When I first began eating better, I noticed a trend. I had less items to put in my pantry. Very little of my purchase went in the cabinets. My fridge? Overflowing. I was actually a little surprised. I didn’t know what was going on, but I wasn’t complaining.

Then, it hit me. The reason I needed less pantry and cabinet space was because I was buying live, unprocessed foods – foods that needed to be refridgerated and didn’t have some far-out expiration date. I was purchasing foods that could, inevitably, rot.

As silly as that sounds, think about it. The cornerstone of clean eating is buying natural foods and making use of foods as close to the source as you can possibly get. That means you’re bypassing the foods that have the chemical additives included to “preserve” it. It means you’re not buying canned foods full of the salt “necessary” to help preserve it. It means you’re not buying cans of food that have expiration dates that say “2012” on them… when its clearly 2010.

Live food – fruits and vegetables – have vitamins and minerals that originate naturally within the food as it grows from the ground. We want to take advantage of that. We want to ingest those naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. The cycle in which we participate calls for us to spread the seed of these fruits and vegetables, and the way those foods thank us for doing our jobs is by nourishing us. They have a direct reason for nourishing us and keeping us alive – without us, their seeds are not spread and they cease to exist, as well. This is why our bodies work best when we give them what is intended directly for them to enjoy.

Now that it’s clear that real food lives and dies, let’s talk about how we think a grocery store would go out of its way to keep real food alive.

Think about the architecture of your grocery store. Where do you find the freezers? Closest to the wall, right? What else do you find along the wall? Food that lives and, subsequently, dies. Dairy. Meats. Leafy greens. Potatoes. Kiwi. Tomatoes (mm… tomatoes.) Produce! Meats! Food.

Since real foods cannot be housed inside a little box with a far-away expiration date, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find them in the aisleways. The good stuff that you’re looking for will almost always be as close to the wall as it can get. It’s basic common sense – it’s easier to keep the outermost parts of the grocery store colder than the innermost parts; the walls that house the refridgerators in the store are all going to be together, and they’ll be closest to the outsides.

Is this foolproof? Of course not. I’m sure you’ll see this in the fridges:

In case you can't see it, that says "pasteurized prepared cheese product," which is no different from "process cheese food," which is no different from "neon orange science experiment."

and, well, you might wince a little (it might be in your fridge right now!) but that’s okay. If you’re not careful, you can easily wind up with fake foods full of preservatives in your cart, or items sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Be alert. This leads me to my second shopping tip: if it has a label, it’s probably not clean.

Think about it – what farmer is going to yank a batch of carrots out of the ground and slap a label on it? It doesn’t happen. It just… doesn’t happen. Real food doesn’t need a bright flashy label to prove its worth to you. Centuries of existence is good enough. The most beneficial foods – the foods best for you and your system – are often the foods with no advocates. They have no labels to tell you just how good they are. Evolution should teach you that.

Now, obviously, there are a few things that’ll slip through the cracks. For instance, extra virgin olive oil. Manufacturers are taking heed to the fact that more of us are using it (probably falling for that “Mediterranean Diet!” mumbo jumbo), and are loading it with stickers and star labels to promote the benefits of the oil. But more often than not, you’re going to find claims like this:

…and it’s not worth it. If you’re eating as close to the source, you’re not going to have to worry about calcium or “whole grains” (?) like that. (Though, if you’re a real stickler on your clean eating, you wouldn’t be eating as much whole grain as you think, anyhow.)

So if you’re buying a food that has a label, what should you look for? To me, it’s not about what you do see, it’s more about what you don’t want to see. That’s important. You don’t want a ton of ingredients making up what you’re eating… and if there are lots of ingredients, you want the list to look more like a recipe than a science experiment.

For this week of boot camp, we’ll be looking at how to shop, cook and eat clean. Thus far, you should be abstaining from fast food, cooking dinners at home (if you have processed foods, cook them so that they’re gone without wasting money) and drinking 8 glasses of water each day. This week, your goal is to plan out your food intake for each day before you go on. So tonight, before you go to bed, plan out your food for tomorrow. What will you enjoy as a snack? What will you have for dinner? Are you carrying breakfast with you out the door?

As we will be approaching the final leg of boot camp – grocery shopping – make sure you have enough money for one good grocery shopping trip for your household stored away. You’ll need it.

Are you a clean shopper? What tips and tricks do you use to keep your cart “clean?”