick out the crispest (is that a word?) and best apples. I also rarely pass up an apple with imperfections such as warts or marbling. No price is too high to pay for a beautiful apple that is roughly the size of my head. I try to buy fruit that is in season, but apples find their way into my cart no matter what time of year.

Keeping your whole food budget in line

To save money I usually buy non-organic fruits and vegetables (see Dr. Hassell's comments below), and look for the freshest and most appealing options available. I’m still learning how to pick the best of everything (will someone please explain the difference between a turnip and a rutabaga?), but with practice this process becomes faster and easier. I also find the bulk food sections of stores such as WinCo Foods very useful when buying ingredients for recipes like Granola (page 131), Basic Baked Brown Rice (page 210), and Breadzilla! (page 252). Purchasing whole grains, beans, nuts, and spices in this section is very economical and allows me to get the exact quantity that I need.

Delicata Squash taste delicious
and you can eat the skin.
Beautiful Brussels Sprouts!

For dairy and meat products I tend to shop at stores such as New Seasons Market, Zupan’s Markets, or farmer’s markets, but that is again just personal preference. I don’t mind spending a little more money on meat when I know that I am getting good quality grass-fed red meat, and cage-free poultry. If you pay attention to deals it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to buy, well, a wing and a leg. Another option to consider is to buy quality meat when it is on sale and stick it in the freezer.

This is one of my favorite brands of Tuna,
and you can find it for a very good price
at WinCo Foods.

Having said all that, if I am short on time, a one stop shopping trip is hard to beat. Trader Joe’s is another store I frequent, especially if I have ample time to peruse all their goodies. They have a lot of conveniently packaged vegetables, and great fixings for when I want to make homemade pizza. 

Happy shopping!


Dr. Hassell's Postscript
One of the common concerns I hear from patients about whole foods is that it costs more to eat good food, but I think the facts show that this is not necessarily so. As Malea pointed out, shopping will be the key to keeping costs reasonable. If you shop smart and search for deals, cooking whole foods at home can cost as little as one half as much as eating prepared convenience foods, such as fast foods.1 Other cost saving ideas include buying fruits and vegetables in season and on sale, avoiding waste (i.e. cook a whole chicken and make chicken stock for soup), planning for leftovers and cooking enough at one time to provide for two or three meals, and looking for recipes that use ingredients found in your pantry or fridge. See pages 220-221 for Chicken Stock and Just Plain Old Roast Chicken (GFGM 3rd Edition).

The question often comes up concerning whether we should only choose organically grown produce. The answer is not obvious. Current data does not consistently show evidence for any clear-cut benefit of organic vegetables and fruit, and the differences that have been identified don’t appear to be clinically significant.2,3 The cost of organic is sometimes a barrier, and I’d prefer to see someone eating non-organic fruits and vegetables to no fruits and vegetables at all! I only tend to buy organic produce when the fruits or vegetables are superior to the nonorganic options. For more information check out page 164 of Good Food, Great Medicine 3rd edition.  

1McDermott, A. et al. Fam Med 2010;42:280-4
2Smith-Spangler, C. et al. Ann Intern Med 2012;157:348-66
3Baranski, M. et al. Br J Nutr 2014;doi:10.1017

Miles Hassell MD