By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Shoppers looking for healthy choices on their grocery lists can gather tips from a new program being offered by the Clinton County Health Department.
Nutritionists from the Health Department will meet with small groups of shoppers for scheduled tours of grocery stores, where they can identify healthy-food products and avoid those not-so-healthy options.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for some time now,” said Mandy Snay, supervising nutritionist for the Health Department. “It makes sense to meet people where they make decisions as they are walking up and down the aisles.
“With thousands of products available to them, that makes decision-making more difficult,” she added as she prepared recently to meet with a group touring the Hannaford grocery selections.
“We may focus on the particular needs of each group, but we typically look at sodium, fat and cholesterol content.”
LABELS AND MORE
The tour often keys in on food labels, including how to identify such factors as sodium and fat content, so consumers can decide whether a product that is marketed as low fat, for example, might actually have nearly as much fat content as the regular choice.
“We can compare the nutritional value of the store brand with the national brand and see that there’s often little difference,” Snay said. “That can also be a cost-savings measure for consumers.”
As part of the Eastern Adirondack Health Care Network’s Healthy Aging initiative, the tours have been geared toward residents 55 and older, though the Health Department will open the service to more age groups should the community show an interest, Snay noted.
On this particular day, the group consisted of men over 55 who chose to participate because they do the bulk of the shopping for their families.
EAGER TO IMPROVE
“I thought it might be interesting to get some help (on healthy-food selections) from a professional,” said Bud Smith of Peru. “I’ve been working with a personal trainer at (the Wellness Center at) PARC, and I thought this would be a good addition to what I’m doing there.”
Smith said he is aware of the importance of cutting down on fat and cholesterol but is always looking at ways to improve his health-related activities.
“One of the things I’ve frequently noticed is the sodium content,” he said. “There is sometimes an amazing amount of sodium, especially in processed foods. The more you can stay away from prepared foods, the better.”
Wayne LaValley of Champlain also got involved in the tour because he does a lot of the family shopping.
“I’m always looking to learn more,” he said of his desire to choose healthy foods. “I have a pretty good idea of what to look for, but I still have some bad habits of choosing what I know I shouldn’t.”
LaValley said it is important to carefully study the ingredients in labels. For instance, he said, it is important to make sure any wheat products chosen are labeled 100 percent whole wheat, which eliminates the potential for not-so-healthy fillers.
“You have to pay attention,” he said.
As the tour began, Snay led the men through the fruits and vegetables section, offering a tip that the healthiest foods are often placed along the outer walls of a grocery store, while the aisles themselves contain many of the prepared or processed foods.
She noted that organic fruits and vegetables differ from other choices because no pesticides were used to grow them, but non-organic fruits and vegetables offer an equal amount of nutritional value.
Taking a look at salad dressings, she noted that fat-free choices often have an increased sodium content.
“Fat tastes good,” she said. “When you take fat out, you need more sodium to replace the lost taste. It’s important to balance the nutritional value of products.”
Products should have fewer than 130 milligrams of sodium per serving, she suggested.
Other areas of interest included the dairy section, where she suggests to always choose low-fat cheeses and skim milk, and the cold cuts, where substituting turkey bacon for regular can be just as tasty but a lot healthier.
The program has a full schedule through January, Snay said, noting that two to three shopping tours are being scheduled each week.
“We try to limit the size of the tours, so everyone involved can get something out of (the education),” Snay said.
Price Chopper, Wal-Mart and Yandos have also offered their stores for shopping tours.
Email Jeff Meyers:
email@example.comTO LEARN MORE For questions about the Clinton County Health Department shopping tours or to sign up for one, call 565-4993.