One of the biggest drawbacks of adopting a keto lifestyle can also be one of its greatest advantages. Keto shopping tends to be quite different from the usual process. A diet that takes out all grains, more or less all unprocessed carbohydrates and all vegetable oils tend to be quite simple. In my case, after some initial struggles, I have cut out most dairy too. Problems in that area will be discussed in a later blog.
This very simplicity can be experienced as a little boring as far as choice is concerned. On the other hand, it certainly simplifies shopping from being a major undertaking to a quick whisk around the supermarket a couple of times a week.
Some people still seem to struggle shopping for keto though. Given that, I thought I would give a few tips to help simplify the process.
Tip 1: Stick to the outside aisles
This tip came from Dr. Ken Berry MD (author of the excellent ‘Lies My Doctor Told Me‘) In one of his very informative YouTube videos he pointed out that most of the fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish tend to be found in the outside aisles of any given supermarket. When shopping, it is a good idea to bear in mind the fact that many talented psychologists and social scientists have worked on the design of the store. This is particularly the case when it comes to supermarkets and hypermarkets.
In almost every case, when you enter a supermarket you will be met with the sight of freshly cut flowers, baskets of fruits and vegetables. Beware, you are entering an environment every inch of which is designed to get you to spend. The first start of the manipulation occurs as you enter. Given this wholesome sight, there is a tendency to subconsciously assume that you are entering a place where healthy fayre is the rule. By the time you reach the center aisles, stacked full of processed packets, tine, and adulterated produce of all kinds, you are already carrying this assumption. The idea is to manipulate you without the need for you to ever consciously question what is going on.
Once aware of this manipulative process though, the canny shopper can use it to their advantage. Meats and fish tend to follow on from the fruit and veg, often tucked away in corners. Given that, one can grab almost everything one needs in those first few aisles and head for the tills immediately. Of course, there may be one or two odds and sods to complete the shop, but this can be done in seconds normally.
The take away point here is to be consciously aware of the layout and don’t allow yourself to be manipulated.
Tip 2: Beware of so-called Keto Foods
Another favourite of the commercial interests behind food production is taking any idea or movement and use it to their advantage. I don’t blame these interests for this, it is just capitalism responding to the demands of the market. In that sense, it is fair enough. On the other hand, the wise shopper needs to be aware that the reason that ‘keto ‘products can suddenly be seen everywhere is that these forces can make money out of it.
I remember listening to a very interesting podcast featuring the inestimable Dom D’Agostino. In it, he spoke of testing various fabricated keto products. He felt that approximately 80% of them couldn’t really be classified as keto at all. This process occurs whatever the underlying catalyst may be. If protein is the focus then you will find ‘protein’ bars popping up all over the place. An objective look at many of these bars will reveal that they are often sugary or salty muck with a few peanuts or whatever coated on the outside. If low fat is the order of the day, then you will find ‘low fat’ products everywhere.
There is an ongoing debate in the keto community about whether it is better to follow a clean or dirty variety of the diet. Clean in this sense tends to mean the wholesome fresh meats, fruit, vegetables, and fish that one will tend to obtain in the outside aisles of supermarkets or via your local traders and smaller outlets. Dirty on the other hand would mean that the person practising this type of diet is nowhere near as fussy and will happily chow down on anything as long as it is claimed to be ‘keto’. As readers of my blog may have guessed, I would put myself very firmly in the ‘clean’ keto camp. If nothing else, it avoids so many compromises and potential complications especially when keto shopping.
Tip 3: Be focused when you shop
The notion of staying focussed applies in many ways, from reading the labels of any packaged foods to being aware of any particularly good deals around. Again, the point needs to be made that supermarkets are designed to elicit unconscious choices from you. They don’t want you to be in the here and now. Instead, the notion is that you are lead from aisle to aisle in automatic mode.
A great example of this is the use of freshly baked bread. The aroma of these products is both pleasant and enticing. Such a scent is experienced as something pleasant and tends to pull you towards the source. Have you ever noticed how these counters are usually located right at the back of the store? The idea is to draw you into the origin of the aroma. It’s not something you think about, at least not consciously, it’s just a comfortable and pleasant feeling that pulls you in deeper.
Every aspect of the supermarket experience is designed with the idea of getting you to part with more money than you intended. Your task is to stay conscious and realize the situation you are in. Notions of mindfulness tend to come with philosophical or spiritual overtones, but from a more down-to-earth perspective, it just means staying awake and aware. This is a good state of mind to be in when engaged in supplying what your body needs to stay healthy.
Tip 4: Be opportunistic, look for Sales
One of the pleasanter surprises since adopting a ketogenic lifestyle is that it is nowhere near as expensive as I imagined it would be. While it would be true that if you insisted on the very best quality meats and cheeses you could easily spend a small fortune, the normal day-to-day fayre is actually really quite affordable.
As ever with shopping, you need to be alert and keep an eye out for bargains. My local Polish supermarket has an extensive meat section at the rear of the store and will have a ‘promo’ of some sort almost every week. Last week it was what they entitled ‘bones’. These are normally leftover cuts of meat, mostly pork, which they sell off relatively cheaply. On this occasion, it was only £1.46 a kilo (about $1 a lb.). We tend to use it to prepare a very tasty stew on the first day. On subsequent days it becomes the base for a wholesome and nutritional bone broth.
At the same time, you need to build a healthy backbone for the diet when keto shopping, often consisting of foods you will eat on an almost daily basis. Locally, we can find very good value bacon (we generally buy cooking bacon, you get so much meat for the price), cut-price eggs from the local Farmfoods store, and several varieties of highly nutritious organ meat. All this tends to be priced very reasonably. In fact, I would be hard put to say that the ketogenic diet in practice is any more expensive than the vegetarian diet I was following previously.
Tip 5: Check Labels for Carbs
For anything that comes in a packet and has a label on you need to exercise extra caution. It is really surprising how manufacturers are constantly attempting to change the taste of something by adding extra sugar. One of my personal weaknesses is chocolate. As I wanted to keep the carbs in check, I would follow the standard advice to look for dark chocolates with upwards of 74% cocoa solids. I have looked through quite a few labels of such chocolate bars and often found that they will still have upwards of 30 grams per 100 grams of chocolate or more.
Much the same goes for peanut butters. Lower quality versions tend to be quite high in carbs. My expectation was that this particular product would be reasonably high in proteins and fats, but much lower in carbohydrate. Woe betide me when I discovered that many of the cheaper versions can have upward of 35 or more grams of carbs per 100 grams of peanut butter.
The takeaway from this is, when keto shopping, if you must have packaged foods, then simply read the label carefully before you purchase the product.
Tip 6: Go for full-fat options
From a keto point of view, low fat is not what we are going for, of course. Due to years of indoctrination though, it is often difficult for people to appreciate that going for the ‘low-fat’ option is not in their own best interests. Many products, particularly of the dairy variety, will be labeled ‘low-fat’ as if this was some kind of recommendation. In practice, ‘low-fat’ often actually means ‘added sugar’. This is done in order to add taste. Without the fat, many foods can taste very bland and uninteresting. The result is often far, far less good for you than the original, full-fat variety.
Tip 7: Be aware of local opportunities
I alluded to this point in Tip 4 above. It often pays to be aware of unique local opportunities and possibilities that your location has to offer. In the Norfolk town I live in there are Polish, Lithuanian, and Portuguese communities. Each have their own individual food cultures, but each is well adapted to keto shopping. Perusing these shops can offer up really quite amazing possibilities both in terms and variety but also from an economic point of view.
If you live in the countryside you may well be able to take advantage of farmers markets. You can even deal directly with the farms themselves and often pick up quite fantastic bargains, especially if you can buy in bulk.
Each area will tend to offer up its own possibilities, though you may have to use some imagination to take advantage of them.
One of the joys of keto shopping is the sheer simplicity. The time needed for shopping can often be reduced by 50% or even less when compared to a standard diet. On a good day, I can be in and out of the local superstore in under 20 minutes. loaded up with enough shopping to last four or five days. As with keto in general, a certain amount of discipline is needed, but the speed helps in this regard. The job of the supermarket designers is to tempt you into buying things that you weren’t intending when you went in. Keto makes it much, much easier to avoid such temptation. This is particularly true when you are fully conscious of the nature of this game. It is a literal case of ‘caveat emptor’!
Keto is a lifestyle that frees up much of your time and attention. Much the same can be said for keto shopping. Take advantage of this simplicity. Would you rather be spending time wandering up or down supermarket aisles or doing something you love with people you care for instead? The choice is yours.