All Natural! Whole Grain! Buy Me, Please!

By, Michelle Pfennighaus

No matter where you do your shopping, you’ve probably noticed all sorts of health related claims on food packaging. At a northeast supermarket chain called Stop & Shop they’ve even started an in-store program called Healthy Ideas to make shopping for your family, well…brainless.

But I tend to think if it were that easy we probably wouldn’t have a nationwide obesity epidemic. And heart disease wouldn’t be our #1 killer. Marketers know we want to be healthy. They spend a lot of time and money investigating our motives and lifestyle. But their sole objective is, of course, making a profit.

Before becoming involved in the health profession, I worked in advertising for 8 years. I can tell you that marketers do not have your best interests in mind when they label a product “All Natural” or “Heart Healthy.” For example the term “All Natural” has no actual definition regulated by the FDA. Any product can make that claim – it means nothing. But it sure works on consumers looking for more “natural” foods.

Here’s what I say: Don’t believe anything you read on packaged items except the ingredient lists. There are many loopholes in the rules about what can and can’t be said about a product. Some fancy headlines or graphics can make even the worst products sound quite healthy!

So, what should we be looking for? Try whole foods that are not heavily marketed. These are foods that don’t necessarily make the food industry a big profit but are the most natural, for sure. They are available at your local grocery store – but don’t rely on advertisements, labels or in-store promotions to necessarily help you find them. Here are 5 tips for buying truly healthy, nourishing foods for you and your family:

1. Freshen up
Buy fresh produce – carrots, spinach, whatever you like to eat. All fresh veggies are naturally low in fat and calories. You don’t need a label needed to tell you that! Favor organic or locally grown produce whenever possible.

2. Walk in circles
Do most of your shopping around the perimeter of the store. Eggs, yogurt, breads and of course, fruits and veggies. The interior aisles are usually the ones with shelves full of processed food items you want to avoid.

3. Go whole or go home
Find whole grains. Not just the words “whole grain” but the actual, intact grains in their natural state. Brown rice is a whole grain. So are quinoa, barley and oats. At some stores you can buy these in bulk for less than $1.50 per pound. These are much preferable to the processed whole grains you might find in packaged foods.

4. Bring your reading glasses
Read the ingredient list on packaged items. See if you can pronounce and understand each of the items listed before purchasing. If not, ask your self, “What is this stuff?” If you’ve never heard of it, chances are it isn’t as natural as the label claims.

5. Have a master plan
Ever have trouble deciding what to buy? Before you go grocery shopping, make a meal plan and write a shopping list. When you have a plan you will be more focused and less likely to be attracted to fancy packaging or impulse buys.

Here’s a recipe you can easily make using whole, natural ingredients. These breakfast bars are perfect in the morning or as a mid-day snack. You’ll save money on granola and power bars and get the nourishment you need:

Easy Peasey Breakfast Bars

2 ripe bananas

1 cup unsalted nuts

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup rolled oats (not instant)

1 cup unsweetened, dried coconut

2 Tbl. pure maple syrup or honey

2 eggs


(optional: raisins or other dried fruit)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. In a food processor, spin nuts and seeds down to a powder. Add oats and coconut, blend. Finally add bananas and maple syrup or honey (and dried fruit, optional).

2. Mix in eggs. Blend well.

3. Pour mixture into greased pie plate. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

4. Bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool, then slice into bars.

Note: For gluten-free, eliminate oats (which may be cross-contaminated with other grains) and replace with an additional cup of nuts or seeds.

Michelle Pfennighaus is a holistic health counselor and registered yoga instructor based in Boston, MA. For many years she suffered from debilitating anxiety and digestive disorders until finally healing herself through changes in diet and lifestyle.

Michelle received training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and is registered through Yoga Alliance. Currently, she works with clients all over the country to improve their health and happiness. She also offers cooking classes and workshops for groups.

To learn more about Michelle, visit her website

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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