Supermarket tours to assist people in making informed nutrition choices

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Today's modern grocery stores feature everything from full-service meat departments, delicatessens and bakeries to garden fresh produce departments with organic options.

Even the mom-and-pop establishments offer a variety of canned goods, frozen items and more.

But so much choice also can present a dilemma.

"When there are hundreds of food products to pick from, how do you pick the foods that will provide you with your basic nutrient needs?" Karen Pritts said.

She is a registered dietitian and program director for the Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology at Monongahela Valley Hospital, which is sponsoring healthy eating supermarket tours at Healthy Directions inside the Giant Eagle in Finleyville.

Mrs. Pritts and staff members, as well as health care professionals from the hospital's clinical nutrition department, will conduct the tours over the next four months at the Giant Eagle at 3701 Route 88 in Washington County.

The schedule of free tours and topics is:

1-3 p.m. Feb. 6 -- Heart Healthy Eating

1-4 p.m. March 26 -- Diabetes Alert Day: Diabetes Risk Screening

3-5 p.m. April 11 -- High Blood Pressure: Your Salt and Sodium Intake

1-3 p.m. May 7 -- Picnic Foods

The purpose of the tours is to help people learn to choose foods at their local supermarket to manage a healthier lifestyle.

Healthy Directions in the Finleyville Giant Eagle is a walk-in medical facility managed and staffed by the hospital that offers diagnosis and treatment for common, non-urgent illnesses. Its services include physical examinations, vaccines, on-site diagnostic testing, screenings and laboratory testing.

The tours begin with a lecture, followed by hands-on inspection of products in the food aisles. During the tour, a product that a tour-goer frequently buys may be selected for a review of its label.

One of the teaching points will be how to read food labels to understand the ingredients.

"We need to cut through all the advertising on the box to find out what is really in the food," Mrs. Pritts said.

There also will be a discussion of portion sizes.

Mrs. Pritts said people are often misled by labels, thinking they can eat more of, say, ice cream, if it is the so-called "sugar-free" type.

Items touted as sugar-free -- referring to table sugar -- may contain other forms of sugar such as the corn syrup used to sweeten soft drinks.

There also may be additional fat among its ingredients, she said.

"Many times these tours focus on the same types of foods," Mrs. Pritts said.

The Feb. 6 and April 11 tours will be based on the American Heart Association guidelines of watching fat and sodium intake.

On March 26, or the American Diabetes Association Alert Day, diabetes risk factors will be discussed, and a risk screening form administered prior to the tour.

The May 7 tour will include tips on creating low-fat macaroni and potato salads; food safety; and cooking on a grill.

With the latter, Mrs. Pritts said to make sure the meat is cooked all the way through -- "rare is not a good idea," she said -- to decrease the risk of food-borne illnesses.

Mrs. Pritts said a trip to the dessert aisle during the tours is a possibility -- but not without a lesson in portion size and the need to understand some of the myriad terms for sugar and other food substances.

"We try to narrow it down to the basics," she said.

Advanced registration for the tours is required by calling 724-258-1483 because space is limited. Details:

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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