Grocery shopping can become overwhelming after reading different labels on food items and seeing the price tags. Although it is important to choose nutritious products, a dietitian outlines how to not be fooled by labels to consume nutritious foods.
“When it comes to a product labeled as ‘organic,’ it all boils down to taste and budget,” said Courtney Cary, senior registered dietitian in the Department of Medicine – Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Organic and non-organic produce have the same amount of nutrition: the same amount of fiber, carbs and vitamins and minerals. Both use pesticides as well, but organic produce pass different laws to be labeled as organic.
“As long as you wash your fruits and vegetables, you get the same nutrition from both organic and non-organic produce. You don’t have to pay $3 for an apple when you can pay 79 cents. Buy what you prefer taste wise and what fits in your budget,” Cary said.
Meat often is labeled as antibiotic free or hormone free, but Cary points out that this is a marketing ploy. By law, all meat products at the end of production must be hormone and antibiotic free before they are put on the market. This applies to organic and non-organic meat products.
“Even organically produced meat, such as cows or chickens, have to consume antibiotics. Just like humans, when animals get sick, they take antibiotics. It’s not a bad thing, but it is marketed as such,” she said.
Grass-fed and grass-finished products have different nutrient profiles, as well as different tastes and fat levels. Grass-fed and grass-finished beef, for example, are leaner than corn-fed beef. If your budget allows, purchase grass-fed meat products.
Many people claim cows’ milk has hormones, but it is metabolically impossible for milk to have hormones. Milk products are tested for pathogens before they are put on the market, so consuming pasteurized milk is totally safe. Buying things like unpasteurized milk or raw milk can be dangerous. When milk is not pasteurized, it is not heated to very high temperatures to kill the pathogens. If you buy raw or unpasteurized milk, boil it before consumption.
Organic and non-organic milk are the same. Milk is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D regardless of whether it comes from an organic cow or nonorganic cow – and the nutrition is the same. If organic milk is more expensive, avoid splurging on it.
“Some dairy products are marketed as gluten free, but of course they are. This is just another marketing term, but milk, yogurt and cheese are not made with gluten,” she said.
Cage-free, pasture-raised and organic eggs are equal in nutritional value.
“Cage free means the exact same thing as bottom-of-the-line eggs, but the chickens have a window the size of an oven instead of being in cages. Cage free is just another marketing term,” Cary said.
If you want to purchase conflict-free, cruelty-free eggs, buy pasture-raised eggs. If that is not in your budget, buy the lower-level eggs – they contain the same nutritional value as other eggs.
Certain types of nuts, like cashews and pine nuts, are more expensive due to the way they are harvested. It takes more labor to produce those nuts. To incorporate nuts in your diet, you don’t have to splurge on pricier nuts. Cheaper nuts include walnuts and pecans and give you more bang for your buck. Walnuts are high in omega 3s and fiber, while assisting with lower cholesterol.
“All nuts are very high in unsaturated fat, which is a heart-healthy fat, so it’s all about your preference,” Cary said.
Vitamins and supplements
Taking a multivitamin is not absolutely necessary, nor will it prevent you from having an adverse cardiac event or stroke, but taking vitamins is a good way to cover your bases. Some women take a daily prenatal vitamin – although they may consume a large variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, they may not get all the nutrients they need daily, so a prenatal can be helpful. If you take a multivitamin, take a chewable or gummy one since we absorb those better than a capsule.
Because vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, Cary stresses the importance of third-party validation for safety.
“Vitamins, minerals, supplements, pre-workout or whatever you put in your mouth that isn’t a food product is not regulated by the FDA for purity and quality. You have to be very careful when buying these items to make sure they’re verified for quality and purity by a third party,” she said.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and having different colors on your plate is the best way to get your vitamins. Do not cut out whole food groups, like carbs, because carbs are the biggest source of B vitamins. Make sure to include all food groups to ensure you get all vitamins and minerals.
Learn more about Baylor Medicine Gastroenterology and Digestive Health services.
-By Homa Shalchi