- Some products at Whole Foods can be a great deal and healthy for you, while other items are either expensive, nutrition-lacking, or both.
- Here, several food experts and nutritionists list 25 items you should buy at Whole Foods and 25 items you should avoid.
If you shop right, you can not only save money at the high-end supermarket chain, but you can eat healthier food that’s actually delicious.
Unfortunately, if you’re not careful, you can also be duped into spending big bucks on artery-clogging treats (processed cookies are still cookies even if they’re organic).
We spoke to several food experts and nutritionists to compile this list of what to buy and what to skip at Whole Foods.
Buy: Eden Foods sauerkraut
Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that colonize our digestive systems, and they’re found in fermented foods like sauerkraut. They’re great for healthy digestion.
“Boost your intake [of probiotics] with foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, brine cured olives, miso soup, and tempeh,” said Melissa Litwak, a registered dietitian and founder of Chickpeas and Chocolate. “Whole Foods has a great selection to choose from, including well-priced sauerkraut by Eden Foods.”
Skip: Salads from the salad bar
We’d all love to be Martha Stewart in the kitchen (but who even has that kind of time!), so we’re the first to see the appeal in Whole Foods’ salad bar. That convenience, however, can prove expensive.
“If you want to make it a robust salad stuffed with veggies other than lettuce, you’ll pay a pretty penny – about $US8 to $US9 per pound, which can easily turn a salad that costs you $US5 to make at home into a $US25 splurge,” said The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, nutritionists and authors of “The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.”
Buy: Organic bok choy
You can always count on Whole Foods for good quality and variety when it comes to produce.
“They typically carry both regular and baby bok choy on their shelves and for good reason,” Litwak said. “Cruciferous vegetables like this one are highly concentrated in vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids. They’re also full of fibre, providing good fuel for your intestinal bacteria.”
Skip: Eggs from the salad bar
If you’re in a pinch and can’t stay away from the salad bar, there is one big no-no: eggs.
“Get a large egg from the bar and that means you’re likely to pay well over dollar for it,” The Nutrition Twins said. “If you get a dozen eggs at most Whole Foods locations it’s about $US3.49, or 29 cents per egg.”
Buy: Pacific bone broth
Bone broth is a major, though expensive, trend. Go the packaged route at Whole Foods, and, at least compared to special ity broth stores, you can save money.
“These satisfying and hearty organic soups pack in seven to 10 grams of protein per serving all from organic free-range chicken and fibre-filled, plant-based sources such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans,” The Nutrition Twins said. “Most bone broths don’t come with plant-based protein and fibre or the range of flavours that you can find in these shelf-stable soup cartons that are quick and easy.”
Skip: Rotisserie chicken
We’re all about that lean protein, but there’s no need to spend $US7.99 for a whole rotisserie chicken, which is what it costs at most Whole Foods – or $US9.99 for an organic one, according to The Nutrition Twins. “Competitors offer the same chicken for $US2 to $US3 less, like Costco, who offers the entire rotisserie chicken for $US4.99,” they said.
Buy: KIND dark chocolate nuts & sea salt bar
Crush that sweet and salty craving with one stone. “This bar is low in sugar, non-GMO, gluten-free, and a good source of fibre and protein,” The Nutrition Twins said. “They list for $US1.99 compared to $US1.99- $US3.50 at most bodegas, and Whole Foods often offers them four for $US5.”
Skip: Whole Foods Market chocolate truffles
No one thinks truffles will improve their waistline, but three of these tiny ones pack in a whopping 170 calories and two teaspoons of sugar.
“Women should get less than six teaspoons of added sugar a day and men should get less than nine teaspoons,” The Nutrition Twins said. “In a country that is seeing exponential increases in diabetes and obesity over the years, these truffles won’t help the problem.”
Buy: Bob’s Red Mill Muesli Cups
If there’s one thing you want from your breakfast, it’s energy. For that it’s key that what you choose is low in sugar and high in both protein and fibre. These breakfast cups fit the bill.
“Not only are they a healthy option, the single-servings are great for portion control and you can stash the portable cups in your desk (or the car) if you’re on-the-go,” The Nutrition Twins said.
Skip: 365 EveryDay Value veggie chips
This is the kind of product that infuriates most health experts because it tricks so many consumers. Veggie Chips have everything in common with a chip and almost nothing in common with an actual vegetable.
“40 mini chips will set you back 130 calories and it won’t feel like you ate much – plus the word veggie in the title is misleading because there’s no nutritional value here,” The Nutrition Twins said.
Buy: Bread and baked goods
They’re not the healthiest part of a diet, but they’re inevitable, and Whole Foods helps with portion control by offering to slice their breads.
“Bread, cupcakes, cakes, and cookies are baked fresh on site daily at Whole Foods, and the prices are comparable to the premade stuff so you don’t have to break the bank to get fresh breads – and, they never use any refined sugar, artificial flavours, or bleached flour,” said Dr. Lindsey Elmore.
Skip: Blue Diamond Nut Thins crackers
These might not be the worst thing you can buy, but that doesn’t mean they deserve a place in your shopping cart.
“While they’re low in calories and have a generous serving size, they’re also low in protein and only have one gram of fibre,” said Leah Silberman, RDN. “When I recommend crackers, I like to see that they have at least three grams of fibre per serving.” Fibre is the indigestible part of a carb that not only gives you energy, but keeps you feeling full.
Buy: Sea Salt Pipcorn
You might recognise this delicious snack from “Shark Tank.” It has exploded since appearing on the show and for good reason. “With just three clean ingredients, non-GMO popcorn, olive oil, and sea salt, this popcorn boasts five grams of fibre and six grams of fat per 2.5 cup serving,” Silberman said.
Skip: Inka Crops plantain chips
Just because there are few ingredients in a product, all of which are recognisable (i.e. no unpronounceable chemicals or preservatives), doesn’t mean you’re buying something that’s healthy – or even tasty. “While there are only three ingredients in this product, there is not much quality nutrition in a serving,” Silberman said. “It’s essentially a higher fat, low fibre, low protein product.”
Buy: Spindrift sparkling water
We don’t have to tell you that sodas and sweetened juices are bad for you – even what you find lining Whole Foods shelves. “When you’re craving a flavored beverage, opt for one of these instead of a sugar-sweetened soda since they’re made with real fruit juices and are low in sugar,” Silberman said.
Skip: IZZE sparkling flavored drinks
“These drinks have around 27 (or more!) grams of sugar per bottle!,” Silberman said. Case closed.
Buy: Banza pasta
Regular pasta is nothing but empty calories. Instead, go for pasta made from chickpea flour.
“A two-ounce serving of the penne has eight grams of fibre and 14 grams of protein,” Silberman said.
Banza is also more flavorful and therefore more satisfying than the traditional white stuff.
Skip: Lundberg organic rice cakes
We tend to think of rice cakes as a low calorie or diet-friendly food, but Silberman says they’re neither. “The second ingredient here is organic evaporated cane syrup, plus one rice cake has 80 calories and only one gram of fibre meaning that if you typically eat two you’re eating more calories than a piece of whole grain bread, with half the fibre.”
Buy: Amy’s Light-in-Sodium Organic Lentil Soup
Canned products are often loaded with sodium and preservatives (and even sugar), but there are some healthier exceptions.
“Amy’s low sodium lentil soup gets my stamp of approval because it’s made with a short list of clean and organic ingredients and has four grams of fibre per serving,” Silberman said.
Skip: Brown Cow cherry vanilla yogurt
Yogurts can be sugar pits, and that is especially the case with this one. “While this appears to be a healthy breakfast, take a closer look at the label – just one individual container has 23 grams of sugar,” Silberman said.
Buy: Whisps Tomato Basil Whisps
A salad is always a healthy option – until you drench it with high-caloric dressing, fried crisps, and a long list of other unhealthy culprits.
“Look for innovative salad toppers at Whole Foods, like Tomato Basil Whisps, which are airy, baked cheese crisps that are also an excellent source of calcium and a good source of protein,” said Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE.
Skip: Peanut Butter & Co. Smooth Operator peanut butter
In addition to peanuts and sea salt, this particular peanut butter contains cane sugar and palm oil. “Added ingredients like cane sugar and palm oil aren’t necessary in a healthy peanut butter formula – go for the pure stuff,” Silberman said.
Buy: Lee Kum Kee pure sesame oil
Not every oil works for every cooking situation. Each oil has a different tolerance to light, heat, and oxygen. For high-heat cooking, you want a high smoke point, but for slaws, salads, and such, that’s not necessary, which is where this oil comes in.
“Often used in Asian food, this sesame oil uses only premium-quality, non-GMO ingredients, and makes it easy to enjoy authentic Asian flavours at home without all of the added sodium you know you’re going to get at a restaurant,” Ferraro said.
Skip: 365 Everyday Value organic ranch dressing
Ranch is a deceivingly high-caloric choice, and the fact that this is organic doesn’t change that. “This packs 120 calories and 13 grams of fat for a two-tablespoon serving, and another real doozy is the sodium, which is 330mg, so if you use four tablespoons, as many people do, you’ve already had more than 25% of your maximum daily sodium allotment,” The Nutrition Twins said.
Buy: High Brew creamy cappuccino plus protein
Looking to level up your cold brew coffee game? Ferraro suggested this option. “It’s less acidic than traditional coffee plus the 12 grams of protein and three grams of fibre per serving are perfect for keeping you feeling full and fuelled throughout the day,” she said.
Coffee can not only help fuel your day, but more and more research points to the massive amounts of health benefits it has. And while quality is important, there’s no need to splurge at Whole Foods. “It’s so popular that you can find fair trade, organic, and tasty coffees just about anywhere so save the money and get a better deal online,” Dr. Elmore said.
Buy: Rebbl Turmeric Golden-Milk
“It’s a great idea to incorporate more plant protein in place of less healthful animal foods, and thankfully Whole Foods is a haven for plant protein fans,” Ferraro said. “I love the Rebbl plant-based protein drinks, which combine organic coconut milk with unique herbs and flavoring combos.”
She singled out the brand’s turmeric golden-milk in particular because it has 12 grams of protein and five grams of fibre.
Skip: Yogurt-covered anything
We know yogurt-covered almonds or raisins taste delicious, but that deliciousness comes at a price that involves a ton of sugar. “If you can’t see the fruit or nuts because of its yogurt-y covering, steer clear and choose another snack,” Ferraro said. “While plain no-sugar-added yogurt is great, there’s very little that actually resembles yogurt in these super sugary snacks.”
Buy: Mooala Strawberry Bananamilk
From pea protein to cashew, there are countless milk alternatives. Unfortunately, most are filled with added sugars. “Beeline for this option,” Ferraro said. “It’s the first-ever strawberry plant-based milk alternative and it’s made with real bananas and strawberries, plus it’s nut and dairy-free, has only five grams of sugar per serving, and most of that sugar is naturally occurring from real bananas and strawberries.”
Skip: Organic milk
“No matter the brand, Whole Foods tends to run about $US0.50 to $US1.50 more per gallon of milk,” The Nutrition Twins said.
Buy: Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs
Quality is important when selecting eggs because it not only effects taste, but nutrition. “The yolks in these pasture-raised eggs have about 30% higher vitamin A (as evidenced by the brighter orange colour), more vitamin E, omega 3s, and vitamin D,” Litwak said. “If you don’t have a local farmer’s market, these are a great choice.”
Skip: Gluten-free foods
Gluten-free foods are everywhere. “Save money by buying brands like Glutinos or Back to Nature elsewhere because they are typically between 10 to 30% more at Whole Foods,” Dr. Elmore said.
Buy: 365 Everyday Value organic pizza sauce
“At other grocery stores most organic tomato sauces run at least a dollar more than this Pizza Sauce, which is $US1.99 at Whole Foods,” The Nutrition Twins said. “This no-sugar-added sauce works great as a condiment and for just about everything from zoodles to chicken parm.”
Skip: Vegetable oils
“Soy, corn, safflower, and canola are all processed seed oils that are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which in excess can be inflammatory,” Litwak said.
She suggested skipping these oils and sticking with coconut oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, ghee, and extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Just remember to always pay attention to the smoke point of the oil you’re buying to make sure you’re using it appropriately.
Buy: Spices in bulk
You don’t have to sacrifice flavour to shave off calories if you swap sauces for spices. “Spices are a nutrient packed, calorie, sodium and fat-free way to deliciously add flavour to your food,” say The Nutrition Twins. “Buying in bulk at Whole Foods allows you to buy only what you need for a very reasonable price versus buying a whole jar of spices you may not use.”
Skip: Dried fruit with added sugar
“If you’re in the bulk bins stick to nuts and dried fruit with as few added ingredients as possible,” Ferraro said. That includes avoiding fruits sweetened with juice, which are full of sugar.
Buy: POM 100% pomegranate juice
The Nutrition Twins recommend this juice over others because it’s pure – just the juice of two whole pomegranates. “There’s no added sugar, fillers, or preservatives and because it’s whole pressed it contains the pith, skin of the whole fruit, and is packed with polyphenols,” they said.
Skip: New Chapter bone strength vitamin
“A 60-count of this vitamin runs about $US9 to $US10 more than at competitive stores,” The Nutrition Twins said. “If you take a couple a day, you can lose a considerable amount of money yearly.”
Buy: 365 Everyday Value organic frozen cauliflower
“At just $US1.99 for each 16-ounce bag, you won’t find a better price or a sweeter cauliflower,” The Nutrition Twins said. “Competitors sell organic varieties in smaller bags for at least a dollar more.”
Skip: Low-fat yogurt
For those who tolerate dairy, Litwak suggested sticking with full-fat yogurt, which is packed with calcium, protein, fat-soluble vitamins, probiotics, and iodine. “In order to get the benefits from those fat-soluble vitamins you need to consume the fat,” she said. “Quality definitely counts, so aim for organic, grass-fed dairy, which contains higher levels of those fat-solubles and lower levels of pesticide residues.”
Buy: ‘Dirty Dozen’ produce
The Dirty Dozen are the 12 produce singled for having the highest loads of pesticide residues each year by the Environmental Working Group. In 2018 these were: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and bell peppers. “It’s important to purchase these organic and Whole Foods has a huge selection,” Dr. Elmore said.
Skip: ‘Clean 15’ produce
At the opposite end of the spectrum of the “Dirty Dozen,” the “Clean 15” are a lot less likely to have residues from pesticides. “Save the money and get avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, cabbage, onions, sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydew melon, kiwi, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli at a less expensive grocery store,” Dr. Elmore said.
According to Dr. Elmore, Whole Foods has some of the most stringent quality standards for fish of any grocery store and is committed to sustainable seafood and responsible farming. “Many of their vendors are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, and they work with the Monteray Bay Aquarium and Safina Organisation to bring responsibly caught wild fish to market,” he said. “They do not stock red-rated wild caught fish and actively seek to promote green-rated fish.”
Skip: Processed deli meats
Dr. Elmore said to not buy these at Whole Foods – or anywhere. “Processed deli meats are a World Health Organisation Class 1 carcinogen known to cause colon cancer and, at Whole Foods, they’re consistently more expensive while in no way being healthier for you,” she said.
“Anyone with kids in a nut-free school knows how hard it can be to pack plant-protein foods for lunch, so I’m always on the lookout for SunButter, a delicious line of sunflower butters that is packed with protein, but free from all of the top food allergens,” Ferraro said. “Whole Foods carries SunButter On the Go Single Cups, which makes it super easy to get nine grams of nut-free plant protein when you’re on the run.”
Skip: Nature’s Path organic maple brown sugar toaster pastries
“While the ‘organic’ labelling may lead you to believe this is a good option, the second, third, and fourth ingredients listed on the label are various forms of sugar,” Silberman said. Just one pastry contains 20 grams of sugar, and its single gram of fibre means this product will give you a sugar crash and relatively no nutritional value.
Hummus may get most of the glory, but tahini is nothing to snuff at. “It’s a paste from ground sesame packed with essential vitamins and minerals, healthy polyunsaturated fats, and essential amino acids,” Litwak said. “It’s also an amazing plant-based source of calcium and Whole Foods has a few great options including their 365 brand, Once Again, and Kevala.”
Skip: Out-of-season produce
“It’s easy to get blown away by all the fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods, but the out-of-season options are not only more expensive, they generally don’t taste as good,” Ferraro said.
Buy: CB’s Nuts organic roasted pumpkin seeds
Litwak often recommends pumpkin seeds to her clients because they’re packed with zinc, magnesium, manganese, and copper. “They’re also a nice source of protein, which can help keep blood sugar stable throughout the day,” she said.
She likes this product in particular because it has a popcorn-like taste and crunch and is great for topping salads, roasted veggies, or just plain as an on-the-go snack.
“The majority of granola products on the shelves in Whole Foods are extremely expensive and packed with sugar,” Litwak said. “Look for products with less than six grams of sugar per serving (like 18 Rabbits Veritas Granola) or simply swap for your own combination of nuts, a little bit of dried fruit, and some cinnamon.”
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