Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



Health Food Store Savvy

Navigate the aisles of your natural foods store with knowledge and confidence

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

It’s no secret that your local independently owned health food store is the best place to shop for quality vitamins, minerals, and supplements, but if you usually make a beeline for the raw honey and then head straight to the register, or have tunnel vision when you’re looking for the vitamin C, you may unknowingly walk right past unique, natural products that have the potential to improve your health and well-being. It’s more than worth your time to take a stroll up and down the aisles to discover all the healthful treasures you may have missed. We polled health food stores that carry Better Nutrition to find out which products are their top sellers in six categories.

Health Food Store Best seller! 

AROMATHERAPY — Aura Cacia Lavender Essential Oil


Relax, rejuvenate, and perhaps even prevent or ease symptoms of illness with essential oils. Lavender may alleviate anxiety, while grapefruit could curb hunger cravings. Various aromas can be combined to help with a specific condition or emotional issue.

If used topically, essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin, but instead carefully combined with a “carrier,” which is usually an unscented vegetable or nut oil. Oils also can be used together with plant powders to create incense sticks. Care should be used when working with essential oils, and they should be kept out of reach of children and pets. The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, by Valerie Ann Worwood, is a great resource for the beginner, and consulting a health food store professional or a qualified aromatherapist is always a good idea.

What to look for: When shopping, look for rows of small, dark-colored glass bottles that contain these highly concentrated botanicals. Some stores sell diffusers to disperse the aroma throughout a room; a few drops of oil can be added to boiling water for a similar effect.

Bath & Body

If you think you’re saving money by shopping elsewhere for your health and beauty products, you may be getting more than you bargained for. Sodium laurel sulfate is great for degreasing engines, but do you really want to lather up with products that contain this stuff? Not only are the natural products that you buy at the health food store frequently free of parabens and petroleum-based ingredients, but many are also gluten-free or even certified-organic.

A big benefit of shopping at the health food store is that very often the owner or employees have done their research and line their shelves with safe, natural alternatives, making it easy for their customers to shop.

What to look for: Shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes, deodorants, lotions, and creams are the basics, but many stores are now offering natural cosmetics, including mineral makeup as well as full skin care lines. Read the label to see all the natural ingredients that the product contains and the questionable chemicals it does not. Also, look for the leaping bunny logo to signify that it was not tested on animals and is cruelty-free.


Contrary to what critics and skeptics may argue, homeopathic medicine involves much more than just diluting something to a quantity that is undetectable. Homeopaths believe natural substances that cause certain symptoms can be used as remedies that cure diseases with the same symptoms. They use a special technique that involves diluting a substance in water or alcohol, shaking vigorously, and then repeating the process. While the original plant, herb, or mineral may no longer be present, its energy has been imprinted, creating a nontoxic, safe remedy. “Our customers have found that homeopathy doesn’t react with their prescription drugs or herbs that they may be taking and that it’s even safe for infants and pets,” says Terri Shea, owner of Little Leaf health food store in Montrose, Pa.

What to look for: Individual remedies are often stocked in little tubes of pellets or bottles of liquid extracts, and organized in alphabetical order by Latin names, such as Bellis perennis (aka the common daisy). Combination products are now available according to particular ailments as well. Shea is also a big fan of Flower Essences, which were created using a process developed by Dr. Edward Bach, and may be found in the same section of the store as homeopathics. Flower Essences are intended for healing emotional and spiritual conditions such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

Specialty Diets

If you’re looking for gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free or other foods to meet your special dietary requirements, the health food store may have a bigger selection than the supermarket. Rose and Wayne Pollard own and operate Open Cupboard in Seaford, Del., and carry a large selection of these specialty foods. They’ve had personal experience with gluten-free and wheat-free living. Not only was their oldest daughter recently diagnosed with celiac disease, both Rose and Wayne have been following Doug Kaufmann’s Phase 1 wheat-free, sugar-free diet plan since October 2008 with incredible results. Rose lost 17 pounds and feels great, and Wayne lost 34 pounds, is no longer diabetic, and his triglycerides have dropped so significantly that he doesn’t need his cholesterol medication anymore. Rose says nutrition is key, and that she and Wayne focus on educating their customers about eating right, according to their needs.


Even the idea of a simple cup of tea can seem overwhelming among the tall stacks of colorful boxes and glass canisters filled with dried leaves and herbs. The trick is knowing what to look for. Black, oolong, green, and white are “true” teas and the length and type of processing create the varying strengths of taste and color. Although green tea appears to receive more media attention than the other teas, numerous studies, including recent ones, have shown that all teas from the Camellia sinensis plant have health benefits.

Rooibos is actually an African plant, fermented like traditional tea and great for caffeine-sensitive individuals since it’s naturally caffeine-free and low in tannin. Herbal teas are combinations of the leaves, flowers, seeds and roots of different plants. Chai, for instance, can contain gingerroot, cinnamon bark, rooibos leaf, and anise and cardamom seeds. Plants have numerous nutrients and therapeutic benefits and many use herbal teas as healing remedies for everything from relieving headaches to reducing blood pressure.

What to look for: To create your own tea combinations, you’ll need bulk leaves (or herbs) plus a strainer or tea ball. To create your own healing tea blend, pick up a copy of Healing Herbal Teas: A Complete Guide to Making Delicious, Healthful Beverages, by Brigitte Mars, AHG. Your health food store may also sell flowering tea “ball” sets, which open up when placed in hot water (in a clear tea pot); it’s a beautiful way to enjoy tea.

Ear Candles

It may seem like a strange way to remove wax and toxins from the ear canal, but many folks swear by a method called ear candling (sometimes known as ear coning) for unplugging ears and promoting health. Here’s how it works: The subject lies down on their side while a person knowledgeable with the process inserts the tip of a long cone, which is usually made of fabric such as cotton, muslin, or linen that’s been dipped in wax, into the upward facing ear. A paper or metal plate surrounds the candle to prevent the wax from flowing into the ear. The top of the cone has a wick and the action of lighting the candle and allowing it to burn for 10 or 15 minutes is said to create a vacuum that draws undesirable material out of the ear. The candle is never burned to the end; a few inches are always left for safety. In addition to removing excess earwax, it is said to detoxify the sinuses and lymphatic system, and even stop tinnitus (ear ringing).

What to look for: Look for candles, usually between 8 and 12 inches long made of natural or organic fabric and pure beeswax. Some stores sell booklets or instruction manuals that are essential if you haven’t ear-candled before. Never ear-candle alone, and be sure to use caution, because injury to the ear can result with improper use. Many health food store professionals are experienced in ear candling and can advise you or even offer treatments by appointment.