Where I shop, Looking at Ingredients

I would like to say that, like many others, I shop at a variety of grocery stores based on the availability and options of things I need. However, I’m not sure that many others shop at such a variety of places. So if you’re a person who shops at 3+ stores for groceries, I’d love to hear your comments! 

Before we dig into the comparison of the few stores I selected to discuss, it should be of note that this project opened my eyes to a couple things. Read on and discover how this project will change where and what I shop for in the future… 

Since I’ve been doing Hungry Harvest since August, my weekly grocery list has generally decreased in size, which is nice. The “farm fresh” eggs from HH are only $2.50 (that’s so cheap! but I need to look into that farm fresh claim) and I love the customizable box, that it’s delivered to my door, weather proof and everything. I can’t say enough good things about HH, so if you want to try it out, here’s referral link: 


HH may cover a lot of my needs, but I still shop at the following stores on a weekly basis too… 

Trader Joe’s: I could have been a sponsor for TJ’s with the number of times I’ve said out loud, “I didn’t realize how having a Trader Joe’s so close to home would literally change my life.” Of course TJs has it’s ups and downs. Some ups: the employees are so happy and friendly, they have a number of interesting items, and they make it easy to shop based on allergens or dietary restrictions. The downs: they’re not actually as cheap as I thought, the produce often has a lot of packaging, it’s hard to find some items that contain less fillers/stabilizers or are enriched accordingly.

Things I had consistently purchased at TJs include:

  • spinach
  • bananas
  • onions
  • avocados
  • Salad dressings 
    • I get sick of making basic ones at home and need variety, so I like the Goddess dressing (which you probably already know because I was obsessed) and the Turmeric Almond Milk dressing
  • Coffee 

Whole Foods: Ahhh, Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods, I really do. For a long time, this was the only place I shopped outside of farmers markets / CSAs. Specifically when I lived in Seattle, I didn’t shop anywhere else for two years largely because there was no where else that I can think of in hindsight that was conveniently located for me.

Things I consistently purchase at Whole Foods include: 

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Fresh baked bread
  • Soy milk
  • Coffee 
  • Kombucha 

Eastern Market: Seasonally, of course the farmers market is better in the summer and fall. I’ll buy produce and eggs at the farmers market. I venture inside to pick up a rotisserie chicken from time to time. I like buying chickens here over WF because they’re usually a little cheaper ($8 compared to Whole Food’s $12) and it’s supporting local business. The people at Canales Delicatessen are also really friendly. I haven’t had anything else from them but their menu and other items look good!

Sometimes I’ll buy cheese at Bower’s Cheese, pork or beef at Union Meat Company, and last week I picked up duck confit legs at Market Poultry (which were frozen, a Bella Farms product which is fine, and cost $60… so I won’t be doing that again). It’s laughable what the vendors inside charge for fresh produce that isn’t local or in season. Good thing Trader Joe’s is so close 😛

Produce vendor inside Eastern Market with ridiculous prices.

Harris Teeter:  I don’t shop a lot at HT, but I will sometimes get produce, frozen goods (usually if I have a coupon or want to try something new / convenient) or packaged goods if the ingredients check out. I have lead a couple grocery store tours at HT and it’s not a bad store. However, my discovery below will keep me from shopping for groceries there on a regular basis.

Reading Ingredients: 
The biggest focus of a grocery store tour is looking at labels. When buying anything that isn’t fresh produce, it’s super important to look at ingredients labels. This is the only information that really matters on a package (well besides the price tag, and if you’re buying meat or dairy there are other things that matter, too). 

Many companies use marketing techniques to try to make their product seem better than the one sitting next to it, claiming things like “heart healthy”, “No GMOs”, “Gluten Free”, etc when some of those things can be assumed with common sense (example: rice products shouldn’t have gluten in the first place). After staring at the egg selections at Whole Foods for about five minutes yesterday, then laughing out loud at the yogurt aisle, I’ve decided to make “labeling and claims” my focus piece for next month. 

Anyway, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has put together a great list of ingredients to look out for in their consumer resource “Chemical Cuisine“, and although there is some sage advice out there about being cautious of ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, that isn’t always true. 

  • Examples:
    • Phytosterols / phytoesterols – these are plant derivatives which help reduce cholesterol, though if the product has these it will likely make a “reduces cholesterol” claim on the front of the package.
    • Ferrous Gluconate – a form of iron. Used by the olive industry to generate a uniform jet-black color and in pills as a source of iron.

Most of us have smart phones and can simply google an ingredient we don’t recognize (bookmark the CSPI link above!) and make the call whether or not to purchase that product on the spot. 

Sugar: If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to minimize the amount of added sugars in your diet as much as possible. These are different from natural sugars, which occur naturally in foods and are wrapped up with other nutrients. Added sugars are just sugar, which impact our blood sugar levels much more substantially, are addictive, an empty source of calories, and should be minimized. Although the nutrition label will soon differentiate added sugar from natural sugar, the food industry has until January 1, 2021 before that regulation is mandatory, so look out for the following items on an ingredients list, which indicate added sugar:

Agave Nectar
Barley Malt Syrup
Beet Sugar
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown Sugar
Cane Crystals
Cane Sugar
Coconut Sugar
Corn sweetener
Corn syrup
Cane Juice
Evaporated Cane Juice
Fruit juice concentrate
corn syrup
Invert sugar
Malt syrup
Maple syrup
Palm Sugar
Raw sugar
Rice Syrup

Products I Buy and Why:

  • Soymilk
    • Why? –  Soymilk is the only non-protein enriched plant based milk that has as much protein as cow’s milk. Almond, rice and other plant-based milks have 0-1g protein per serving where as soy milk will have 7-9g per serving depending on the brand. 
    • Where? – Whole Foods
    • Because… It’s hard to find soy milk at TJs that doesn’t have carrageenan on the ingredients list. The one option that doesn’t isn’t enriched with calcium or vitamin D, which are the nutrients you’re aiming for in milk (as well as protein).
    • Also… It also takes a lot of water and almonds to make almond milk, so I would argue that almond-based products are not better options than soy products. Almond milk and other nut-based milks are watery and don’t taste good, IMO. What can be done about that? Plump them up with fillers and sweeten them up with sugar! No thanks.
    • But what about estrogen? –  Most of the bad hype out there about the estrogens in soy products being bad for us is just that… hype. According to science, which is nicely wrapped up by our friends at Harvard’s The Nutrition Source, soy products consumed on a regular basis are actually protective against breast cancer and prostate cancer for the average person (buzz word: isoflavones). The bottom line, you’re likely not going to consume enough soy estrogen to negatively impact your body unless you’re consuming *a lot* of soy products.
My favorite salad dressing is sort of a let down with vegetable oil as the first ingredient.
  • Goddess dressing:
    • Why? Um… well, it tastes really, REALLY, good!
    • Where? – Trader Joe’s 
    • Because…  price ($0.25 per serving), taste
      • Actually, as I was writing this it came to my attention that vegetable oil is the base used in TJs Goddess dressing 😞 
    • In April, I will focus on why we should be decreasing vegetable oils from our diets. I will still purchase the dressings on occasion, but will focus on making my own with olive, flaxseed, or walnut oils 
    • On Sunday this week, I will try to recreate TJs Goddess dressing in my kitchen
  • Goddess style dressings are usually made with sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, tahini, and herbs. In addition to trying to concoct my own, I’ll also be trying this version from Genius Kitchen
Who else loves rotisserie chicken?!
  • Rotisserie chickens
    • Why? – It’s so easy to peel the meat off and use it a number of ways and is generally cheaper than buying just breasts or thighs, and I like eating the skin (and I don’t care if you think that’s gross)
    • Where? – Varies… Whole Foods, Eastern Market
    • Because… The chickens at EM are $8. The chickens at WF are $12. The chickens at EM are juicy but the skin isn’t always crispy. The chickens at WF are kinda dry, but the skin is usually crispy. So it’s a wash, I just usually go where is convenient when I need a chicken. 
    • Also – I use the carcasses to make chicken stock 😀

Quick cost comparison for some of my typical groceries:

  Trader Joe’s  Whole Foods Harris Teeter
$2.49 per 6oz or
$4.99 for 16oz
$0.31 per oz
$4.99 – 11oz
$0.45 per oz
$0.99 ea $1.49 ea 
($1/ea in 4ct
bag, $3.99)
$0.90 – $2.50e
Bananas  $0.19 ea $0.49 per lb 
(est 3 per 1lb, ~$0.16 ea)
$0.20 ea
Soy milk (store brand, organic) $1.79 per 3oz or
$2.99 per 64oz or
N/A  – none w/o carrageen, added sugar

Cost comparison of ingredients per one smoothie:

Whole Foods
Trader Joe’s
Spinach (3oz) $0.93 $1.26
Soy milk (1 cup) $0.37 $0.45
Banana (1/2) $0.08 $0.10
other fruit (1/2 cup) ~$0.30 ~$0.30
Whey protein $0.92 $0.92
Total $2.60 $3.03

Lessons learned –

I thought that Trader Joe’s was cheaper than Whole Foods… but I thought wrong! Roughly $0.40 per smoothie might not seem like a big difference up front, but in my usual diet I drink these six days per week! That’s $2.40 per week or nearly $10 per month in difference. Plus the fact that buying a 4-pack of avocados actually makes them the same price as at TJs… I can freeze extra avocado or invite a friend over for avocado toast, but I bet during Whole 30 and Keto, I’ll have no problem going through 4 avocados per week. So I guess I’m trading out TJs for WFs on my usual shopping trips.

Note: I will be keeping a log of prices per grocery store run for the next few weeks (who know, maybe forever) and will likely revisit this topic. What would the difference be if I purchased the same produce at either store instead of Hungry Harvest?

Apparently I need to take my own advice and look more closely at ingredients in salad dressings that I love so much. Most companies use vegetable oil as the base in their salad dressings because it is cheaper than olive oil. However, some vegetable oils are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. I’ll write about healthy fats and omega-3/6/9s in my April blog post. 

Another thing I found, or rediscovered, about WFs during this project is how awesome their website is! With everything from keto resources and easy to find products to support a keto diet to an awesome arsenal of recipes categorized to reflect what you’re looking for (cost, number of ingredients, plant-focused, diet-focused, etc) www.wholefoodsmarket.com is a resource we can all keep in our pocket. 

Some of my other favorite things about Whole Foods… consumer information, local apples of a diverse variety, city loaves 🙂

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