If I were drawing a roadmap to living the best life you can, I’d start with this:
Put Quality First!
That applies to everything from relationships to how you spend your time.
And it especially applies to food.
Dr. Mark Hyman coined the term “qualitarian,” for people who eat real, whole foods and avoid anything processed or laden with hormones, chemicals, pesticides, or GMOs.
I love the term and the approach!
But I know that if you’re used to shopping without putting a lot of emphasis on the quality of what you’re buying, getting started can be tricky. And if you’re watching your budget, you need options for purchasing high-quality products without breaking the bank.
So I want to give you some guidelines for making informed decisions that balance great quality with price considerations.
When you eat the best quality meats, you get tons of nutrition. But sometimes “the best” is pricey. Here are your options:
- Beef: Local, pasture-raised, 100% grass-fed and finished
- Pork: Local, pasture-raised
- Poultry: Local, pasture-raised
- Beef: Pasture-raised, grass-fed
- Pork: Organic, free-range
- Poultry: Organic, free-range
- Beef: Mainstream conventional, lean cuts with visible fat trimmed
- Pork: N/A (Conventional pork simply isn’t healthy, so if you can’t afford pasture-raised or organic, choose another protein)
- Poultry: Mainstream conventional
To get the healthiest and highest-quality seafood, look for fish labeled wild (raised or caught in the wild), wild-caught (may have spent some time on a fish farm), or humanely harvested.
You can download a guide to buying healthy seafood in your home state here.
When it comes to veggies, the most important thing is to eat lots of them! You have a bit more leeway than you do with proteins, but quality definitely makes a difference in terms of nutrient and toxin levels. Here is some guidance.
- Ideal: Seasonal, local, organic
- Great: Local and organic
- Good: Either local or organic
- Okay: Conventionally grown but rinsed well to remove possible pesticides
To find out more about pesticides in produce, and to learn which fruits and veggies are most important to buy organic, click here.
When you’re getting eggs, quality is very important. Unfortunately, there are so many labels to choose from that few shoppers really understand what they mean. But now you will! Here are the options from best to worst.
Pasture-raised: Chickens can roam freely, and their diets consist of nutritious grasses and other plants and bugs.
Animal Welfare Approved: This regulated label is a very high welfare standard reserved mostly for family farms. Chickens have continual access to shelter and pasture. No antibiotics are used.
Food Alliance Certified: Chickens are uncaged and have access to the outdoors. This designation is regulated.
Certified Organic: Chickens are given organic feed and no antibiotics unless they’re ill and require them. They must be uncaged and have some access to the outdoors. Compliance is audited.
Certified Humane: Chickens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses but may or may not be kept indoors. They have space to roam freely, and they receive no antibiotics or hormones.
Free Range: Chickens are supposed to have access to the outdoors at least 51% of the time. There are no restrictions on what the birds are fed and no way to verify how long they’re actually roaming around outside.
No antibiotics/no hormones: This label is basically a marketing ploy because these terms aren’t regulated, so their validity is questionable. If you buy eggs labeled Certified Organic, Animal Welfare Approved, or Certified Humane (designations that are regulated), you’re getting antibiotic- and hormone-free eggs.
Omega-3: Chickens are fed fish oil or flaxseed to up the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their eggs. However, the amount isn’t regulated.
Natural: The term natural is sketchy because it isn’t governmentally regulated.
Cage-free: These chickens aren’t roaming around freely in the great outdoors. They’re kept inside barns or warehouses, and their living conditions vary greatly.
Vegetarian: Chickens are fed a diet free of animal byproducts. But chickens aren’t naturally vegetarians, so this diet isn’t the best for them.
American Humane Certified: This certifier allows cage confinement and cage-free systems, so you don’t know what environment your eggs came from.
United Egg Producers Certified: This labeling is very misleading. It sounds authoritative, but this certifier permits routine cruel and inhumane farm practices and caging. So this label really has no value at all.
Quality Fats and Oils
Unhealthy or damaged oils can contribute to inflammation. Healthy fats and oils, on the other hand, can help you lose weight and look younger. Here are the best choices:
Coconut fats: Coconuts are an excellent source of saturated fat and can be used in a variety of great forms, including coconut oil (best for cooking), coconut butter, coconut flakes, and coconut milk.
Olives and avocados: Both olives and avocadoes are terrific sources of monounsaturated fats. Use olive oil and avocado oil for salads, and nibble on both olives and avocados in salads or as snacks.
Animal fats: Animal fats are an excellent choice for cooking, but only if the fats come from organic, grass-fed, pastured animals. When you can find a good source, fats like lard, tallow, butter and ghee (clarified butter) are healthful, delicious options.
The Most Important Step
Knowing how to identify the best quality products at the grocery store is the starting point to becoming a qualitarian. But after understanding comes the most important step: Beginning to think differently about food.
If you’re used to being a bargain shopper, you have to develop a new mindset. You have to forget about always seeking out what’s cheapest and start seeking out the best—buying the best quality you can afford.
For many of us, that’s a big change. And change isn’t always comfortable, especially at first. But living a qualitarian life is worth it.
Your health is worth it.
You are worth it!
Keep thinking big and living bold!