The grocery store is an adult’s entertainment resort, similar to what Disneyland is for a child. You have before you a warehouse full of food, a big trolley, and plastic money to swipe. You see at the store young adults, bachelors, newlyweds, the not-so-newlyweds, new parents, grandparents, and children. Some are busy on the phone getting last minute instructions and confirmations. Others take their time to pause at each shelf and read the labels. With a look of fascination or bewilderment, they go aisle-by-aisle exploring the supermarket.

The trolley is loaded with raw ingredients, frozen food, ready-to-cook meals, instant foods, cereal boxes, syrups, sugary treats, bread spreads, cake mixes, and what not. The food looks (deceptively) healthy, they assure themselves as they push their trolley to the check-out counters.

We make a few mistakes while going for grocery shopping. Most people do go with a shopping list in hand but the question is do we stick to it, and how much?

Take a piece of paper and build a grocery shopping list by drawing a table. Label the columns as per the different aisles.

Baby Food Canned Goods Dairy Meat Produce
Bakery/Baking Goods Cereals/Breakfast Deli Oils Snacks
Beverages Condiments Frozen Food Pasta/Grains Spices

 

Dissect these aisles as per their nutritional contents.

Baby Food

From birth to six months babies require nothing other than mother’s feed or formula. From then onwards, you gradually introduce them to pureed fruits, boiled vegetables, unsweetened yoghurt, finely ground oatmeal, and a small amount of protein. (Do consult your child’s paediatrician before adding new food items.)

Now what is it that we need from the baby food aisle? Probably nothing!

 

Bakery and Baking Goods

Food colours, cake mixes, and syrups give warning signals. Check those warning labels. Baking powder, extracts, chocolate chips, and cooking chocolates are safe buys. Replace the sprinkles and candies with fresh or dried fruit (raisins, apricots, figs) and an assortment of nuts.

 

Beverages

Tea and coffee (in moderation) only! Soda, diet or regular, is a recipe for disaster. By consuming sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid, and high fructose corn syrup, you are welcoming obesity, kidney problems, heart diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, and tooth decay. The 100% fruit juice stored in a fancy package, which comes with an expiry date three months from now, is not healthy. Susan Jebb, Head of the Diet and Obesity Research Group at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Unit at Cambridge University says: “Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit, and it has as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks. Swap it and have a piece of real fruit.”

For a juice to last for months or a year, it has to be stripped of oxygen. With oxygen gone, the real juice taste is gone as well. The flavour is then artificially added to make it taste like juice.

Talking about flavours, we see an assortment of flavoured milk. Apparently, it seems like a win-win situation. Parents are pleased that their children are finally getting their calcium intake, while children are delighted they get to flaunt their drink to their friends: “My drink has strawberries,” and “Mine has almonds and pistachios.” Once, I tasted the strawberry milk – I couldn’t drink more than a few sips as it had too much sugar for my liking. Isn’t homemade milkshake with real fruits and controlled sugar content a much better option?

 

Canned Food

Unless you are expecting sudden guests, canned food is not essential. If you must buy it, make sure you wash the food thoroughly under clean water. Why? A chemical compound is added to canned food to protect it from metal corrosion and bacteria. The food also has high sodium content and preservatives. These can lead to respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath or wheezing, endocrine disorders, heart diseases, and cancer.

 

Cereal and Breakfast Items

Commercial cereals and breakfast bars are nothing more than fabled healthy foods promoted by marketers and advertisers. What are we left with? Multi-grain bread and oatmeal.

 

Condiments

I witnessed an unplanned experiment once. I left a blob of bottled plum chutney on a plate for about an hour as I had to attend to some chore. When I returned, I noticed that the blob of chutney looked like some gluey substance. I could see layers of gel. What was this? As much as ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, and other items have made their way to our shelves and routine food, we really don’t know what we are eating. Exercise caution.

 

Dairy

These are best purchased from a place where they get stocked fresh every day. Milk, eggs, unsweetened non-flavoured yoghurt, cottage cheese, and butter fulfil our calcium requirement and make excellent desserts. Cream cheese and frosting should be occasional indulgences only.

 

Frozen Foods

Void of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, frozen foods are no better than fast food. They are high in sodium, fat, and calories.

 

Pasta and Grains

If it’s white, you don’t need it or at least do not consider it as your staple food. White flour and white rice are stripped of nutrition and loaded with chemicals and bleaching agents. Highly processed food fails to provide any nourishment while giving you a good amount of body fat.

 

Snacks

Is it nutritious? If it doesn’t provide you with any nutritional benefit, perhaps its mere taste is not worth the slow body poisoning. Nuts, fresh fruits, and yoghurt are healthier choices to eat in between meals.

Most commercial food, which gets our attention by the aggressive efforts of marketers and advertisers, is so heavily processed that it is not even fit for consumption. The advertisers extol canned, ready-to-cook, and frozen food for their time-saving attributes. In reality, we are being sold high amounts of sugar, artificial ingredients, preservatives, additives, and extenders.

Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “O you who believe (in the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism)! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you with, and be grateful to Allah…” (Al-Baqarah 2:172)

There! We got our guidance for healthy eating. The reason that Allah (swt) offers such a grand variety of food is that we strengthen ourselves to worship Him. When food fails to provide nutrition, it is not worth the indulgence. Replace packed and processed food with what’s natural. Cook your own meals no matter how awful a cook you consider yourself to be. Time and practice will teach you as they teach other essential things in life.

Educate your family, and especially children, as you switch over to healthier options. You will encounter less resistance and fewer scrunched-up noses, Insha’Allah.