How to Find Your Way Around the Modern Grocery Store (Not)


I teach nutrition classes. In these classes we talk about staying away from processed foods and many of the people have no idea what the difference is between processed and unprocessed foods. This confusion is not surprising for several reasons:


1. For several years, nutritionists have told their clients to “shop the outside rows”of the grocery store. Traditionally, produce, meat and other lesser processed foods were placed long the outside rows. Not today. When I enter my local store (no names, please), I go straight to the Starbucks for my free birthday drink. Although this is along the outside wall I hardly think this can be unprocessed food. While I am waiting for my latte (of course I choose an unhealthy drink – it is free), I look around the outside rows at the front of the store. Hmmm, single bottled drinks, the deli, bakery, processed cheese spreads....hardly unprocessed offerings. Then I see the produce has moved inward and is no longer along the outer wall. The nightmare in my mind begins to unfold. I see my students running with glee through this store filling their carts with sugary drinks, cheese spread and crackers and lunchmeat with white “homebaked” bread. Surely these foods are good for you because they are strategically placed where healthful choices should be. What a nightmare!


2. I then find my way to the “health food” section. What? I can't believe my eyes. No wonder my students are confused. In this section I find cereal products by self proclaimed producers of healthy products. The ingredient labels show that sugar or honey is the second most plentiful item in the box. But it does say that they used honey or cane sugar and this is a better choice than corn syrup and that is more healthful, isn't it? No, it isn't. Anything with that much sugar should be in the candy aisle!


I am still in the “health food” area looking for their lentil products. I pass a full half aisle of protein and health bars. If you look at the ingredient labels, it is hard to tell why these are not labeled candy bars. The contents are not remarkably different than a Snickers Bar (and truthfully, Snickers bars taste better than many of these bars). The whole length of the other side of the aisle is filled with snacks like chips and veggie chips, etc. WHAT? These are not health foods by any stretch of the imagination! Get these out of this section! Oh and by the way, the organic lentils were with the dry beans in the regular food section. No wonder why I am in the store for hours trying to decipher their plan for stocking healthful foods. They are hiding them.


3. By this time, I am still only about a quarter of the way through the store and have been there for almost an hour. I then come across a very nice lady who is giving samples of organic foods the store offers. She hands me a cup of vanilla yogurt, with honey and trail mix on top. I didn't have the heart to tell her that 80% of the ingredients in this little bowl of organics were sugar....Arrrgh! As I walked away I heard a man mumble “too much sugar and this cup probably has plastic with BPA in it”. Yay, people are learning and noticing! Well, maybe one person.


Don't get me wrong. I don't blame the lady giving the samples or the poor people stocking the shelves who are really trying to help people find the foods they are looking for. But I do blame the food companies and stores that allow this confusion. For me, it is back to the drawing board to refigure my nutrition information before my next class. Maybe the only way is to take the class to the store, pitch a tent for a week of camping. It will take that long to help them understand this confusing mess.