Learn to navigate grocery stores to find the best-for-you food.
What are you going to do to take care of your body today?
It’s a question that Jackie Mart has centered her career on as a holistic nutritionist and life coach. Since picking up a book on natural cures at a library nearly two decades ago, the Edina resident has made nutrition and wellness her mission.
Now, alongside teaching nutrition and cooking classes for adults and children through Minnetonka and District 196’s community education programs and providing detoxing services across the broader Metro area, Mart offers kitchen cabinet cleanups and one-on-one grocery store tours through her business, Optimum Wellness LLC. “The number one thing to impact your health is actually what you put in your body,” she says. “It’s the easiest thing to change, as well.”
Both the kitchen cleanup and store tour aim to help people understand more about the food they purchase and its effects on the body. Mart also aids in identifying better food options to improve overall health. “Everybody’s addicted to [food] … A lot of people don’t plan things out. They eat from convenience…” Mart says. “To get back to actually eating good food for your body, you have to have that self-love component,” she says.
Navigating the Grocery Store
Mart’s grocery store tour begins with conversation and preparation—from exploring what’s already in the students’/clients’ kitchens to best-practices for shopping. (Eat before you go!) Trips generally take between
60 to 90 minutes, and clients often bring a cart and reusable bags to use while transporting home their new food options.
It’s Mart’s belief that any food not found in nature, such as processed foods, should be avoided, but especially anything with added sugar and ingredients that cannot be easily pronounced. Shopping at grocery stores can also be made difficult by misleading labels, such as “natural,” “heart healthy” and “sugar-free” that can also hide toxic ingredients. (See sidebar for more information.) “I always say, ‘Count chemicals, not calories,’ because it’s more important not to put chemicals in your body than how many calories you consume,” she says.
For best results, Mart recommends shopping around a store’s perimeter, where produce, meats and dairy products are kept. She always starts off in the produce area. “Those colors are vitamins, nutrients and minerals that are great for your body, so eat the rainbow,” she says.
In each aisle and section, Mart has clients indicate what they would normally buy. Together, they go through the ingredients and properties of each item before identifying better and best alternatives. And while it can be a difficult undertaking to change set eating habits, Mart says making the switch can have an instant, positive impact on our overall wellness. “You’re going to feel the best … eating the more natural food. You’re not going to be as inflamed, bloated,” she says. “You’ll have a lot more energy, as well.”
When buying organic, it’s important to understand how the product is made or processed. “The two things you definitely want to buy organic, because they’re most contaminated, are your meats and your dairy products. Those would be the two things to start with,” Mart says.
For produce, Mart references the common Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists. The Clean 15 is a list of products that have little to no trace of pesticides and can be purchased conventional (nonorganic) if desired; the list includes avocados, sweet corn onions and asparagus. The Dirty Dozen are products that are known to have traces of harmful pesticides and include strawberries, kale and spinach highest on the list. “You can either pay up front more now for great food, or you’re going to pay it on the back end with [health issues],” Mart says.
The best place to source produce, Mart says, is from local farmers markets, community co-ops and your own backyard. “… Shopping at a farmers market, local, is way better because you can actually go tour these farms and see what farming practices they’re using,” she says. “If you start your own garden, you can know what you put on; you’re not going to spray it with pesticides.”
Acting with Self-love
For folks with busy lives and schedules, Mart suggests stepping back from stressors and scheduling mealtimes and grocery shopping. It’s easy to lose yourself in the commotion of daily life, but the importance
of making time for self-care is paramount. “It all comes down to that self-love. It really does,” Mart says. “Over the years, with everybody I’ve worked with, whether it be male, female, teenager, you name it, they all have put [themselves] on the back burner. They have zero self-love.”
It’s something that Mart has experienced in her life in the form of abusive relationships and eating disorders. Through the grocery store program, motivational Facebook group (Wellness Warriors) and self-love boot camps for teens and adults, Mart hopes to help others develop healthy relationships with their food, themselves and their community—to be the positive force she herself needed at her lowest point.
“When I pulled that book off the shelf at the library, it really opened my eyes,” Mart says. “There’s always a reason why the universe sends you in these directions … It’s hard to see that when you’re stuck in the muck, but once you get out of it, you see how much of a light that you can be for other people.”
Check the Label
Mart recommends limiting the purchase of products with labels. When it’s not possible, there are ways to navigate them to find the best option.
This marketing term is not regulated and can be placed on anything, even if it has artificial ingredients.
While products do have to meet certain requirements to be labeled as organic, including using only select natural pesticides and fertilizers, the quality or healthiness of the product compared to others isn’t consistent. Look for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic seal, and shop from local growers when possible.
Look for the five-digit code on the product sticker to find more about how it’s grown. When the code ends in “8,” it’s been made with GMOs. A code ending in “9” signals the product is certified organic.
Not only are these foods allowed to have up to 0.5 grams of sugar in a serving (according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines), they often have increased fat content to balance flavor and texture loss from removing sugar.
Don’t leave home without your recipe for healthier grocery shopping. Mart has some easy-to-follow ideas.
- Preplan home meals.
- Compile a list of healthy recipes.
- Shop around the store’s perimeter.
- For produce, fresh is best, followed by frozen. Canned goods should be the last option.
- Buy ingredients and produce in bulk to save money.
- Split meat orders with a local farmer.
- Grow your own food.
Jackie Mart offers sweet takes on traditional desserts. (When possible, use organic ingredients.)
Grain-Free, No-Bake Cookie Dough Protein Bars
- 1/2 cup Truvani organic vanilla plant protein powder
- 1/2 cup almond meal/flour
- 1/2 cup nut butter (Ingredients should include just nuts and sea salt.)
- 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. extra virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 cup organic dark chocolate, (chopped) dark chocolate chips (Cacao nibs can be used.)
- Optional: collagen and greens powders for nutritional boost
Stir together until well combined. Press the dough into a pan to desired thickness, and freeze for one to three hours. Cut into bars, and store in the freezer or the refrigerator.
Blueberry Avocado Chia Pudding
- 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
- 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 2 Tbsp. coconut milk (or any other milk of your choice)
- ½ tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. chia seeds
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth and silky. Divide pudding among bowls/cups, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the chia seeds to thicken.