When it comes to buying fruit and veg we often get asked should it be organic and local and is the fruit and is the veg we buy in a supermarket the same quality as what you can get in a local grocers? In an ideal world, we would all be eating local, organic produce but as this is not reality for most people – we feel it is more important to eat your fruit and vegetables than it is to worry about them being organic or not. The bigger issue is more about making sure you are getting wholefoods in your diet.
Studies have shown that even the most sprayed fruit, such as grapes, the benefits of eating the fruit outweigh the negatives of the chemical sprays. It is not about aiming for perfection, buy organic and local if and when you can, and just do your best!
Food labels can be confusing and statements such as ‘low fat’ and ‘no sugar’ can often be misleading and lead us to believe that a product can be healthier than it actually is.
The best foods you can buy are the ones with no labels such as fruit and veg and fresh produce! However, if you are buying packaged foods, be sure to take a look at the labels.
Here are some of our top tips for reading labels and being a savvy shopper:
First and foremost – try to eat foods that do not have labels. Following a wholefood plant-based diet means eating mainly unrefined and unprocessed foods that do not need a label. There are some mildly refined products that make eating this way easier- such as tinned beans and pulses, tomato paste, whole-grain wraps, and frozen fruit and veg.
Do not trust the claims that are made on the front of any pack, they are there to catch your attention and to sell the product! The good thing is, the ingredients can never lie!
Read the ingredient list on the back and aim for foods that have a very short list of ingredients that are recognisable. Pay attention to ingredients that end in ‘ose’- as this usually means that they contain sugar. Ingredients are listed in order of descending volume (although sometimes different forms of sugar can be used to avoid listing sugar as the main ingredient).
When it comes to buying wholegrain products, look for items that are described as 100% wholegrain or 100% spelt, for example.
Check the nutritional information panel on the back of the product and the traffic light or % daily amount panel on the front for the following:
Fat: over 17.5g fat per 100g is considered high in fat for packaged foods, and will be marked that way with a red traffic light on the front of packaging. It can be presumed that this is refined fat, such as oil. Try to aim for foods that have the green traffic light on them. This does not apply to wholefood sources of healthy essential fatty acids, such as avocados, nuts and seeds.
Sugar: whole plant-based foods may contain some sugar, referred to as intrinsic sugar. It is built in to the structure of the food, so your little pot of fruit salad might look high in sugar on the label, but this is not added sugar. Added sugar, as it appears on the ingredients list, must be minimised wherever possible; even natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup, be mindful of them, and aim for less than 5g per 100g.
Salt: try to pick foods that have little to no added salt. 6g per day is the upper limit. A slice of bread can have 1g of salt, so just a few slices of bread cold have you halfway to maxing out your salt intake for the day! Aim for less than 0.3g salt per 100g.
In the EU, salt is used in labelling, but other countries use sodium. If you use sodium, 2400mg per day is the upper limit, so make sure that the milligrams of sodium do not exceed the calories per serving on packaged foods.
Cholesterol and Trans Fat: In the EU, cholesterol and trans fat do not appear on the label. We recommend that any packaged foods you buy that are labelled with cholesterol or trans fat above 0 should be avoided.
These ingredients are a little fancier and can be a bit more difficult to source. However, you will be able to find all of them in a large supermarket, your local health store or online. These ingredients can really take a dish to the next level.