Photo courtesy Thosh Collins
Wewhum Fulwilder shops for produce at his local grocery store.

Well For Culture: How to Shop Smart in a Grocery Store

Chelsey Luger

To be “Well For Culture” means to maintain a healthy body and mind so that you can contribute to the wellbeing of your family, the future of our nations, and the sustainability of our cultural practices. It would be totally ideal if all of us could eat only natural foods that come from local or community sources all the time: hunting, fishing, gathering, and growing. But, at this point in time, the reality is that for most of us, a lifestyle entirely devoid of the grocery store is not in the cards.

Since we have to go to the grocery store, we have to learn how to shop smart. It’s actually pretty easy because the way that these places are organized makes it convenient to navigate around the unhealthy stuff. Here’s some tips for getting around, finding what you *really* need, and avoiding all the bad stuff.

1. Stay on the outer perimeter of the store.

Think about it: on the edge of the grocery store is where you find all of the produce, meat, and fresh foods. This is all you need. Stay out of the aisles! It’s all junk food packed with preservatives in there.

2. Avoid anything with a long shelf life or without an expiration date.

Again - stay out of the aisles. Our bodies are not made to process preservatives, so it’s best to avoid ingesting them. If it seems weird that certain foods can last for years and years without going bad, it is. That means they’re bad to begin with.

3. Avoid foods with more than 4 ingredients or with ingredients you can’t recognize or pronounce.

You should always know exactly what you’re eating. Can’t picture what “sodium ascorbate” or “butylated hydroxytoluene” really looks or tastes like? That means it’s probably not safe to eat. Chances are, if a food product contains more than 4 ingredients, something unnatural and unhealthy is involved. As a rule of thumb, stick to real food that doesn’t even necessarily need a label to explain what it is.

4. Avoid frozen foods or anything in cans, boxes, or bags.

You never know what goes into packaged foods. Frozen foods, for example, are full of sodium, so they lack the enzymes that your body  needs to breakdown and digest. Even when they’re marketed as healthy, they’re not. As for anything else in a box, bag, or can, the preservatives themselves are bad enough, but there can be even more unpleasant things hidden in these products.

Imagine you’re in the produce section and you pick up a basket of mushrooms. What are the ingredients in the mushrooms? Well, duh, just mushrooms. Good. Now go to the aisle and pick up a can of mushrooms.  What’s in it? It might just say “mushrooms,” but we know better. The plastic lining of the can, for one, contains BPA - a harmful chemical that can cause heart attacks and cancer. Open that can and you’re also likely to ingest some unexpected treats that won’t be listed: the FDA allows for up to 74 mites and 19 maggots for every 3.5 ounce can of mushrooms. Yeah, I’d go with the fresh one instead.

5. In terms of money, think about long term health.

By far the toughest thing about healthy shopping is forking over the cash for the healthier versions of everything. Healthy isn’t always more expensive, but it sure can be.  (Again, this is why it would be ideal if we all just grew our own food). With that in mind, we urge you to shop healthy anyway, and try to think in terms of long-term savings. The bottom line is that bad food makes you sick and causes long-term illnesses. On the other hand, healthy food keeps you healthy! The more you prioritize your health and spend on better food, the less likely it is that you will be spending money on medical bills or pharmaceuticals in the future.

A final note: Remember that every time you eat or drink something, you are either feeding or fighting a disease. Choose wisely.

Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Ideas for articles? Email her: [email protected].

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