17 health food store buys – and what to avoid
Walking into a Whole Foods store or market is a great way to feel you're taking the first step towards a happier, healthier you. But sometime larger stores can feel like they're packed to the rafters with ingredients you've never heard of, from Cacao nibs to pink Himalayan sea salt, and it's all too easy to become distracted, ending up with a basket filled with things you don't need. Because all health food shops are different, it's a good idea to find your local store and shop there religiously; you'll learn where things are, what you do and don't like and what works for you. There are some essentials that are a good buy, whatever you're looking for, and we're here to help you find them! The Expertrain team have been scouring the shelves of our local markets and stores (being in London we're lucky enough to have quite a selection) and have come up with some must-buys, as well as a few things that you should probably avoid.
#1. Dried fruit
Dried fruit is a great way to get you started on your way to five-a-day. Add it to granola or muesli, sprinkle it on yogurt or enjoy it as a snack, with some nuts too. Look for dried fruit that doesn't contain any added sugar or preservatives; most found in health food stores should be ok. You can even find ready-made fruit and nut mixes, but again always check the ingredients.
Nuts are a fantastic powerhouse of protein, vitamins and minerals, and if you have a mild allergy or sensitivity, try soaking them overnight in water, then drain and rinse them in the morning. This makes them easier to digest. From walnuts and pecans to brazil nuts, almonds and the humble peanut, nuts can be added to your cooking and baking, used in granola and smoothies or simply enjoyed as a take-anywhere snack. They're a great source of vitamin E and heart-healthy fats.
#3. Essential oils
Essential oils have been used for centuries for a variety of purposes. The one you're probably most familiar with is Lavender, which is renowned for its relaxing properties. A bottle of this pure essential oil will last for months. Just a few drops sprinkled in a warm bath or on your pillow can help you get a good night's sleep. Why not try some eucalyptus oil in your bath; great for any aches and pains after a run!
#4. Snack bars
Be wary in the snack bar aisle, as not all cereal bars are created equal! If you don't believe us, take a look at this post. Look for those with the purest, most natural ingredients – anything that just contains fruit and nuts (such as Nakd bars) is a good bet. These are still high in sugar, but it's naturally occurring sugar from fruit. Having a few snack bars around is ideal for a snack after your workout or whenever the craving for something sweet strikes.
#5. Grains and pulses
Your local health food store is a great place to buy grains and rice in bulk. You know you'll be paying for quality, but it's often easier to find specialist grains and pulses here than it is at your local supermarket. Lentils of all varieties, quinoa, spelt (for baking), chickpeas and black beans can all be purchased in dry form and soaked – this is a much more affordable way to incorporate chickpeas and beans into your diet, and they're packed with protein.
Health food stores aren't just about healthy eating – look closely and you can usually find organic beauty and personal care products too. Commercially available shampoos might provide you with a rich, creamy lather, but at what cost to your health? Many shampoos are packed with chemicals such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which could lead to an itchy, irritated scalp and hair loss. Pick up a bottle of all-natural shampoo next time you're in the health food store – try Rosemary shampoo to give dark hair a healthy shine, Moroccan Argan Oil for dry hair or Tea Tree to ensure your scalp stays healthy; it's naturally antibacterial.
#7. Body wash
Again, great natural body wash products for the bath and shower can be found in Holland & Barrett and other health food stores. You'll find everything from high-end organic brands to own-brand products, so there should be something to suit your budget. Make sure you check the ingredients list to make sure the body wash is as natural as it sounds.
Organic skincare seems to be all the rage at the moment, but the chances are that moisturiser you bought in Superdrug is packed with chemical preservatives. Purchasing natural skincare infused with herbs, essential oils and other ingredients that will enhance the beauty of your skin naturally is a great idea. We love the LaidBare range, which includes a cleanser and toner in one and a range of moisturisers and spot treatments – there are plenty of other natural brands out there too, so it's a case of seeing which ones are stocked by your local store.
#9. Savoury snacks
MSG, also known as yeast extract, hides in many processed savoury snacks you'll find at your local supermarket, not to mention high levels of salt and saturated fat and if you have a savoury rather than a sweet tooth, you might struggle to find healthy snacks. Health food stores stock a range of nuts and natural vegetable or chickpea crisps that don't contain artificial ingredients.
Crackers or crispbread are great alternatives to eating brown or white bread. They can be dipped into soup, crumbled over salad or enjoyed with your favourite toppings as an open sandwich. You'll find super-healthy crispbread in health food stores, but opt for those which contain whole grains, as you'll feel fuller for longer and less likely to snack! We love Amisa Organic Spelt Crispbread with cheese and pumpkin seeds, packed with healthy vitamins and minerals. Top with some healthy salad and it's also a great way to eat more vegetables!
If you don't have time to make your own granola (and we recommend this recipe, if you do), then purchasing cereal at a health food shop is better than your local supermarket; less temptation to opt for something sweet! Choose the simplest options; wholegrain oats that you can whip up at home with milk and some fruit are an ideal choice for winter, or opt for nutty muesli or granola with dried fruits that you can buy in large bags, so you'll always have a healthy breakfast to hand.
#12. Dairy-free milk
If you've made the switch to soy, almond or rice milk (or even oat milk), you probably have a favourite brand, but are you drinking one with additives or sugar? Brands stocked in healthy stores are less likely to contain 'bad' ingredients, although they may cost a little more. Picking up your milk along with the rest of your groceries makes healthy meal planning easier.
#13. Soy products and vegetarian substitutes
Health food shops stock a range of soy products such as tofu and tempeh, and you'll also find meat-free sausage, Quorn mince and other vegetarian substitutes, many with added spices and herbs that make them more flavourful!
#14. Chilled foods and snacks
Don't forget to check out the fridge at your local store – you never know what you might find. On our most recent healthy shopping trip we discovered some delicious fresh falafel; great for a quick meal served with lots of salad, pitta and a Greek yoghurt dip or hummus.
#15. Packet mixes
You might think anything in a packet is 'pre-packaged' – well, it is, but the health food store is likely to have healthier alternatives than your supermarket. We're a huge fan of packet falafel mix – Cauldron and Simon Rimmer brands are delicious and take just minutes to make. You'll also find packet mixes for sauces, without the added ingredients some supermarket brands may have.
#16. Herbs, spices and stock
Picking up vegan-friendly stock cubes at a health food store is easy, but you'll also find a range of low-sodium stocks, herbs and spices, as well as some more unusual ones such as Himalayan pink sea salt, which has numerous health benefits. Specialist items such as cacao nibs, spirulina and wheatgrass can be found here too, and the latter two are great for adding to green smoothies or home baking for a protein and antioxidant boost.
If you just don't have time to make your own Baba Ghanoush or Hummus, pick some up on your next healthy shopping trip. Choose dips with no added extras – guacamole doesn't need to contain double cream!
Things to avoid
Here are a few things we recommend avoiding on your next shopping trip:
There has been some controversy about whether these are actually a healthy choice, and they do boast a rather long list of ingredients. They're okay for an occasional treat, but don't go loading up your basket with a six month supply, as they are designed to be enjoyed one at a time!
Eat Natural Bars or bars with added sugar
Despite their healthy sounding name, these bars actually contain added sugar, with some containing more sugar than a two-finger Kit Kat. Again, fine for an occasional treat, but not for everyday!
Dried fruit with added sugar or preservatives
Most fruit will be natural – you'll find some items such as yogurt covered raisins, designed as a treat, or sugared cranberries. These are delicious, but not great to put in your granola on a daily basis.