Dietician teaches smart shopping for healthy eating

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
— As a registered dietician, Jennifer Johnson could spend hours in the grocery store teaching consumers about healthy eating.

She got one hour Monday when she led a group of consumers around the Evansville Piggly Wiggly for a workshop titled "Getting the most bang for your buck."

Johnson manages the Rock County WIC program through Nutrition and Health Associates in Janesville, which co-sponsored the event with the Exchange Family Resource Center.

She started the tour in the produce section.

Families on WIC get a dollar amount to spend on produce, so she teaches getting the most value.

"I look for around a dollar a pound," she said.

Consumers should use store fliers to plan meals based on produce sales, she said.

"Most of the grocery shopping you have to do is typically on the outside of the store," she said.

"Most families don't get enough fruits and vegetables or it gets tossed," she said.

Smaller households, for example, should buy apples per pound rather than buying the big bag of apples, she said. The longer produce sits, the more nutritional value it loses, she said.

If you often end up tossing fresh produce, try canned or frozen, instead, she said. Fresh produce is frozen soon after it's harvested, locking in most of the nutrients.

"The best vegetable you have is the one you eat," she said.

With that, she headed to the canned fruits and vegetables.

She picked up a 1-pound bag of frozen peas costing $1.59 for five servings. But Johnson pointed to the label, which says it contains salt. Look at the label to make sure you're getting pure vegetables, she warned.

"I know a lot of people are stuck on brands. Really, the difference is you have a higher price, but you really don't have a better or worse product from this to this," she said, pointing to brand name and generic frozen vegetables. "The food you're getting is the same."

A 1-pound bag of generic frozen broccoli was $2.29. For the same price, you'd get only 14 ounces in a brand-name bag.

Moving into the snack food aisles, Johnson's advice turned to the nutritional labels on processed food. She asked participants to pick bags of what they thought are the healthiest snack. People grabbed bags of pretzels, baked chips and snack mix.

Johnson directed them look for trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils in nutrition labels. Although some labels will say zero trans fats, they still will be listed in the ingredients because there isn't enough in one serving to be required to put it in the label, she said.

"But again, how many of us are going to have just a half-cup of this?" she said holding a bag of chips. "You think it's great, but in terms of trans fat, it may be not."

Salsa is a good choice, but it's the stuff you dip into it, she said.

In the granola bar aisle, she told the group to look for omega 3s, which are a good fat.

If it helps control your portions, Johnson recommends buying individually packaged snack items.

In the cereal aisle, the discussion turned to serving sizes and how big a cereal bowl is.

"If it's my husband's, it's a mixing bowl," one participant responded.

The box of Cheerios shows a serving size of 1 cup while the Honey Nut Cheerios, with more sugar, has only a three-quarter cup serving size, Johnson pointed out.

Americans are programmed to eat more fat and protein than other cultures, she said.

"Eating healthy can be expensive, but does it have to be? No," she said. "A lot of it is planning ahead."

Last updated: 11:42 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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