Suggestions for the grocery shopping

Awareness during grocery shopping is fundamental for healthy nutrition. Good news: it is not necessary to have a master degree to make informed purchases. In this post, we will give you some suggestions for diverse and healthier grocery shopping.

The importance of the source

source of information

The first step for correct knowledge in every field is to ensure that the source of the information is reliable. Nutrition is an argument that is often treated carelessly, carrying forward arguments not supported by scientific data, which create more confusion than anything else. Free reliable sources are usually authoritative sites, as CREA for Italy, the Food safety part of the EU website, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Each country has its own, that deals with their specific laws on food safety, but it’s also nice to compare information from different websites.

Plus there are sometimes independent websites (not financed by specific companies) and journals which are based on scientific researches. I can suggest you to look at the Journal of Food Science and Technology, in which you can look at the abstracts of the papers published for free. Unfortunately, we know some reliable free websites which are written just in Italian, as Alimenti & Salute e Il fatto alimentare. You are welcomed to suggest us some international reliable free websites down in the comment.

In general, the import thing is not to stop at the first research or news on a topic, but to keep looking for confirmations on what you read on other websites or journals. We should not read and trust just the title of a post, especially if it is sensationalist or challenging, but rather keep reading the whole article.

Picking the products

So, what are we going to do once we face the shelves of a supermarket?

picking the products while shopping

The first rule, simple and quick appliable even if you have a little time, is to read the list of ingredients. If the list is too long and you start to think “I’m wasting my time, quick rule yeah right!” that’s the signal that the product your holding is particularly complex and processed, and maybe you should put it down and look for something with fewer ingredients and simple.

A second rule is to not buy the same product over and over from the same brand. In fact, it is important to not introduce constantly and repeatedly in or body the same exact food, since every food contains ana number of molecules not great for our organism. An exaggerated consumption of a particular food could lead to an accumulation potentially harmful of a particular substance in our body. In brief, as the proverb says, too much of a good thing. An extreme example to explain this concept can be found related to water. Although water is an essential liquid for our body, the excess of it brings to an inevitable and premature departure from this world (studies proved the lethality of the assumption of more than 5 litres of water in few ours, Gardner JW., Death by water intoxication., in Mil Med., vol. 167, May 2002, pp. 432-434).

Variety is the spice of life

Hereafter we display two more detailed examples, to restate the importance of variety in the diet.

fish and methylmercury

Studies on the nutrition of pregnant women suggest the consume of two to three servings of fish per week to guarantee the correct amount of DHA fatty acid, very important for the correct development of the neurological system of the baby. However, the same studies warn to limit the intake of big predatory fish, because they can contain higher quantities of mercury. Links to extra material: in Italian and in English.

Carnivor fishes accumulate methylmercury, the most common and toxic form of mercury inside the food chain, preying other fishes which were previously contaminated as well. The substance accumulates inside the organic tissues of the animal. A big size fish had generally had a longer growth time and thus had potentially accumulated more methylmercury than a fish from a smaller species. To avoid problems exerts discourage the consumption of predators fishes to children, pregnant and lactating women, while they advise the adults to limit the consumption to one portion per week, interchanging the species with higher risks. Higher risk species are shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, tuna, marlin, halibut, bluefish, lobster, rockfish, sablefish, weakfish. Species or groups of species low in mercury are salmon, catfish, mullet, herring, anchovies, alaska pollock, crayfish, haddock, sardine, hake, tilapia, oysters, freshwater perch, trout and whitefish.

As a second example, we consider nitrites and nitrates used in food products as additives. Nitrates by themselves are not a problem, but in particular conditions (heat, bacterias, long preservation), they can transform in nitrites (toxic at a very high dosage) and nitrites can turn into the more dangerous nitrosamines. Vitamin C is present in food that naturally contains nitrates and limits their transformation into nitrosamines. The addition of nitrates, in the label E251 and E252, is at the moment the only alternative to avoid the germination of the spores of Clostridium botulinum, a serious food infection. Instead, nitrites E249 and E250, inside an acid environment (like our stomach) turn into nitrous acid (HNO2), which can generate nitrosamines. Besides, higher doses of nitrites are toxic, since they can tie with haemoglobin reducing the transport of oxygen in the blood. We have to keep in mind that these compounds, in particular nitrates, are naturally present in the ground and vegetables (e.g. chard, celery, turnip, and spinach). Their effect on the human body has been and it is still widely studied, while their use is regulated by national and international laws. Don’t distrust these food addictives from the start. The important thing is to limit the consumption of the foods that contain them. The tricks to limit/avoid them are:

  • Vary the consume of fresh vegetables
  • Consume green leave vegetables not more than two times per week, and preferably during summer (the nitrates level is naturally low in summer compared to winter)
  • Moderate the consume of processed products that contain them (eg. canned meat, cured meats)
  • Being soluble in water, wash, peel and cook vegetables, and don’t reuse the water in which you cooked them (you could use it cold to water the plants on your balcony);
  • Use lemon juice as a dressing to bring an extra vitamin C to prevent nitrosamine formation;
  • Consume vegetables as fresh as possible, preserving it for a few days in the fridge or avoiding to heat pre-cooked vegetables or to preserve them into closed plastic bags, since the lack of air supports the transformation of nitrates into nitrites.

In a few words, exceed is always a wrong habit, while allowing ourself a good quality and tasty meal is not.

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