Health food stores are becoming more popular by the day, with plenty of new faces shuffling in and out for their lunch time salads, juices and, well, chips, among other processed snacks.
Many of them enter the store as confident, trusting consumers, ready and willing to buy whatever they choose as long as the price is right for their budget.
But not all health food store products are created equal, and not all of them are worth the premium prices many companies charge. There’s also the matter of many health food stores stocking more and more salty snacks, desserts and other similar items to meet the growing consumer appetite for more diverse offerings, considering that many people now do the vast majority of their grocery shopping at such stores.
Even health conscious consumers enjoy an occasional organic cheat food every now and then, but buying foods that claim to be healthy on the front of the package yet don’t give you the nutrients and benefits you pay for is a major problem, especially if your end goal is to achieve the type of good health your desire, and deserve.
With that in mind, here are ten ways to avoid throwing away money in your search for the right combination of health, value and taste:
1. Stop buying pasteurized juices-
Freshly made juice from produce, whether at home or from your health food store’s juice bar, is as good as it gets for flooding your body with the nutrients it needs to function at an optimal level.
But commercial store-bought juices from companies such as R.W. Knudsen and Lakewood for example are pasteurized, meaning they have been heated before being shipped out, and therefore have had much of their beneficial nutrient content destroyed. There’s a reason why many store bought juices have absorbic acid and other not-so-healthy synthetic vitamins added in: they’ve likely destroyed the natural vitamins that typically come from fruits and vegetables.
Try tasting a glass of pasteurized apple juice compared with a glass of freshly-made juice: there’s no contest; the freshly made juice simply tastes more “alive” and is not quite as flat-tasting in general as the pasteurized juice. Pasteurized juice still offers some nutrients but even the organic varieties are simply not on the same level as freshly made juice, and it’s really not even close.
Yet the store-bought juices still command premium prices and will continue to do so until consumers become more aware of this issue.
2. Go easy on the chips and other snacks-
The snack aisles of many health food store can be inviting, and usually see plenty of traffic. But while it’s always nice to see more non-GMO food options of all kinds, a potato chip is still a potato chip at the end of the day. And if you do want to indulge in a healthier type of potato chip, you’re better off getting the same bag at a grocery store for cheaper in most cases, anyway.
Your best option for chips, if you choose to indulge, is to make your own at home using organic potatoes (which are hard to find in the snack aisle for some reason) or even kale chips or other healthy alternatives. You’ll save money in the process in most cases, too.
3. Have a plan for your produce-
Organic produce is the best food you can buy in general, and the amount of choices is rising. But make sure you have a plan for each new vegetable, herb or fruit you buy, or you run the risk of it spoiling while you figure out a soup or salad recipe to include it in. Also be sure to buy a healthy mix of items so that you’re not overdoing it in any one area, such as buying too many root vegetables or buying similar types of lettuce or greens that may be difficult to eat before spoilage sets in.
4. Don’t buy supplements blindly-
The supplement and vitamin sections of any health food store can be intimidating considering all of the choices at hand, and everyone is nutritionally deficient in some areas so it can become easy to be convinced of your need for a certain type of vitamin. But supplements and vitamins work best in concert with each other, with food and to fill the gaps in your diet, as well as in your current body composition. It’s best to find out exactly what you need before you go on a supplement shopping spree, or you may find yourself wasting money on items your body didn’t necessarily need a whole lot of in the first place, especially compared to other possible choices.
5. Ask for help!-
Health food store employees aren’t naturopathic doctors, but they usually have a lot of experience in helping customers find what supplements and foods might be right for them. If you’re unsure of what to buy, ask around. Even customers may be a quality source of knowledge when it comes to maximizing the value of the produce, foods and supplements you buy for better health. This will negate short-sighted purchases and allow you to maximize the money you spend on the right supplements and nutrients for your body.
6. Carefully examine produce-
The price difference in buying organic produce isn’t as bad as the common person thinks, especially if you’re a smart shopper. But the potential for buying produce that might go bad in a few short days is always there and something to be aware of. The last thing you want to do is spend five bucks on organic spinach only to watch it go bad in a couple of days before you can eat even half of it.
7. Buy in season-
At my go-to health food store, berries shipped from California to the Midwest have been priced high for quite a while for example, but root vegetables, many of them grown locally, have seen a surplus and prices have remained low. Seasonal eating is a great way to balance the body’s internal systems including its temperature, and a great way to save money on organic produce as well.
8. Carry your own water-
If people from traditional cultures can walk miles with baskets of water on their head, lugging a few glass bottles to the health food store once a week for water should be no problem! Of course a full home filter system is best for removing more contaminants, but that is not always feasible for many people. Paying 50-60 cents to fill up a gallon of high quality water might be the solution, as it is much cheaper than buying from spring/filtered water companies at the store. Be careful of using any plastics as even BPA-free containers have red flags in regards to their effects on your health. Glass is always best as long as you’re careful.
9. Watch out for health food bars-
Many health food bars get a free pass from health food consumers because they often contain a high amount of greens, have a green and healthy appearance, and are quick and easy to grab at the checkout. But they may be surprisingly low in nutrients (just check the back of the package, as we mentioned earlier!) and high in various sugars. Take the time to find out which health food bars are right for you and then buy them in larger quantities, perhaps online, so you’ll have them on hand.
10. Trust no one (Read the back, not the front)-
Placement on the shelf of a health food store does not guarantee a pure, GMO-free or high quality product. The same rules apply in the health food store as those you’ve learned to use in grocery stores. Rule number one is to always read the back of the package immediately after scanning the front, and to read closely. Focus on the ingredients first.
Frequent troublesome ingredients to watch out for include: Non-organic corn, soy and canola products, which are likely to be GMO, sugar in products from smaller companies that may come from GMO sugar beets (listed as “sugar”), and carrageenan, a thickening agent linked to digestive issues and even cancer in some circles. Don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security; when buying products from new companies, always read the entire ingredients list. Many friends of mine have wasted money on products with unsavory ingredients and then ultimately thrown them out afterward.
It may be tempting to let your guard down and relax at health food stores after enduring the mental gauntlet of shopping at a modern day grocery store, but doing so just might cost you extra money, and time, in your quest for better health. Perhaps some day we’ll have that luxury again, but for now, it’s time to wise up and stop wasting money at the health food store.
And getting healthier is the main reason why you went to the health food store in the first place, right?