Shopping for health in Holland

This article also features in Expatica Netherlands, the expat website for Holland

If you’re a new comer to Holland from the UK or the US, you may be in for a bit of a food shopping shock. The supermarkets are smaller, the variety on offer much more limited. If you’re after healthy food, you’ll need to visit several locations to fill your shopping basket, since Holland is a good few years behind in terms of health food trends. Shopping for health here may require a degree of dedication which was perhaps unnecessary back home, so here is a short guide to help you in your quest.

For reasons of convenience rather than choice supermarkets are your first port of call. Here you can stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, some low fat dairy produce, tofu and a limited selection of herbal teas, health bars and pulses (beans, lentils and peas). The range will vary depending on the supermarket chain and the size of the branch. Albert Heijn, Holland’s largest supermarket chain, is likely your best bet (click here to find your local branch). Many supermarkets also carry a limited range of organic food, usually a few basic items in each section. If, however, you’re keen on your health and/or organic food, you will not be able to rely entirely on supermarkets for long.

Serious health food shopping can be carried out more comfortably at a health food store (natuurwinkel). Check the Yellow Pages (Gouden Gids) under Natuurvoeding en Reformartikelen (health food and alternative goods) for your local branch. A reformwinkel generally sells a very limited selection of packaged (non fresh) health foods and focuses more on supplements and natural healthcare and cosmetics. In a well-stocked health food store, on the other hand, you will be able to find just about everything you need for healthy eating and living. The largest health food association in the Netherlands is called De Natuurwinkel. This is not, however, a chain, so the size of store and offering varies from one shop to the next. Many other health stores are independent, so it’s best to check a number of shops in your area to see which one caters best to your needs.

Health food stores offer a good selection of fruit and vegetables; raw nuts and seeds; grains, pulses and wheat-free pasta; tofu, tempeh and dishes made from them; different types of flour, health bars and drinks; healthy breakfast cereals, crackers, sauces, condiments, nut pastes, oil and honey; healthy bakes and sweets etc. The choice of bread is much broader than in a normal suprmarket: yeast and sourdough; white, wholemeal and anything in between; and loaves made with non-wheat flours, such as rye, rice and oats. These shops cater for people with special dietary needs, so if you’re after gluten-, dairy-, yeast- or sugar-free food, for instance, the health food store is your best bet. Here you can also shop for food supplements, natural cosmetics and healthcare, environmentally-friendly detergents and organic pet food. Most products in the health food stores are organic, so expect a higher food bill. If organic food is your passion, then a Saturday morning visit to Amsterdam’s famous organic Noordermarkt is a must. A list of other organic markets around the country can be found here.

Whilst the health food store may cater for most of your health food needs, you may still wish to explore other shopping territories if you’re reluctant to pay premium prices for organic produce or are after a broader selection of vegetables or fresh herbs (the latter in particular are scarce and/or expensive in a normal supermarket or health food store). In this case head to the open air market, a lovely feature of every Dutch town and city. For opening times click on the website of your particular gemeente (e.g. in the Hague) and search under ‘markt’ or ‘markten’, or visit the Dutch market website. The open air markets (especially the larger ones) carry a good selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and seafood. There may be stalls offering ethnic or seasonal vegetables which the supermarkets do not stock, a health food stall and a fresh nut stall, too, selling raw nuts and dried fruit.

Smaller scale destinations on your health food atlas may also include the ethnic grocer and the farm shop. The ethnic shops (Asian, Turkish, Moroccan or Middle Eastern) can be a brilliant source of food to add to your health pantry – rice noodles, tofu in many forms, spice pastes, tahini, unusual types of lentils and beans and, of course, specialty vegetables and fruit are some examples. Visit China Town, look up Oosterse Producten in the Yellow Pages or ask people in your neighbourhood where these specialty shops can to be found. Farm shops range in size and offering and mostly stock products similar to those in a health food store. Their main attraction is locally sourced produce – fresh fruit and vegetables from their own orchards and fields, fresh eggs straight from the henhouse and fresh products made on location. Naturally, summer and autumn are best for seasonal produce. Farm shops are not centrally listed, so ask your neighbours or look around your area.

It may take a bit of time to get to know your local health food sources, but the good news is, Holland is catching up with health trends, so we are likely to see more outlets offering nutritious food and maybe even a larger selection in the normal supermarkets. In the years we have lived here I have witnessed a big change (though there is so much more that can be done), so I remain hopeful.

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