If, when supermarket shopping, your basic criteria are the prices of the products on the shelves, enticing packaging, or the tastiest food products, then you are probably not taking into account a very important factor – that of the nutritional value of the food products you buy. Because supermarkets offer such a wide range of food products, customers often find making choices to be very confusing and difficult. To somewhat ameliorate the head-scratching that comes with your average supermarket experience, the Gourmed team went to the supermarket for you and selected the healthiest food from each of your basic food groups. We present these selections below to help you with the decisions you will make, armed with the knowledge of what would constitute the best choice in terms of health, well-being, and of course, taste. Before we look at the different products analytically, take note of four general tips that you should always bear in mind when supermarket shopping.
Cheese: Go for local products! They will be the cheapest and the freshest. Opt for feta cheese, as it contains large quantities of water, is high in calcium, and very tasty. Many people believe that mitzithra and anthotiro cheese (a cheese similar to ricotta) have nutritional properties similar to feta, but this is far from the truth. Mitzithra is prepared from cheese-milk –that is, whatever remains of the milk mixture once the feta has set– and so its vitamin and mineral content is diluted, and consequently, its nutritional value is far inferior. On the other hand, anthotiro, though it may be similar to feta in terms of appearance, is made through an entirely different process and is therefore much higher in fat than feta cheese. Similarly, yellow cheeses are generally high in fat. If you are inclined to chose yellow cheese anyhow, choose the ones that are less salty such as gouda or edam, or a Greek cheese low in fat, such as kefalograviera (a type of gruyere), kasseri, or metsovone.
Deli Goods: Because turkey is naturally lower in fat than all other types of poultry and meat, turkey deli items are the least fatty of the cold-cuts (the rest of which can be very high in fat). In terms of turkey products, we would advise that you keep an eye out for meat from a whole part of the bird, which is far preferable to a mix of off-cuts, both in terms of nutritional value and taste. Furthermore, choose pre-packaged deli goods primarily because they include an accurate expiration date.
Milk: We would advise that you avoid the evaporated and concentrated varieties of milk, instead opting for the fresh milk that requires refrigeration. This may mean an increased number of trips to the supermarket, but you’ll soon see that it is worth it. The evaporation/condensation process considerably depletes the milk’s valuable quantities of minerals, nutrients, and vitamins. Moreover, the tastes and flavors of evaporated milk are drastically inferior to those of fresh milk from the Greek countryside. Although the cartons of skimmed and semi-skilled milk boasts substantial reductions in calorie content, the difference is in fact relatively small. For a inconsequential trimming in calories, you sacrifice radically in terms of taste. Furthermore, whole milk, which contains all its fat (3.8%), retains all of its fat soluble vitamins- most of which disappear in the skimmed or semi-skimmed varieties.
Yoghurt: Choose whole fat plain yoghurt. Like fresh milk, this too contains more fat soluble vitamins, and therefore has much greater nutritional value than the skimmed or semi-skimmed versions. Commercial yoghurts containing admixtures such as cereals, fruits, and nuts are probably more dessert than yoghurt due to their high sugar contents; however, they will give you more energy than plain yoghurt.
Butter: Buy fresh, Greek-made butter. Although butter contains saturated fats, which have been linked to cardiovascular disease, it is the only natural choice for spreading on bread. As long as you consume butter in small amounts – about a teaspoon a day – you won’t have problems.
Cream: Simply choose the cream that is the lowest in fat. Avoid vegetable fats as they contain additives which enable them to solidify.
Eggs: Buy free range eggs, that is, those that come from free range hens which have been raised on natural food. Such eggs are far superior in terms of nutritional value and taste. Make sure they are bear the stamp of a recognized certifying body ("DIO", "Physiologike", "SOGE"), as well as a use-by date. Also, choose eggs in clear plastic egg cartons in order to make sure none of the eggs are broken.
Cereals: Choose cereal flakes without added sugar or coatings. Whole wheat breakfast products should be preferred, as they contain more fiber than other cereals, and fiber is essential for proper functioning of the intestines.
Bread: Always buy bread made made with whole wheat flour. Take a look at the expiration date and make sure it is well-packaged so that it can be kept clean and intact. Go for crisp breads and rusks made with whole wheat flour, without the addition of extra sugar or oil. In this way, you will consume the healthiest varieties of bread, while avoiding extra calorie intake.
Flour and Semolina: It’s best to buy different types of flour (corn, rye, wheat, oat) and, as long as the recipe allows, use a mix of these. In doing so, you will receive the nutritional elements from a variety of cereals, instead of just overloading on one. Make sure you store flour in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Flour, and semolina in particular, spoils quickly.
Pasta: Choose pasta which does not contain color, taste, or aroma additives (such as cheese, sauce, or bacon). When cooking the pasta, do not allow it to turn mushy, as this signifies a dramatic reduction in starch- a crucial constituent of the human diet. Trahana, a traditional Greek dish consisting of hulled wheat boiled in milk and seasoned with cinnamon and sugar, is a particularly healthy and flavorful variety of pasta.
Coffee: Buy Greek! A substantial amount of the caffeine will remain in the residue at the bottom of the coffee cup. Because this caffeine will not be consumed, the coffee’s rush will be mild, although its taste and aroma will still be intense and delicious.
Teas and Infusions: Buy natural, unadulterated mountain herbs (tea, sage, lime leaves, chamomile, etc). Since the herbs presented in tea bags have most likely been tampered with, it is preferable to simply buy such herbs in their natural state (leaves or flowers). Tea made from herbs will not only satisfy your taste buds, but will also be highly beneficial to your health, as a result of the large amounts of antioxidants that these herbs contain. Do not choose tea or infusion products that have been enriched with vitamins or inorganic elements because such additives are most likely unnecessary.
Juice: When it comes to fruit juice, it is best to buy the varieties that have no added sugar and are prepared from one fruit only. This ensures that the drink is additive-free, all-natural, and organic. As a general rule, the shorter the use-by date, the fresher and more legitimate the product. Only buy juices that must be stored in the refrigerator. A juice that does not need refrigeration is sure to be chock-full of preservatives and other chemicals. Although such products might be difficult to find, try and buy local; juice produced from the Greek countryside is sublime.
Water: Whether you buy still or sparkling, always buy your water in glass bottles. Glass is preferable to either plastic or aluminium, as it is a more stable material. Furthermore, sparkling water produced by natural sources is far preferable to the water with carbonate additives, as the natural variety is much richer in minerals and trace elements.
Sauces: When making a tomato-based sauce, avoid tomato paste- a product that contains high amounts of salt and artificial coloring- and instead opt for chopped tomatoes. Buy chopped tomatoes in paper packaging, as such packaging is an indication of freshness. Steer clear of tined and canned tomatoes. Whenever buying sauces or sauce ingredients, be aware that most of these products contain artificial coloring, fat, salt, sugar, vinegar and other additives. If at all possible, give a wide berth to such products.
Tinned Goods: The healthiest form of tinned goods are the ones that are marinating in olive oil. Goods preserved in olive oil are even preferable to water-packaged goods, as these often contain tremendous quantities of salt.
Stock Cubes And Stocks: Sidestep these at all costs! It’s best to evade this section altogether because the goods found on its shelves contain large amounts of chemical additives. The usual culprit is monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer and harmful carcinogen.
Vinegar: Buy balsamic vinegar- it is the healthiest of all vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is derived from wine and is known for its distinctive taste, better texture, and lower acidity than other vinegar. Whether you chose balsamic or another vinegar variety, buy it in glass packaging, as glass is a more stable material than aluminum or plastic.
Sugar: If you cannot avoid buying sugar, brown sugar is preferable to white. Originating from the sugar beet or sugar cane, it retains a surprisingly large portion of the plant’s molasses and is therefore considered to be less processed. White crystallized sugar, on the other hand, could not be more processed. In fact, it has undergone an extensive bleaching process.
Marmalades And Jams: Most jams and marmalades contain mainly glucose syrup, artificial coloring, and fake aromas- steer clear of these products. It’s best to instead buy jams and marmalades made with whole pieces of fruit, without preservatives, and with minimal amounts of added sugar.
Honey: Always buy virgin, thyme honey. Not only is it the perfect alternative to sugar, but it is also considered to be purer than all other honey varieties, containing no admixtures of other ingredients.
Preserved Fruit: Choose fruits preserved in syrup and made by small businesses in the traditional Greek fashion, not mass-produced. When reading the label on preserved fruit products, make sure you’re buying those that have the lowest amounts of glucose and chemical additives. While preserved fruit is a healthy choice in comparison to other sweets, remember that it should never be chosen over fresh, raw fruits.
Nuts: Always buy unsalted nuts. Even though nuts are high in fats and calories, they are not harmful to the cardiovascular system as they contain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Whereas unsalted nuts are therefore a great source of energy, large quantities of salted nuts are unhealthy.
Pulses: Buy varieties of unhulled pulses. In fact, when consuming pulses, it is crucial to eat a wide range, as each type has its own nutritional value. All unhulled pulses are highly beneficial to your health, but in different ways. Lentils are high in iron, beans and soya serve as tremendous sources of proteins, and chickpeas are high in starch and fiber.
Rice: Brown rice is preferable to all other varieties, as it is a substantial source of fiber. If only white rice is available, parboiled is the most prudent decision. This variety has undergone a steaming process which results in some of the nutrients from the hull – mainly the vitamins – passing into the grain.
Oil: Buy virgin olive oil, preferably extra virgin. It is rich in both vitamin E and monounsaturated fatty acids, acids which have a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. This substance is known to reduce "bad" cholesterol, while at the same time raising levels of "good" cholesterol. Due to its unique chemical structure, it is far more resistant to frying than any other oil.
Margarine: Instead of margarine, choose peanut butter. Peanut butter does not contain the trans-fatty acids present in margarine, nor the saturated fats present in butter. Furthermore, peanuts are a substantial source of vitamins and minerals crucial to the body’s everyday functioning.
Drinks: Apart from the pleasure it affords the senses, a bottle of red wine will help to maintain good health. As research indicates, the flavinoids present in red wine protect the cardiovascular system. If you’d rather have hard liquor, go for "straight" or "on the rocks" drinks like whiskey, vodka, gin and rum. Even though they contain a lot more alcohol than the others, they are free of additives, such as artificial colorings, chemicals, and sugars.
Salt: Choose salt that is fine and enriched with iodine, a chemical element with far-reaching benefits. Whereas many varieties of salt require unhealthy quantities to adequately enrich and flavor foods, the same improvements can be accomplished via much smaller quantities of fine salt. You can also buy salt containing calcium chloride, a highly beneficial nutrient that contributes to the regulation of arterial pressure and aids in the way that your body deals with swelling.
Frozen Food: If properly frozen, meat, fish and chicken are as good as their fresh counterparts. You should, however, avoid frozen mixed vegetables, as they may be of dubious quality and are most likely devoid of their nutrients. Steer clear of products with ice on the packaging. The presence of ice indicates that these products have thawed and refrozen, and are therefore at an increased risk of bacterial contamination. In addition, avoid packaged, ready meals because these meals often contain high amounts of fat and salt, and there is no guarantee that the ingredients used were fresh. Lastly, avoid pre-fried food and mixtures, as these are bound to contain large amounts of preservatives.