Savvy grocery shoppers have a few rules they live by: Buy what’s in season, avoid unpronounceable 12-letter ingredients, and beware of too much sugar. But even health-focused supermarket ninjas can get stumped by the more nuanced dilemmas that pop up while you shop: Does egg color really matter? Is loose-leaf lettuce cleaner than the bagged, pre-washed kind? And is skim milk better for you than whole?
These questions are no-brainers for integrative nutritionist Maria Marlowe, CHC. She recently wrote the book on smart shopping—seriously. In The Real Food Grocery Guide, Marlowe answers your pressing questions about how to buy food that’s truly best for your body, from what sneaky ingredients have GMOs to how to choose the most nutrient-dense produce possible.
Here, she uses her insider knowledge to reveal what she wishes more people knew about navigating the grocery store.
Scroll down for six food shopping mistakes a nutritionist wishes healthy people would stop making.
1. Buying imported food
Healthy foodies talk a lot about buying local, and many restaurants even tout their regional sourcing on their menus. But what if you live in a city and the closest thing to a farm you have within 50 miles is a community garden? Wouldn’t foods imported from a better environment be better quality?
Regardless of where you live, Marlowe is still Team Local. “Food in the grocery store is shipped in from all across the country—and world—so it’s picked weeks in advance when it’s still underripe,” she says. “By the time it gets to us, it’s days or weeks old.” During this lag time, nutrients start to degrade. “Getting something from the local farmers’ market that was either picked last night or that morning at its peak ripeness will definitely be more nutritious,” Marlowe says. So prep your shopping list, pack your tote, and set your alarm for a morning trip to the greenmarket.
The one exception: If your local produce isn’t organic (especially if it’s something on the Dirty Dozen list), Marlowe says the imported option is the better choice.
2. Choosing pre-washed lettuce
Whatever your go-to greens may be, bagged salad just seems, well, cleaner than the loose kind. But Marlowe promises it isn’t.
“The less hands on your greens, the better,” Marlowe says. “With loose salad, you’re the only one washing it and not relying on someone else to do it.” Considering the number of listeria outbreaks linked to pre-washed greens, she seems to be on to something. (She’s not alone—it’s also the one thing a food poisoning expert says he won’t eat.)
3. Buying farmed fish instead of wild
When considering your options in the meat aisle, differentiating between pasture-raised, grass-fed, cage-free,…