"You have several items here that would not pass the test," he said, throwing out my grape jelly.
"That's healthy!" I yelled, pointing to the "one-third less sugar" banner on the label.
"It has artificial coloring," he said. "Most jellies and jams on the shelves are artificially colored. They may have less sugar, but you'll be ingesting dyes and preservatives."
As I watched Grotto toss item after item into my garbage- I started to get angry. If these foods have so many preservatives and dyes, then why are they getting such prominent placement in our supermarkets?
"If it's advertised as a bargain, people often grab it for convenience," Grotto said. "Rarely do people ever read the labels of their foods," he added, throwing out my ketchup.
"Why are you throwing out my son's favorite food?" I asked.
He turned the label around and showed me two big no-no's: high fructose corn syrup and artificial red dye.
"A lot of parents think they have hyperactive kids, but it's actually a reaction to these foods," Grotto explains. "I often recommend that people try removing the items from their diet and seeing if they notice a difference."
Other offenders? Sugary fruit juice: "The actual piece of fruit is much better for you, and water for your thirst." Power bars or granola bars: "They can often be filled with fat, sugar and preservatives. Even the ones with 'natural' in the label. A better snack is to have a handful of almonds." Diet soda: "You're better off having a regular soda than drinking the diet products." (Most diet sodas contain aspartame, which produced formaldehyde as you digest it.)
After Grotto tossed out my cheese because the ones that are pre-sliced usually have preservatives, I was left with milk, a few blueberries and natural mustard.
"You're not a big produce fan, are you?" Grotto asked.
"Salads are too much work," I said.
"You should eat some sort of produce every day," he said. "Buy some carrots. They even package them cut up nowadays, for people on the go," he joked.
So what was my overall nutrition house call grade?
"C" said Grotto.
"I'm too busy to stop and read every label," I said in my defense. "I think most people are."
But Grotto insists that if you do it just once, you won't have to do it again.
"You'll find the foods that work for you, and then you'll know which products are your friends."
I think I can take a few extra minutes just once if it means eating healthy.
Here's what Grotto says you need to know to make sure you get a better grade if he ever comes knockin':
--If you can't pronounce it, you might not want to eat it. Preservatives seem to have a lot of syllables.
--Anything that has a bright color should be checked for dyes. (Cough syrup, vitamins, juices, condiments, salad dressings, even spaghetti sauces are all likely candidates.
--High fructose corn syrup should not be in the top three ingredients. You're better off with actual sugar since it's not processed.
--Berries are the best food you can eat. But make sure any sweet fruits you eat are organically grown. Otherwise, pesticides are used in high doses to keep away the bugs.
--Produce is your friend. A green pepper or a carrot on the go can make a huge difference.
And by all means, don't assume that all organics or healthy foods are hard to find or overly expensive. Wal-marts are even carrying antibiotic-free milk.
"It's what consumers want," says Grotto. "Every store has a healthy section these days. You just might have to look around a little bit before you find it."