Expect to be introduced to a wide variety of cheeses. Expect to pay handsomely for them as well. Natural markets cater to a wealthy clientele, so don't go in expecting healthy bargains. However, for those who like to experience exotic cheeses, you'll find great choices. Modest amounts of great cheese will always be better than large amounts of so-so cheese in my opinion. As a rule, cheese is a high-calorie food, so compare the differences and weigh your options.
Like buying in bulk? Here's your chance. These markets pride themselves on the self-serve bin offerings. You'll find staples in large bins but beware the temptation of super-sizing your selections.
Cookies and crackers earn lots of valuable shelf space in the natural markets, and they are popular with informed shoppers as they are trans-fat-free. Read the labels, however, and select ones that have not replaced trans-fats with saturated fat.
The frozen section is there for people looking for a quick, healthy dinner or snack. Some are worthy and many are not. Pay attention to the nutritional information and scrutinize with choosing for convenience. Don't be surprised to see high-fat and high-calorie offerings just as you would in a traditional supermarket.
Product placement plays a key role in moving expensive or designer items out of their stores. You might have just handpicked a colorful array of fresh greens and placed them into a biodegradable bag. So far so good, until you notice that next to the beautiful greens are sinful selections of dressings, some of which are packed with fat, sugar and sodium. Choose light dressings or herb-infused vinegars instead. After all, if the greens are fresh and tasty, why cover them up with heavy, overbearing dressings?
Canned goods will be much better looking. For instance, stylish soup cans won't necessarily be filled with healthy soups. Wise shoppers have strong-armed companies into making low-sodium soups. These are the ones that should end up in your basket.
Beware the bakery, where pastry chefs become quite adept at making empty calories look beautiful. Many feel entitled to include a few tempting treats, rationalizing that everything else in the cart is healthy and good for them. The problem is the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't require nutritional labeling on foods that are prepared at the retail outlet, so it is impossible to know how much sugar and fat goes into each. Read the listed ingredients, remembering that the first items listed are what make up most of the dessert.
As consumers who are concerned about our health, it is important to know what makes up the food we eat. Organic and natural food markets are only as good as we make them. Just as in any food market, we must read labels and select only the cream of the crop. Good and bad food choices are readily available everywhere.
Cindy Boggs, fitness consultant, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training and healthy eating to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindys...@aol.com">cindys...@aol.com. Look for her fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.