Where to shop for healthy ingredients in The Netherlands?

Two days ago I received an e-mail from a reader (yey!) about which ingredients in regular supermarkets fall into the category of truly healthy. Although I buy my groceries in The Netherlands all the time, it is a bit of a challenge to summarise it all in one post. But, there’s no end without a beginning, so here I try to start this new era of posts about how to buy healthy ingredients. For starters, here are a few guidelines on how to know how to make healthier choices in the Dutch supermarkets:

1. Consider finding a regular provider of organic vegetables. If you live in the west of The Netherlands, you can arrange to receive a weekly pack of locally grown organic vegetables through www.kievitamines.nl . You can find a contact e-mail and a list of shops here. The weekly vegetable package costs between 8 and 12 euro (depending on the size of the package, ranging from small to large). I love this system because of a few reasons. Firstly, it’s impossible to buy enough organic vegetables at a regular supermarket for a whole week at such a low price! Secondly, it makes me happy to directly support the local organic farms and farmers. Here’s an example of what I got in my (small size) pack one week:

Delicious fresh, local, organic vegetables from a deal by Kieviet!
Delicious fresh, local, organic vegetables from a deal by Kieviet!

2. Guidelines for finding healthy foods in the regular supermarket: Most regular supermarkets do have a few choices when it comes to organic vegetables and fruits. Before I start, if you choose for non-organic, here is an illustration with least & most pesticide-treated vegetables and fruits in regular supermarkets. Now back to the organic stuff. Digros has quite some organic vegetables, but the rest of their organic array is quite limited. The Hoogvliet supermarket offers some organic vegetables as well as organic beef (3,29 euro per 250grams), milk, pork, potatoes, ginger, garlic and onion. The Hoogvliet supermarket also has a small section with all sorts of random organic products, from rice and spelt flour to sauces and cookies, and they sell organic bread (if you do eat bread, try the spelt bread for a change. Spelt is a much healthier grain than wheat.). The Alberth Heijn supermarket is a tricky one. On the one hand, it has a wide range of products in general, and it also offers organic bread, eggs and milk. On the other hand, their ‘Puur en Eerlijk’ label can be misleading. The ‘Puur en Eerlijk’ label is Albert Heijn’s overall label for all products that are either organic, sustainable, eco-friendly, fairtrade or free-range (meaning the animals have been given space to move around freely). So, a Puur en Eerlijk label does not neccessarily mean something is organic – it just means it falls into one of the five categories. Only if on the same product it says ‘biologisch’ is it actually an organic product. But, beware: the vanilla ice cream from the ‘Puur en Eerlijk’ label is made with organic milk but they still use chemical colorings and flavor additions (instead of real vanilla), just like in regular vanilla ice cream. So, sometimes no matter the label, the product is just not so healthy for you anyway.

3. Guidelines for farmers markets: Suprisingly (and disappointingly), more and more fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are not local but are imported from other continents, just as if you were buying them at the regular supermarket. But, if you really want to buy local and organic products it’s best to just take a stroll around your local farmers market and ask the farmers which of their products are organic/local. Farmers markets are also a good place to find a nut specialist store, and these stores are by far the best place to get your supply of nuts and dried fruits. Just ask the nut specialist store personnel which of their products are most natural / organic! Here’s the link to the nut specialist store in Leiden which I love.

4. Bio supermarkets such as Ekoplaza and Marqt. Okay, first let me say that some prices at Marqt supermarkets are ridiculously high. Secondly, let me say that I love the concept and existence of bio supermarkets in general <3 . But, it’s good to be critical and know what to buy there and what not, so that you don’t end up spending all your money in one place. For example, bio supermarkets are a good place to buy organic oils , wild fish (fresh or canned) and organic dairy products (unless you can find an awesome local organic dairy farm like this one ). It’s also a great place to buy red chilli peppers because they only cost around 15 cents per piece (unlike at regular supermarkets where they cost 1 euro for 3 pieces, and are not even organic!). Also, I believe in the healthy power of broccoli so I like to get my broccoli at bio supermarkets, just to not get any chemicals with it. Also, apparently it’s next to impossible to get apples with real nutritional value from a regular supermarket because those apples have usually travelled the world before getting to the supermarket shell. That is why I like to buy local apples from bio supermarkets when they are in season. So, bio supermarkets are great for: organic oils, wild fish, organic dairy, red chilli peppers, sugarless spelt cookies and local seasonal fruits. Other than that, don’t waste your money ;).

5. What about the choice at De Tuinen or Erica health stores? I do not totally support supplements in general, but if you are using them and would like to get a pure brand, you can rely on the organic supplement brand Garden of Life which you can find at De Tuinen. Also, De Tuinen is a fine location to buy coconut oil, apple cider vinegar or organic tea (tea bags). But if you want proper tea leaves, Erica is a health store chain that has an excellent range of herbs and teas!

6. A few all-around tips and guidelines. The Dutch regulations are not very strict when it comes to food labeling. Hence, many products have the label ‘natural’ (‘natuurlijk’). This doesn’t mean anything, other than a marketing trick, so beware of choosing products on the basis of that! The words you want to see on your product are organic (‘biologisch’), ECO certificate label (‘ECO keurmerk’) and animal friendly (3 stars, ‘dierenbescherming’). For example, when it comes to eggs, if you want the most natural and healthy choice, then make sure to buy the organic eggs with 3 stars label (to see what it looks like, click here). When it comes to fish, beware of the marketing schemes as well. A lot of ‘sustainable’ fish is just fish from farms that has been fed with chicken (since chicken is the most abundant protein in the world, feeding fish with chicken earns it the label of being ‘sustainable’). When it comes to fish, you really want to get fish that has been caught in the wild. For this fish, you are best off shopping at bio organic supermarkets such as Ekoplaza (or Helianth located on Hooigracht in Leiden) or fish markets with wild fish.

What do you think of these tips? Did you find them helpful? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment, and feel free to make any suggestions on what I should post about next!