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  • Kate Egelhof & Rachel Munson

Navigating the Grocery Aisle: A Guide

It's been a long day, you're on your way home but stop at Harmony Co-op to grab a few essentials before heading home to cook dinner, put your feet up, and relax for the evening.

If you're anything like me, you play your grocery list on repeat in your mind so you don't forget it - "Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Eggs, Kombucha, home. Kale, Brussels, Eggs, Kombucha, home, etc."

You walk into Harmony, provide a quick hello to the cashier, and you're on your way to the produce section. "Kale, kale, kale. Ah, Kale! But wait, organic kale and conventional kale? What's the difference and which one should I get? And then there is local? It's the same with the Brussels Sprouts. Why should I buy organic? I feel like I should...but why? What does it mean?"

This internal dialogues is not too off-base for the majority of us while shopping at a natural foods store. I don't know about you, but more often than not, I have resorted to my trusty mobile computer (cell-phone) to discover the answer about the newest food trend. Free range vs. Pasture raised? Grass-fed vs. Grain Fed? Do I need to buy this Gluten Free? What the heck does the PRIMAL stamp on this jar of mayonnaise mean?


We're here to help. More than anything, these classifications of various foods allows consumers who follow specific lifestyles to easily understand and navigate what they are looking for. However, for the rest of us it can be really confusing, but it's an excellent learning opportunity - turns out, I (Rachel) mostly eat a paleo/primal diet. Who knew?

Let this glossary help you navigate our aisles with ease, but as always, feel free to catch one of our employees on the floor - we are full service after all. We'd be happy to assist you in your grocery shopping journey and if we don't know the answer, we can point you in the direction of someone who does.


Classifications That You See Most Often

Gluten-free: Gluten is the protein in wheat (also durum, semolina, farro, khorasan, einkorn, spelt, rye, barley, and triticale) responsible for bread dough’s stretchiness and structure. Gluten-free diets are helpful for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or wheat allergies; they are also followed by practitioners of other popular diets, such as the Paleo and Primal diets.

Organic: USDA certification meaning no genetically modified organisms (GMO), no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers went into the creation of that product. Organic animal products mean that the animals were fed organic feed and were not "enhanced" using antibiotics or hormones. It also means that no artificial ingredients, colors, preservatives, or flavors were used in the production of the product.

Vegan: To be vegan means that you do not consume or use any animal by-product. Animal byproducts include dairy products, eggs, meats, honey, gelatin, & more. Veganism also often translates to personal lifestyle meaning the individual does not wear or use any animal byproduct (i.e. leather or wool).

Local: Local products are considered to be products grown and/or processed within 100 miles of Harmony. (Examples include: Clearwater Woodcraft produce, Secret Garden Soup Mixes, Wollman Coffee Beans, Zeller’s Natural Health Happy PMS, etc.)

Regional: Regional products are considered to be products grown and/or processed within Minnesota’s “Tri-State” area; Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. (Examples include: Kadejan Chicken, Fox Farm Pork, Northstar Bison, Natural Way Mills Flour Products.)

Common Trend Classifications

1. Paleo diet: Also known as the “Paleolithic diet”, “caveman diet”, and “stone-age diet”. A modern diet/food plan popularized by Loren Cordain that advises eating only foods presumably consumed by humans during the Paleolithic (“caveman”) era. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, meat, seafood, eggs, and organ meats are permitted; seeds, grains, legumes, dairy (except for grass-fed butter), sugar, and processed foods are not. Controversial in some circles for a number of reasons (for one, no one is completely sure what early man actually ate; also, the human digestive system has changed and evolved since that time) but popular especially among fitness adherents.

2. Primal: Much like the Paleo diet, though less restrictive in some respects; occasional dairy (preferably raw/fermented and grass-fed), legumes, and some fermented soy products are allowed.

3. Grain-free: Eliminates all grains, including gluten-free grains (like rice and corn); pseudo-grains like amaranth and quinoa (which are seeds) are allowed in small quantities. Not low-carb as starches (like sweet potatoes) are allowed. Some find it helpful for digestive support, food addiction, and mental health.

4. Keto/ketogenic: A very high-fat, virtually zero-carb diet originally developed for severe epilepsy. An extremely high intake of fats (today MCT oil, or medium-chain triglycerides, is used frequently) and correspondingly low-to-no-carbs forces the body to burn fats instead of glucose and initiates the desired state of “ketosis”. Adverse effects can include constipation, excessive fat levels in the blood (hyperlipidemia), and kidney stones. The keto diet is used “off-label” for weight loss, insulin resistance, and acne.

Health Related Classifications

1. Celiac disease: An autoimmune disease in which the body can attack its own intestine and gut lining when gluten is consumed; the damage this causes can affect nutrient absorption and lead to a host of potential problems including malnutrition, anemia, vitamin deficiencies, neurological problems, and even other autoimmune disorders and cancer. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a blood test or intestinal biopsy.

2. Gluten intolerance: When those who do not test positive for celiac disease still experience symptoms found in celiac disease (digestive problems, “brain fog”, depression, ADHD, etc.) and find relief when removing gluten from their diet.

Definitions that let you know how the product was raised

1. Grass-fed: animals fed grass/alfalfa, as close to natural diet as possible. Helps maximize the nutritional benefits of the meat/dairy—grass-fed meat has higher Omega-3 levels as well as some vitamins. Does not necessarily mean “pasture-raised” or “free-range”, as feedlot/caged animals may still be fed grass; additionally, there are no uniform labeling standards for grass-fed meat in the United States and animals can be considered “grass-fed” even if they have only eaten grass for a short time.

2. Grain-fed: what we typically get in the store. Grain-fed beef is cheaper both for the farmer (corn and soy are subsidized, and a grain-fed animal will fatten up and reach market weight more quickly) and for the consumer; the meat is milder-tasting and more fatty than grass-fed meat.

3. Pasture-raised: Animals given ample space to roam outdoors. This does not necessarily mean grass-fed, as the animals may still be fed grain. Pasture-raised poultry is considered “certified humane” by Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) if there is at least 108 square feet of space per bird, plus access to a barn for cover.

4. Cage-free: Animals (usually used to refer to chickens) not in cages. This does not necessarily mean free-range, just that the hens have at least 1.5 square foot of space per bird. The birds may be in a barn or other building.

5. Free-range: Animals given access to the outdoors. Does not necessarily mean full-time outdoors, and “access” may be defined as a porch or run. Free-range animals are “certified humane” by the HFAC if there is at least two feet of outdoor space per bird.

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