Let's be honest. Who doesn't like going to Costco for all the free samples of food? It's fun and makes grocery shopping more exciting. However, I've always wondered how many calories one consumes on any given Sunday at Costco. Can consuming these "store d'oeurves" really impact your diet, sabotage your weight loss plan, or affect your overall health?
To shed some light on these questions, the last time I went to Costco I took a picture of every single sample that the store was offering that day. Then for fun, I did a little analysis of nutrient content. Here's what was cookin':
Sheila G's Brownie Brittle (0.5 oz)
60 kcal, 2 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 10.5 g carbs, 0.5 g protein
Cackalacky Spice Sauce (1 tsp served on a tortilla chip)
20 kcal, 0.69 g fat, 0.84 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 1.99 g carbs, 0.22 g protein
Ancient Grains Cooked Freekeh (1/8 cup)
68 kcal, 0.31 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 13.5 g carbs, 2.75 g protein
DiGiorno Frozen Supreme Speciale Pizza (2" surface area)
41 kcal, 2.25 g fat, 0.776 g sat fat, 3 mg chol, 3.7 g carbs, 1.61 g protein
Pierre Signatures Frozen Grilled Chicken Sandwich (1/4 sandwich)
70 kcal, 2.2 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 7.5 mg chol, 8.8 g carbs, 3.8 g protein
Dee Amore's Frozen Potato Skins (1 piece)
100 kcal, 6.5 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 15 mg chol, 7 g carbs, 4.5 g protein
Better Bakery Frozen Italian Style Meats Pretzel Melt (1/8 sandwich)
56 kcal, 3 g fat, 1.625 g sat fat, 11.25 mg chol, 4.9 g carbs, 2.25 g protein
Nathan's Beef Franks (1 cocktail-sized frank)
32 kcal, 2.85 g fat, 1.115 g sat fat, 6 mg chol, 0.4 g carbs, 1.19 g protein
Bel Gioioso Fresh Mozzarella (1 cubic inch)53 kcal, 3.93 g fat, 2.315 g sat fat, 14 mg chol, 0.39 g carbs, 3.9 g protein
Julian's Belgian Style Waffles (2" suface area)23 kcal, 0.71 g fat, 0.145 g sat fat, 1 mg chol, 3.6 g carbs, 0.54 g protein
Abuelita White Corn Tortilla Chips (1 chip)
15 kcal, 0.69 g fat, 0.084 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 1.99 g carbs, 0.22 g protein
Detour Caramel Peanut Protein Bar (1/8 bar)
16 kcal, 0.12 g fat, 0.124 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 2.74 g carbs, 0.87 g protein
Fruit Smoothie made from a Vitamix (2 oz)
33 kcal, 0.08 g fat, 0.017 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 8.31 g carbs, 0.23 g protein
587 kcal, 25.33 g fat, 11 g sat fat, 58 mg chol, 68 g carbs, 22.5 g protein
Ringing in at a grand total of 587 kcal, your weekly shopping trip is like adding an entire meal to your day. These totals are assuming that you are only eating one of each item, and you know you have doubled back to a sampling station before hoping that the serving lady doesn't recognize you! Now, if you add this 587 calorie meal on top of your regular 3 meals that day, this adds up to an additional 30,524 kcal each year (assuming one shopping trip per week), which is equivalent to 8.7 lbs of body weight! This means you could potentially avoid gaining almost 9 pounds per year if you just said no to all the samples in the store! Craziness!
And taking a minute to talk about the foods that are offered, you can see that the majority of these foods are processed foods. It is very rare that you go into the store and they are sampling some of the fresh fruit - I love it when they do this btw! Most of the items are frozen convenience foods that are high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. In fact, 39% of total calories of this "Costco meal" are coming from fat. This is way above the upper limit that the USDA sets for fat consumption (30%), which is way above what I believe to be optimal for human health and performance (<20%).
From this entire menu, the only samples I'd recommend any of my clients trying are the fruit smoothie and the freekeh (aka green wheat). I'm not knocking Costco at all here - I like Costco. There are plenty of healthy foods you can buy in bulk at this store: fresh fruits, fresh veggies, whole grains, canned veggies, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, frozen veggies, frozen fruit, 100% fruit juice, and non-dairy milk, to name a few.
So next time you take a trip to Costco, try eating a healthy meal or snack before so the unhealthy store d'oeurvres aren't as tempting. Bring a bottle of water or unsweetened tea that you can sip on as you peruse the aisles to keep your mouth & hands busy. Also use it as an opportunity to look at the nutrition facts labels of the foods that are on display and think about whether you want to put these foods into your body and even more importantly, into your kids' bodies. And last but not least, enjoy the free healthy samples that happen to be on display! :)