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Attention shoppers! Nutritional advice on Aisle 3

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Crystal Cates, a clinical dietician with Georgetown County Hospital System, doesn’t label any food as “bad” or “off limits.”

She doesn’t preach deprivation and, in fact, advises against it. Deprivation makes it too easy to overindulge if the temptation gets to be too much and a person decides they really do have to have that triple chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookie chunks and chocolate pudding swirls.

It’s better to keep it on the menu and simply stick to small portions.

“The key is everything in moderation,” Cates said last week as she led a small group through the Pawleys Island area Food Lion. She gives grocery store “tours” in different parts of the county about once a month, offering smart shopping tips for healthier eating.

Stopping in front of a line of glass-fronted freezers filled with ice cream, her advice is to get something you really want if you’re going to get something from that section. Don’t waste calories on something that doesn’t taste good just because the label says it’s low fat.

“You don’t want to be miserable eating something you don’t like,” she said. “Enjoy those calories.”

And keep in mind items that promise “fat free” aren’t always as healthy as manufacturers want consumers to believe. They’re usually higher in carbohydrates or sugar, which can be just as bad as fat.

If you really like the fat-free item, have it, Cates advises. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth it.

“Look at what your goals are,” she advises. “For me, it’s overall health.” She tends to prefer reduced or low fat to fat-free, or “just smaller portions.”

A lot of what Cates says as she walks through the aisles is common sense. She starts with “don’t shop when you’re hungry.” Anyone who has made that mistake probably knows why it’s a bad idea.

But Cates also offers helpful guidelines on what consumers should really look for on nutrition labels, as well as offering suggestions for healthier alternatives shoppers might not have considered.

In the refrigerated section in front of the deli counter, she points out hummus as “a great dip for carrots or spread on a sandwich,” and a better option than, for example, a ranch dip. Guacamole, shelved nearby, still has a good bit of fat to watch out for, but in moderation it’s also a good alternative.

Greek yogurt is a better choice than regular yogurt for calories per serving size, and plain low fat yogurt is a good substitute for sour cream.

For a healthier alternative to chocolate milk, try soy or almond milk.

For ice cream, Cates personally likes slow-churned because it tastes good, but has fewer calories, and she likes ultra thin-sliced cheddar cheese, because it too offers the taste she wants, but packs fewer calories.

Brummel and Brown’s nonfat yogurt spread is a good substitute for butter or margarine, with less calories and fat, she points out. And yes, it tastes like butter, she adds, answering a question from her audience.

She talks a lot about fiber and shoppers get their first lesson in that as they approach the sandwich wraps. As with bread, the first thing to look for on the label is whole grains or whole wheat at the top of the ingredient list.

People should consume 25-30 grams of fiber a day (on the higher end for men and the lower end for women), according to Cates. Most consume closer to 15 grams, she added. Inspecting nutrition labels on various kinds of wraps, she discards one with 2 grams of fiber in a serving. Five grams is what consumers should aim for, she said.

“Fiber fills you up, so you can eat less and still stay full,” she said.

Shoppers were also advised to take into account the size of the wrap in relation to the number of calories.

“This one has 150 calories in just a little one,” she said, holding up a package. “You might find a big one with the same amount. Which one is going to be more filling?”

Shoppers are warned to be on the lookout for hydrogenated oil, a man-made fat that helps prolong the shelf life of foods.

“It clogs the arteries similar to saturated fat,” Cates said.

She didn’t tell people not to buy items with hydrogenated oil. “It’s just something to be aware of. It could add up,” she said.

Asked how it compares to trans fat, it’s the same she said, and noted that labeling loopholes allow food packagers to round trans fat measurements down to the nearest gram. That means a food that contains .4 grams of trans fat per serving can report 0.

Sodium should be limited to around 1,500 mg a day — a little higher is OK for those who are under 51, are not African-American and don’t have high blood pressure or diabetes. That breaks down to about 500 mg per meal, but it doesn’t have to be spread throughout the day. If someone wants a higher sodium food at one meal, they can compensate with less sodium at another meal.

“You can make it balance,” Cates said.

She recommends limiting egg yolks to four per week, whether they’re consumed all in one day or spread throughout the week. Eggs are linked to high cholesterol, but also contain Omega-3 fatty acids, the same heart healthy fat found in fish.

Don’t mistake fruit drinks for fruit juices. Nutritionally, 100 percent juices are best, but calories can add up quickly. Diluting juices with water is one way to cut calories.

When it comes to eating fruits and vegetables, more is better and choosemyplate.gov is a great place to find guidelines on how much to eat, which foods have the most nutritional value and tips on how to fit more fruits and veggies into your day.

“You can’t go wrong with more fruits and vegetables, whether at a meal or a snack,” Cates said.

For snacks, such as cookies and crackers, Cates said again to look for fiber and try to find something with some nutritional value. She likes WhoNu cookies, which are a good size per serving and boast lots of fiber and vitamins D and C.

“It doesn’t take the place of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but if you’re craving something sweet, this is a good option,” she said, having fellow shoppers compare the nutrition label to those of other products.

“Do they have any fiber?” she asks, referring to another brand of cookies.

“Only if you’re going to eat the package,” said John Morris.

Cates also likes Triscuits Thin Crisps, and other snacks with a more generous serving size.

“It’s a mind game,” she said. People often feel fuller after eating a serving consisting of 26 small crackers versus a serving of four larger crackers.

With lunch meats, she advises comparing labels and looking especially close at the sodium levels. Anything that says “smoked” on the package is likely to have a lot of sodium and watch out for sodium in anything with a marinade or a sauce.

Skinless poultry is best and try to eat fish twice a week (baked, broiled or grilled, but not deep fried); fresh or frozen is fine.

Look for meat with less marbling; the leaner the better. Or get a type of meat where the fat can be trimmed off the edges.

For cereals, maximize on fiber and minimize the sugar, she advises.

“You still want to enjoy it, so if it tastes like cardboard, don’t eat it over and over,” she said. But she recommends cereals that have at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 9 grams of sugar per serving.

The key to drinking alcohol is moderate amounts, she said. One drink per day for women and two for men is acceptable.

“One drink” amounts to a 5-ounce portion. Red wine has less sugar, but about the same amount of calories as white wine.

She also reminded shoppers that “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie or that a food is better nutritionally.

“Know it’s here if you need something, but you don’t necessarily have to shop here,” she said passing through the organic section.

To find out when and where the next free supermarket tour will be, call 520-8288.

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