One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident

ASK RONI Q&A

Ask Roni: Product Recommendations

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Hi Roni

I’m a long time reader of your blog and Twitter follower (I’m @SarahJayBee) and I have a question. I’m about to move from Ireland to America and one of my biggest fears is that I’ll put on tons of weight. Are there any specific brands or products I should be aware of when shopping? Or cupboard staples you can recommend? I know that some products trick consumers into thinking they’re low in fat and I do not want to be tricked!

Hope your pregnancy is going well.

Sarah xxx

Hi Sarah!

I’m so glad you wrote. I told you this before but your tweets always crack me up! :)

Congratulations on your move. I know it’s only temporary but I can’t imagine getting an opportunity to live in another country for a few years. The thought of it blows my mind!

Unfortunately your question is a tough one as products and brands (especially ones I seem loyal to) are regional. So even if I did give you a great list of products you may or may not find them.

I think you are already coming over with the right approach as I do think our products here in the states are marketed to confuse and trick the consumer. However there are a few things you to keep in mind.

First of all, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires labeling for most prepared/processed foods. That means the products you find in the grocery stores will have a label on the back that give an ingredient list as well as basic nutrition information (calories,fat, fiber, sodium, etc.)

Second, be warned of any packaged products that claim "All Natural," "Light," "Made with Whole Grains," "Good source of vitamins"," "Low Fat," or even "Organic" these statements really mean nothing. Turn the product over and read the ingredient list to see if contains things you want to be eating.

There are some great products out there and some of them are labeled with what I listed above but instead of trusting them or my recommendations blindly I would suggest you spend some time perusing your local grocery story when you get here. Read the ingredient lists and make your own EDUCATED decisions. That’s the key. I may not always buy the best things for my body (hello Swedish fish addiction!) but I make that decision consciously and I know what I’m putting in my body.

I’m sure others will want to chime in with their strategies and product recommendations as well. Can you share what area you are moving to in the comments? That may help as grocery stores tend to be in 2-3 states by region.

Good luck on the move!

-Roni



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Discussion

There are 21 comments so far.

    Tabitha @ Just Weighing In

    November 2, 2010

    I try to stick to a few stores that I generally trust such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. But you’re right, even then it’s wise to read the ingredients. Good luck with your move!

    Andi

    November 2, 2010

    I’ve done the opposite move and I’ve learned that there is a general stereotype of American’s that we have HUMONGOUS portion sizes and “tricky” food companies. The belief is that this is why we are all overweight and unhealthy. I’ve actually had people who are going to Las Vegas or New York City for a week’s holiday ask me how they can avoid gaining weight or if they order from the kiddie menu, is it more like a “normal” serving size. …!!!!!
    As a person who has gained weight in both countries, I believe it has nothing to do with where I live or visit. It’s down to what I decide to put in my mouth. US restaurants may have big portions because we demand best value for money, but we don’t have to eat everything on the plate if we don’t want to. Also, Sarah will have a much bigger choice in the grocery stores than here in Ireland. She should be able to manage her shopping better than here, where I often have no choice but to go for the full fat version of something.
    I think Sarah will be fine if she continues to eat like she normally does and read the nutritional info on the back of things. I think a lot of US products display more info than European products anyways. There will always be companies that “trick” us where ever we go. We just have to be smart interpreting the back and what we decide to eat!
    Good luck with the move, Sarah and have fun!

    Traci

    November 2, 2010

    I met and fell in love with GNU bars this weekend. :) High fiber – but taste 100X better than Fiber One in my opinion.

    Julia

    November 2, 2010

    I moved to the US and found the choice of each item overwelming at first, when you first move you also tend to try lots of new items and restaurants. Of course back then we didn’t have access to NI online to check menu’s before going to eat out etc so planning is key wether at the grocery store or restaurants.

    And darn those Swedish fish and sour patch kid addictions!!!

    Can you believe I’ve NEVER had Swedish Fish?? I don’t even know what they look like!

    Lindsay

    November 2, 2010

    Hey Roni – It’s expensive and we have to make sacrafices in other areas, but my family shops for 90% of our groceries at Whole Foods. For us, it is just important that we are eating foods that are hormone, chemical, and pesticide free. When I hit a regular grocery store, it frustrates me to try and find something without HFC or an ingrediant list that is not a mile long with ingrediants I can’t pronounce. I would recommend Michael Pollan’s book “Food Rules.” Especially for someone who is just moving to the United States and is going to be inundated, with all these brands, health claims, and unhealthy processed foods.

    We are getting a Trader Joes in 2011 in Kansas City area so I can’t wait to check that out! Hopefully we will save some money that way. Roni- I know about the whole wheat pizza dough from Trader Joes, but if you have time maybe you could list some key items you buy there. Thanks!

    Di

    November 2, 2010

    I’ve moved from ENGLAND to AMERICA so pretty much the same journey :) Things I learned
    -portion sizes when eating out are HUGE
    -no individual size crisp packets!
    -DO NOT buy american baked beans they are NOT the same! -They may be Heinz but they are NOT the same! I repeat, don’t do it!
    – if you like HP sauce take some with you, steak sauce is not the same!
    – cottage cheese here SUCKS ASS. Again not the same!
    – farmers markets are great for organic produce
    – look for whole foods or trader joes as your staple shopping stores. Also fresh’n’easy stores too, they sell some UK foods also!
    – eat clean, avoid processed foods (that applies anywhere though!)
    – if you get homesick look for ethnic stores in your area, most sell UK food too!

    Where are you moving to? East and West coast vary a great deal, as does north/south.

    If you want to discuss things further from someone who’s been there already email me :) dihickman at gmail dot com

    Sarah

    November 2, 2010

    Roni, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question! I arrived in Phoenix last night and we ordered some Mexican food because I was pooped. Holy crap the portions were big! I could only manage a third of mine. And the bagel I’m having for breakfast right now is at least 50% bigger than the ones at home. This is all going to take some getting used to, but I agree, I will have WAAAAY more choice in supermarkets here and I was pleased to discover there’s a Whole Foods just up the road. Yay!
    Reading labels is definitely something I’m going to really dedicate some time to. And I wanna check out thos GNU bars.
    Di, I’m emailing you now…

    Tami@nutmegnotebook

    November 2, 2010

    Stick to fresh foods, fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grain products. Check out healthy living blogs that do food reviews and post recipes using American products.

    roni

    November 2, 2010

    Lindsay – I find Trader Joes hit or miss with their products. They definitely have way more of a healthy selection but not as many whole grained products as I would love. Lots of sugar based treats made with “natural” sugars but they are still treats. Know what I mean.

    I have an older list on my shopping page in desperate need of updating but it will help… http://ronisweigh.com/ronis-resources/shopping-list

    My favs now at Trader Joe are the meats, way more selection of nitrate free/hormone free stuff. And the eggs! SO much cheaper to by the free range organic ones. But the processed stuff is all the same. Just because it has organic sugar in it doesn’t make it better in my opinion.

    Lindsay

    November 2, 2010

    Roni – I completely understand about the treats…and organic sugar still being sugar. My thing is, I like the option that if I want to purchase a treat, or a snack item, I can purchase them at Whole Foods with a much smaller ingrediant list and one that I recognize. For example, my daughter likes graham crackers as a special treat with my homeade cream cheese frosting. If I went to my local regular grocery store, every graham cracker box on the aisle would have 30 ingrediant list with items I am not able to even pronouce. When I go to Whole Foods I can buy graham crackers with only a few ingrediants all of which I recognize. Are graham crackers the absolute best option for a snack for my daughter? No, it is something that she has very little of compared to the fruits, yogurt, veggies, and her favorite whole grain tortillas with cheese that she eats. But, she does like them, so I would rather buy food I trust.

    I am excited about the nitrate hormone free meat and the organic eggs! That was the BIGGEST reason we shop at Whole Foods now. My daughter loves cheese and deli meat and I love that I am buying her that without hormones, nitrates and fillers. It is a great feeling! Thanks for the link!

    roni

    November 2, 2010

    OMG you are going to fall in LOVE with Trader Joes graham crackers.. old fashioned, made with whole grain and a favorite around here!! :)

    Oh and I hear you on the ingredient list and totally agree! The treat options are endless at trader joe’s and definitely unique stuff!

    Lindsay

    November 2, 2010

    I am such a nerd that I am so excited about a new supermarket coming to town but honestly, it is like Christmas! I love to grocery shop…it is sad but true. I have been reading your site for years so every time you would mention Trader Joes, I would sigh and think “yeah yeah we don’t have one here” =) So excited about the whole grain graham crackers!

    Jennie

    November 2, 2010

    Sarah, you are going to do great! My recommendation is to listen to when you are full, and try not to take that last bite. Let your body stay used to the smaller more frequent meals instead of the 3 big meals. Eat real unprocessed or very little processing as your staples, read labels. The first trip to the store take a list and don’t go hungry ;) Have fun while you’re here!!

    rollercoaster

    November 2, 2010

    Sarah, Welcome to the States! I am from Phoenix and the good thing is that it is a very health conscious and active city. Generally with portion sizes, the nicer the restaurant you go to the more the portion sizes will be like what you are used to seeing. The cheaper restaurants tend to do the huge portion sizes. Not sure why! Good luck and enjoy your time, make sure you hike Camelback Mountain it’s gorgeous, especially right now!

    roni

    November 3, 2010

    Sarah – Look what i stumbled on… http://naturalbias.com/13-ridiculous-food-labels-that-might-be-fooling-you/

    It just made me think of you. :)

    Sarah

    November 3, 2010

    OMGEE that link actually scared the crap outta me! I don’t know what labels I can trust! Aargh :/

    Julie from France now USA

    November 3, 2010

    Hi Sarah, Roni and the others!!
    I moved recently to USA and what is great is that EVERYTHING is labelled. Good point.
    Now bad points :
    1/ I agree with Di to be aware of product we have in Europe that you think are the same here but different. Completly. For me it was the Cereal K from Kellogs. They were good and so healthy in France with only semi-sweet chocolate. And here it’s fat big piece of chocolate with no taste and the cereal are differents and you have (worst part) hydrogen grease. Which are forbidden in France at least in product named “healthy”.
    So yes as Roni said too never trust the label “natural” => fake.
    By the way i only (almost everything if i can) buy Organic and i wanted to know Roni what do you say not to trust this label??? Normally it’s usda approved?
    I know it will never be “biological” as what we have in Europe but at least for me it’s less worst than eating beast with hormones or antibiotics.
    2/Everyone told me to buy in WholeFood to be sure not to buy rubbish. But guess what i bought a wax for eyebrow and after when i read the label i was so sad to see you’ve got paraben inside (proved in France that is not good for cancer. Same methylparaben, propylparaben etc…) . In a real “bio” shop in France you can close your eyes and be sure that nothing bad for you will be sell. So yes, defenetly it’s awesome the food you can buy but not as natural as it could be with European laws. (such as GMO are forbidden in France less than 2% while here i heard in Food Inc that you have 89%…).
    3/ Be aware of sugar, salt (amazing in manufactured products) but as i said EVERYTHING is labelled so it’s really good. At least…

    Good luck for your coming and yes, portions are enormous but maybe it depends on where we live….Me in Texas i don’t know how children can stay healthy as they eat almost plate we have in restaurant while even for us it’s way too big.
    But fruits and veggies are really really better i think (more tasty) than in France…and more choice.

    Enjoy Arizona, so much beautiful parc to visit!

    roni

    November 4, 2010

    Good Points Julie!

    As for my Organic warning…. I trust that the products are actually organic BUT to me an organic box of sugar packed with sugar is still a box of cereal packed with sugar. So many people equate organic with healthy and that’s not always the case. An “organic apple”? Sure. “Organic Ice cream”? I still read the label.

    Donna D

    November 4, 2010

    Hi Roni,

    I am an American living in London, so can see things from the other perspective. I’ve lived abroad for 15 of the last 17 years, in the UK and Japan. I think that when it comes to living abroad, you fare much better if you avoid anything processed or ready-made, and instead focus on the ingredients and learning how to make what you want, for it to taste like you want it to.

    The biggest difference in this approach is that in the US we use a totally different measuring system than Europe. I hope you have your scales (metric) with you Sarah! If not, I tend to use a lot of US recipes on my blog and have found some conversion sites (and done my own weighing for equivalents) for my readers. My food days are Fridays.

    Everyone else seems to have picked out what I would do – farmers markets, Whole Foods, read labels, portion control! Make sure to buy organic beef, to avoid the hormones – but be aware that it will taste different as beef is corn fed in the US (compared with grass fed in Europe – it really does impact taste!). I go organic with all my meat now to avoid hormones.

    Good luck and feel free to email or tweet me if you want!

    Julie from France now USA

    November 4, 2010

    Roni : Ok i understood, you’re right. Even if it’s organic in pasta sauce for instance they are too much salt sometimes. So same concern as non organic. And i forgot for the ice cream but you are right this doesn’t mean you don’t have less sugar…

    Donna,
    The “Time” magasine wrote a special newspaper in september i think about Organic vs regular food. Really interested as they were discribing the good and the bad for both. In most of the case Organic was winning but they said prefer buying not organic veggies than not veggies at all. And for the meat they asked different big chef in USA to try them and they all said that the one not organic = hormones and corn feed was more grease = more tasty. Better taste. I agree that when eating in Salt Lick a great restaurant in Austin i’m appreciating the taste of the meat but i know i’ll have antibiotics and hormones for a trimester at least!! But it’s more tasty than organic meat i buy at home….
    But the point is that “do you think that giving carbs to a vegetarian (herbivore) animal (cow or ox) is normal????? I don’t think so…I don’t remember (maybe Food Inc again) what documentary made and from US shown a belly of a grain feed cow but it was not healthy at all… It’s not good i think to arrive of this point of denaturate primal feed. (such as grain for cow and too much sugar for us…same illness at the end…). BTW i LOVE sugar it’s just that if i eat some the day before sport i know that it will impact my performance. I-e monday step after Halloween…not good as normally…