During a grocery store tour June 11 at Superfair Foods, Kim Nelson, a registered dietician for Mayo Clinic Health System, pointed out the importance of examining food labels and the ways in which people with differing diets and goals need to value different aspects on those labels.

Nelson said dieticians are going into grocery stores more and more to help people understand how to make healthy choices. She added that this has been a learning process, even for her, because--like most others--she’s used to breezing through the grocery store.

She often hears from people that, “it’s too expensive to eat healthy,” and she advised checking sale papers and coupons to find deals. Furthermore, the plate method has now replaced the food pyramid, simplifying portion suggestions. Fruits and vegetables should comprise half of the plate, but, regardless of the food, portions control remains vitally important. Grains and proteins should also be on the plate, with a cup of dairy added.

Nelson added that food labels can be misleading. For example, what does “light” really mean? Is that light referring to calories, to fat, to carbohydrates, or to sodium content?

According to 2012 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 62 percent of all adult Minnesotans were overweight, and more than 24 percent were considered obese. Despite childhood obesity decreasing by 0.27 percent between 2008 and 2010, more than 17 percent of American children ages 2-19 are considered obese. The CDC also found that medical costs for obese adult Americans are $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. And Americans, on average, spent approximately $147 million on medical bills in 2008.

Nelson said sodium is a major problem for Americans, and it’s an omnipresent force in processed foods. “You can get ‘healthy’ at a lot of places, but it’s hard to get rid of sodium.” 

Though juice has long been considered a healthy alternative to soda, Nelson cautioned that many juices can be pernicious. Many are less than 100 percent juice, which lends them scant nutritional value, and they can be loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.

Another item with deceptively little nutritional value is lettuce, which is 99 percent water, she said. Beans, however, are a great way to attain fiber, which “we don’t get enough of in our diet.” In introducing more fiber to a diet, one needs to proceed slowly, and drink more water than usual, she said. Anything over three grams of fiber per serving is considered strong.

Other than beans, bran cereals and breads can be fiber-friendly. Baked beans, though they’re high in sugar, also retain protein and fiber.

“Mono and polyunsaturated fats are the best fats we have,” while saturated fats are the worst, she said. Olives are a good source for those, and, while nuts are an excellent source of fiber and protein, they’re very high in calories.

Nelson also repeated the oft-heard (but true) adage that it takes about 20 minutes for an individual to realize he or she is full. If Americans took longer to eat, they’d eat less, but “we’re a fast-paced society.”

Popcorn is another superb snack, always packed with good grains no matter the brand or style, she said. Of course, the popcorn loaded with cheese and/or butter is going to be a less salubrious option than one with little butter and/or salt.

In addition, one doesn’t lose much--if any--nutritional value in substituting frozen fruits and vegetables for fresh fruit and vegetables, Nelson said. And, with a cunning eye for sales, one can procure these items in a cost-feasible way.

Nelson said, as a society, “we eat too much meat.” An individual shouldn’t have more than six ounces of meat per day. Moreover, white chicken and turkey breast are considered lean meats, the most healthful category of meats. Anything lean or round is considered a leaner meat.

This was the first in a series of tours Nelson is giving, and locals can attend and ask questions of their own. The next scheduled tour is July 9 at Superfair Foods from 10-11 a.m. There’s also a tour July 23 from 10-11 a.m. at Paul’s Food Pride, another at Superfair on August 13 from 10-11 a.m., and a final one scheduled from 10-11 a.m. at Paul’s Food Pride on August 20. Tours last about one hour, and participants can meet Nelson at the front door of the store. Nelson can be reached at 507-375-8653 or emailed at nelson.kimberlee@mayo.edu.

Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan

For the complete story, please see the June 19 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.