Health claims are everywhere, which makes purchasing food so confusing. Paleo, gluten-free, vegan–which is healthier? Do you pick all-natural, fat-free, dairy-free or sugar-free? There are more food products lining grocery stores that are made in a factory or plant than made from plants, so I decided to cut the B.S. and teach you how to grocery shop for real food. This guide to real food grocery shopping will help you debunk daunting labels and leave you feeling confident when deciphering what really is real food. 

Food is everywhere and easier than ever to access, but is it all actually food? Grocery stores fill their shelves with more food-like products, as Michael Pollen likes to say, than actual food.

Real food is or is made from whole foods, but what exactly does that mean? Whole foods are minimally processed and if at all and unrefined. That means that they are in their natural form, such as an apple or carrot. Marketing has done an amazing job creating enticing food-like products, leaving consumers walking away with processed, refined, preservative-filled "food." These food-like products derail consumers from purchasing real food like fruits, vegetables, raw nuts/seeds, whole grains, fish, meat, and dairy. 

Petrina Pinto

Since now you understand what real food is, it's time to feel confident in the grocery store. What follows is a guide to real food grocery shopping:

Step 1: Shop the Parameter 

Petrina Pinto

Shop on the parameter of the grocery store. Fill your cart with as many fruits and vegetables you like. 

When deciding whether to buy organic or not, at least stick with always buying the "dirty dozen" organic. The dirty dozen are the produce that get treated with the most pesticides. Pesticides are toxic and increase the free-radicals in your body.

After you fill your cart with produce, if you're an omnivore, gather your meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and cheese. Try to avoid conventional meat and purchase pastured and grass-fed meat. Choose wild caught over farmed fish. Buy organic, pastured eggs or omega-3 eggs.

The outskirts of the grocery store are where the majority of the real food is found, so do most of your shopping there.

Step 2: Venture to the Aisles 

Venture into the aisles. Generally, the outer aisle still contains real foods, such as grains, pasta, and legumes. Grab your grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and wild rice.

Don't forget your beans, because we all know the song, "beans, beans, the magical fruit...." When choosing your legumes either buy dried or canned, but be aware: this is where companies begin adding unnecessary ingredients. Canned beans should only contain the bean, water, and possibly salt. Often you'll see canned beans with added sugar or oil, but I always question why? It's not necessary. 

Step 3: Visit the Freezer 

Cruise through the arctic zone. The freezer section is filled with frozen versions of the produce sections. It also tends to be cheaper than fresh produce. Select your favorite frozen fruits and vegetables, but make sure the only ingredients in the package is the actual fruit or vegetable. There shouldn't be any added oil, sugar, or additive. Keep it simple

Step 4: Read Labels 

Stroll deeper into the aisles where all the colorful, eye-catching, packaged goods are found. This is where you'll become a professional label reader. The inner aisles are filled with food-like products. The most important thing you need to do in these aisle is read, read, read. Reading the labels will tell you what exactly the rectangular box of crunchy, sugary goodness contains.

As your read the ingredients list be weary of ingredients you cannot pronounce. If you don't know what the ingredient is or can't think of the ingredient in its natural form, then your body won't recognize it. If you purchase a processed item make sure the ingredients are made from real food.

Step 5: Beware of Added Sugar

Beware of sugar. Sugar is in everything. Obesity is an increasing national epidemic and is linked to processed foods. Processed food or food-like products are loaded with sugar, so avoid foods that list a sweetener such as sugar, dextrose, maltodextrin, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, rice syrup, dried cane syrup, or other processed sugars in the top three ingredients. Ingredients are listed from top down by weight. If you're going to buy a product with sugar try to stick with natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, monk fruit, and dates. Be conscious of your sugar intake and the type of sugar.

Step 6: Live a Little

Break the rules sometimes. If you want double stuffed dipped oreos, go for it. Strive to mainly eat whole foods, but live a little and try the addicting concoctions food scientists have created and labeled as foods every once and a while. 

Eating real food is simple: shop the parameter, focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid unnecessary ingredients, read the ingredient lists, be conscious of sugar, and break the rules every once and a while. Check out your local farmer's market for the best real food, label-less grocery shopping. Farmer's markets are the best place to buy local, seasonal, fresh whole foods.

Real food doesn't need health claims.