Thursday, August 14, 2008
The Bulk Food Section - Your Place of Worship!
Since I truly believe that understanding how to shop in the bulk section is a key to being able to save money and feed yourself and your family well at the same time, I thought it might be a good idea to take a closer look.
The reasons to shop in bulk are several:
- unparalleled bargains - you will find the cheapest and most nutrient dense foods there
- No - packaging means no waste and no dyes used to print unnecessary cartons - less polluted waters
- No advertising ever - when is the last time you saw a catchy commercial advertising black beans - never? - bingo! There is no advertising for bulk food items - that means less cost to you, because we, as the consumers on top of everything else pay for our own brainwashing!
So - this is bargain central - if you shop the right way. How could you possibly go wrong? Well, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
Let’s look at the different items featured. You can easily tell the quality of your local health food store by the size of their bulk food section. Believe me, in this instance - size matters! Some stores try to work around having people help themselves, by prepackaging everything for them - for instance Whole Foods operates this way. I personally feel nothing beats the control you have measuring your own quantities and checking on the freshness. Also you can bring your own containers to fill -just pre-weigh your containers and then you don’t have to waste another plastic bag or tub.
Let’s break it down - the different sections will contain:
Nuts - plain and sugar, chocolate or yogurt-covered
Trail Mixes - conglomerates of nuts dried fruits and sometimes candy
Dried Fruits- all kinds sulfured and unsulfured, sweetened and unsweetened
Tea & Coffee
Seeds - sunflower, pumpkin roasted or not
Grains - form the familiar - oats to the exotic - amaranth and quinoa
Beans and Lentils
I don’t know about you, but I have no problem separating the food from the junk, but of course it is tricky.
Let’s go one item at a time:
BUY: Nuts - especially the unroasted ones - see if you can afford organic - but do buy the nonorganic ones if you can’t
DON'T BUY: Yogurt covered, tamari or cinnamon roasted ones - a waste of money and so highly processed that their nutritional benefits become insignificant - because of excessive sugar or salt
also note: broken nuts seem to be a bargain, but are actually more likely to be rancid - to check, see what color the broken edges of the nuts are: yellow=rancid, white=fresh, but eat them soon
DON’T BUY: They are a "no buy" - because they are usually full of cheap fillers - and if you look around - you can create your own mix with fresh ingredients of your choosing - also did you really think I would let you get away with sneaking M&M’s into your diet?
BUY: Unsulphured raisins, apricots, mangos. Everything dried and unsweetened is fine. Especially nutritious dried apricots, figs and prunes.
BUY: All Whole grain Flours, there will be some interesting choices such as soy flour or rice flour - but all are good buys.
BUY: They should all be good buys, some may be a bit sugary, but they are still light years ahead of the crap they sell as cereals. Make it fun for the kids and organize a granola tasting - they may discover favorites
CANDY AND COOKIES:
DON'T BUY: Chocolate covered raisins, blueberries,cranberries, ginger etc
Yogurt covered raisins, sundrops (fake M&M’s), Chinese ginger candies - you get the idea. Unfortunately there are many candy choices in the bulk food section. Are they a bargain? Well, since I believe you generally should try not to waste your money on sugary stuff - I would have to say - NO. However, if you can’t live without the occasional indulgence and you are the master of self control - I guess you could say that some of these candies are better than others. Be careful that your kids don't overindulge and, who are we kidding here, don’t overindulge yourself! Enough said!
BUY: Pretzels and Sesame Sticks are salty little treats and as long as you don’t overdo it they should be fine to add a little crunch in lunch boxes or as a snack. I think they are definitely better than goldfish or cheetos. at least they are whole grain and do not have artificial colors or flavors.
TEA & COFFEE:
BUY: You can find some bargains here. TEA: When buying tea keep in mind that whole leaf tea is the premium kind and what goes in tea bags is the dust that falls off the table, when the premium tea gets processed. What makes it premium - is the flavor, and the fact that premium tea gives you several infusions - meaning you flush the same leaves again and again and you get pot after pot, just without caffeine. With premium green teas you may be able to get anywhere between three and five infusions from the same leaves. So in that sense lose leaf tea can be a bargain.
COFFEE: You will find fair trade, swiss water decaf and other premium varities here. My experience has been, that coffees in the health food store are usually of the highest quality and quite competitive in price.
BUY: One of the greatest health bargains period. They are cheap, easily carried around and full of vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated fats. essential fatty acids and phytonutrients.
They are best eaten raw and should ideally be refrigerated. If you find a health food store that keeps their nuts and seeds in the refrigerator, you know you are in good hands. Otherwise, make sure there is a high turnover - so the nuts and seeds are not exposed to light and room temperatures for long.
Roasted and salted seeds and nuts often go rancid a lot faster than whole, raw ones. The healthy oils can quickly get damaged in the roasting process, becoming more harmful than helpful.
Super seeds: Sunflower seeds (raw and unroasted), flaxseeds ( a big inexpensive way to keep colon cancer at bay),sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
DONT BUY: roasted, sugar coated seeds
BUY: oats, rye, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat(wheat berries), buckwheat, amaranth. bulgur wheat, cous-cous, barley, millet.
There are virtually no bad buys when it comes to grains. Store them airtight and away from light and have fun experimenting.
As long as we stick to “Whole Grains” we should be fine - remember a whole grain is just that - there have to be individual intact whole grains in there. Unfortunately food can be sold as “whole grain” even if 99% of it is actually not whole at all - always go for 100% whole grain or whole wheat. Also be careful “Unbleached flour” on a bread label means absolutely nothing - it just means the refined flour just wasn’t bleached on top of it!
BEANS AND LENTILS:
BINGO - you just hit the jackpot - there is no single food a frugal vegetarian should embrace more than beans and lentils. Just look at the cuisine of some of the poorest countries in the world - India - has wonderful dals - lentil stews - Central American countries embrace their bean dishes. Every single bean you will come across in the bulk food section is a jewel. They are a bit fickle to prepare - I know some of us get gassy - we will get to that in the weeks to come - there are inexpensive and easy ways to avert the gas - but once you crack the code - you will be able to feed yourself well and inexpensively.
BUY: Lentils, brown red or green, kidney, pinto, black, garbanzo, adzuki beans.
BUY: You may be able to get whole wheat pasta in bulk which is almost always a good deal - stay clear of the non-whole wheat variety and also avoid the pasta with vegetable dye - just because the past is green and contains a negligible amount of spinach juice does not make it healthy
BUY: Whole brown rice -short grain, medium grain or long grain, that is up to you - do not buy any white rice - it is a waste of money (you were robbed of 90% of the nutritional value of that rice), try to buy organic, it is not that much more expensive.
So to wrap things up:
When in the bulk food section of your health food store
+ Unprocessed, unroasted nuts
+ Unsulpured dried fruits
+ Whole grain flours
+ Pretzels and Sesame sticks
+ Tea & Coffee
+ Unroasted Seeds
+ all grains
+ all beans or lentils
+ whole wheat pasta
+ brown rice