Supermarket shopping: decisions & dilemmas.[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Good nutrition starts in the supermarket. Unfortunately, supermarket shopping often feels overwhelming--too many decisions! On an average day, the average person makes 200 food decisions--and that is not including a major food shopping challenge. No wonder grocery shopping can be mind-boggling and a source of confusion.
Time and again, clients wistfully comment, "Nancy, I wish I could take you food shopping with me." While that is not possible, I can recommend a helpful alternative: a new book entitled, Read it Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time. Written by Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, weight loss specialist in New York, this helpful tool can answer your questions regarding organic or standard foods, fresh or frozen vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk ... and the list goes on. Here are just a few tidbits that I gleaned from this easy-read:
* Supermarkets are set up in the way they want you to shop, which means lots of unplanned purchases. That's why loaves of freshly baked bread or pretty flowers greet you as you enter the store. Be sure you have a plan (and your guard up) when you enter! Sixty to seventy percent of what ends up in a shopping cart tends to be unplanned.
* Beware of descriptive labels such as freshly baked, homemade, natural, and wholesome. These words make products appear more attractive, so they jump into your food cart. The same holds true with menus: Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet sells more than Fish of the Day.
* Do not be tempted by fat-free. When food manufacturers take out the fat, they generally add extra sugar. You will end up with a similar amount of calories--and sometimes even more calories. A smaller portion of the real food can create a better taste-memory than a larger portion of a substitute that is low in taste.
* Your goal should not be to eliminate dietary fat; you need some fat to absorb certain vitamins, provide fuel for endurance exercise, and contribute a nice taste and texture to foods. Rather, strive to enjoy more mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, while staying away from trans fats, listed on the label as partially hydrogenated oils. Even if the label says 0 grams trans fat, it might contain <0.5 g, so the better bet is to read the ingredient list on the label and nix foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
* The serving size listed on a food label may not be the appropriate portion for your body. Most athletes need at least two servings of cereal to create the foundation for an adequate breakfast. That is, you are not being piggy if you eat two packets (two servings) of oatmeal. You might even need three ...
* Read food labels for fiber information. The recommended fiber intake is about 25 to 35 g per day. Most people fail to reach that goal. Yet, some health-conscious athletes consume far more fiber than that--and complain about undesired pit stops during exercise. Moderation tends to be a wise path.
* Foods such as deli meats have no label. This makes it hard to count grams of protein, if you happen to be interested in assessing your protein intake. The alternative is to weigh the sliced meat. An ounce of deli roast beef or turkey breast offers about 7 g of protein. If you use 4 ounces in a sandwich, you will consume about 28 g of protein. That's about half the daily protein needs of an active woman, and about one-third of the amount needed by an active male.
* Fresh produce may not have a label, but it will have a Country of Origin sticker. If you start reading the little stickers, you will notice that grapes might come from Chile, the bananas from Ecuador, the peppers from Canada. The United Nations of food has gathered in your market's produce stand! While world-wide imports offer us more variety, they also contribute to a significant carbon footprint. Buying locally grown produce is a nice way to support your local farmers and protect the neighboring farmlands.
* Concerned about that long list of food additives you cannot pronounce? Food additives are carefully regulated and subject to ongoing safety reviews. The consumer advocate group Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests we avoid sodium nitrate, saccharin, caffeine, olestra, ace-sulfame-K, and artificial coloring not only because they are questionable additives, but also because they are used primarily in processed foods with low nutritional value. You will not go wrong eating more unprocessed or lightly processed foods, such as enjoying oatmeal instead of Froot Loops.
* Best if used by dates are related to freshness and best quality, not safety. Eating the food after that expiration date will not hurt you but there might be some loss of flavor or quality. Canned tomatoes, pineapple, and other high-acid foods can last for 12 to 18 months on the shelf. Canned meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and low acid foods can last for two to five years, if the can has been stored in a cool, dry place. Yet, when in doubt, throw it out.
* What exactly does organic mean on a food label? The official international definition is: Organic foods have been produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or synthetic fertilizers, and cannot be genetically modified or radiated. Organic poultry, dairy, meat, and eggs are produced without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, and are humanely raised and slaughtered.
This definition does not reflect the nutritional value of a food. Despite popular belief, organic food tends to be similar in nutritional value to standard food. And take note: organic chips are still chips that are loaded with fat, sodium, and calories ! Organic also does not mean the food is locally grown. Does organic food from China offer any real benefit to the environment?
Yikes ... I've read to p 55 and have run out of space. Guess you will have to read the remaining 200 pages of Read It Before You Eat It to learn more about the whats and whys of food shopping, so you can make food decisions based on facts, not fear.
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD counsels casual exercisers and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA (617-383-6100). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Food Guide for Marathoners, and Cyclist's Food Guide are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com. For her workshop information, see www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com. Nancy is Department Editor for Sport Nutrition.