Food shopping: A guide for the flummoxed

Fred the lettuce appears on a supermarket shelf, photo by Lisa Burnell

In a world where we’re often overwhelmed by so many calories but not always enough goodness, here are nutritional therapists Beatrice Rabkin and Sunette van Zyl‘s tips on how to shop for real food – as published in Chapter 6 “Health and nutrition” of The Food Dialogues Report, written by Leonie Joubert and published by Cape Town Partnership and Oranjezicht City Farm. “Eat like your life depends on it,” they say, “because it does.”

Buying in the supermarket or online

  • Shop in the outer aisles, which are usually where the fresher produce is packed out.
  • Choose colourful fresh foods, so there is a ‘rainbow on your plate’, or aim for biodiversity.
  • Write a list and stick to it.
  • Never go shopping hungry.
  • Buying frozen or dried foods online, in bulk, is a way of cutting down costs and is often delivered free.

Read the labels

  • If you don’t recognise, or can’t pronounce or spell the names of the main ingredients, you might want to avoid them.
  • Ingredients are listed by volume, so if the first three or four ingredients are refined or sugared, think twice.
  • Be wary of ‘all natural’ labels.
  • Be wary of food that’s advertised by cartoon characters, because it’s targeting kids, it’s often refined and is trying to blur the lines betwee the need for food and an emotional connection with it.
  • The fewer ingredients in a product the better, try to avoid foods that contain more than three to four ingredients.

Know your fish

  • SMS the name of a fish to 079 499 8795 and receive a text message back saying whether it appears on the WWF-SASSI sustainable fishing ‘green’, ‘orange’ or ‘red’ list.
  • Smaller fish have lower exposure to mercury because of their place in the marine food chain.

Farmers markets and local producers

  • Supporting urban farmers such as the Abalimi community gardeners or many of the small commercial Philippi farmers keeps money within the community, boosts their own business viability, and is a great source of organic, seasonal fresh foods that are chemical free and sustainably farmed.

Some more rules of thumb

  • If it colours the milk, don’t eat it.
  • Try to choose foods that have more than 5g fibre per serving, and less than 3g sugar.
  • The ‘dirty dozen’ are the vegetables that tend to carry the greatest pesticide residue because of how they are farmed or the nature of their skins. These are apples, grapes, strawberries, peaches, sweet peppers, celery, nectarines, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, snap peas, potatoes and chillies.


Read more from the Food Dialogues Report

This article first appeared in the the Food Dialogues Report. Click on the link to download the PDF (36mb), or flip through it on Issuu.


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