Courtesy of Richard's Whole Foods

Shopping the Aisles for Good Nutrition

Posted May 5, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- Marion Nestle, a long-time nutrition professor at New York University and veteran consumer advocate, is known in the nutrition world for her straight-shooting, no-nonsense style.

For years, she has hounded the food industry about its unrelenting marketing strategies, which she detailed in her 2002 book, Food Politics. She challenged the government to protect the country's food supply in her 2003 book, Safe Food.

And today she's touring a Safeway supermarket, explaining how Americans can shop for a healthful diet, the subject of her latest book, What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating (North Point Press, $30).

As usual, Nestle doesn't mince words on topics such as:

*Sugary cereals. "The latest trend in kids' cereals is to emphasize how many vitamins and minerals they have, but many of these are so high in sugar that they are really vitamin-enriched, low-fat cookies."

*Margarines. Most margarines are basically the same: mixtures of soybean oil and food additives. They are high in fats and calories. "I don't eat margarine. Why would you want to put soybean oil on your bread? I'd much rather put olive oil or butter. A little goes a long way."

*The soda and chip aisle. If you don't want your kids eating these foods or you don't want to eat them yourself, then "don't set foot in this aisle."

Nestle, who was a guest professor this spring at the University of California-Berkeley, doesn't want people to get her wrong. She loves to eat and she loves food, but she says Americans must realize that supermarkets are set up to tempt them to buy a lot of food.

"You have to know so much to navigate the store," she says.

If you want to eat a fairly healthful diet, shop the perimeter and pick up produce, fish, meat, low-fat dairy products and fresh-baked bread, and stay out of the center aisles, which often are loaded with processed foods, Nestle says. She recommends carefully reading the nutrition-facts panel and ingredient lists. If the ingredient list is several inches long and has additives you've never heard of, then put the product back on the shelf, she says.

Aisle-by-aisle advice from Marion Nestle:

Produce section. This colorful section often is located near the front, so it grabs shoppers' attention and pulls them into the store, Nestle says. It's a great place to start shopping, because most people need to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Many people are overwhelmed because there are so many choices. Nestle believes stores should offer taste stations so shoppers can taste different fruits and vegetables.

No matter what type of produce you buy, she advises washing all fruits, vegetables and lettuces, even when they're pre-washed and pre-cut. "Washing can't remove all microbes that could be harmful, but it takes care of most of them."

Organic produce. If a product carries the "Certified Organic" seal, it has met the standards established by the Department of Agriculture. "Pesticide-free produce may not look as pretty, but if you want fewer pesticides in your body and in the bodies of your children, buy organic."

Cheese case. Cheese is high in fat, especially saturated (animal) fat. "There's no way around that. It's meant to be eaten in small qualities. If you are worried about your weight or saturated fat, cheese should be used as a condiment to add flavor in shavings or small pieces. Don't eat it piled high on pizza."

Low-fat cheeses may slash the calories and fat, but many don't taste very good. "I much prefer to save my calorie -- and fat -- budgets for really good cheeses and just not eat too much of them at any one time."

Yogurt case. Most types are loaded with sugar and fruit juice concentrates. "It's best to buy a low-fat, plain yogurt and add your own fruit."

Juice aisle. Juice has sugars but also plenty of nutrients. Kids can get those nutrients in six to eight ounces of juice a day. Juice drinks are another matter; they are just sugar water and, therefore, liquid candy, Nestle says. Don't let children have juice drinks except perhaps as a treat, just like any other candy or dessert, she says.

Bread aisle. White bread has too little fiber and too few nutrients for the calories. Instead, select 100% whole-wheat breads. Look for 100% on the label, whole-wheat flour as the first ingredient and 2 grams of fiber per ounce.

Meat counter. Don't be misled by labels. A meat package that reads 80% lean actually means it is 20% fat by weight, and this fat makes up more than two-thirds of its calories. So a serving from this package has 200 fat calories of its total of 280 calories. "That's food politics for you."

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Date: May 3, 2006 Nanci Hellmich

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