BERLIN – Kathy Wool, R.D., L.D.N. arrived early and was waiting at the front of the Food Lion grocery store for what she hoped was a significant number of people to take part in her nutrition tour. The event was sponsored by the Worcester County Health Department and Wool worried that the timing might have been off or that word hadn’t gotten out sufficiently as only two participants had yet arrived.
As it turned out her concern was unnecessary because by a little after 10 a.m., the advertised start time, there were plenty of participants, many of whom came prepared not only with questions but also with shopping lists. While Wool had intended the class primarily as instructional, some attendees were really looking forward to putting what they learned into practice immediately.
At one time, grocery store tours were a rare and sometimes costly event because they are mildly time-intensive and often conducted by a nutritionist or dietician with a private practice, but the health department has ben sponsoring these with more regularity recently and will likely continue to do so. Their notion and mandate is that the healthier they can get people to live, the better they can begin to reduce the growing demand for what are often preventable community health needs.
After decades of poor or mis-information regarding the “best” kinds of diets, both the private and public health communities have begun to make some headway with the greatest dieting secret of all time — when it comes to weight loss and maintenance, calories are really the only thing that matters.
It’s a theme Wool constantly returned to throughout the tour. She likes to use what might be called a calorie bag analogy:
Assume your total calorie intake ought to be 1,500 per day, this number is person specific so might be higher or lower based on your goals and condition. If you imagine each item you eat being placed in a calorie bag that only holds 1,500 calories and when the bag is full, you’re done eating for the day. By these lights, one fast food lunch might be all you can have, if that’s what you choose. But for health reasons, one calorie-packed meal per day is both unwise and impractical.
While additional room can be made in the bag through burning calories through exercise, the mental picture of running out of room is a helpful way to stay in touch with the facts of reasonable consumption. By using it, a person can change their entire attitude about food to a balance between what they’d like to have and which foods will best fit into their calorie bag.
It follows, then, that foods that keep you sated the longest with the fewest number of calories, or rather the most productive calories, can help fill the bag in the most effective way. To that end, both the tour and the newest nutritional guidelines focus on vegetables.
After fielding questions Wool began in the produce aisle talking about how to make sure to get the bulk of your calories from vegetables. Possibly the most important revelation was that, when shopping in a grocery store, frozen vegetables can be superior to fresh depending upon the item and the season.
Since many fresh fruits and vegetables have to be shipped before they’re finished ripening, out of season frozen vegetables that are picked ripe and flash-frozen can have a higher nutrient count.
Wool was able to provide similar insights from the dietician’s perspective at nearly every turn, helping participants not only to understand the highly-specialized terms that appeared on many of the nutritional labels but also to put familiar terms into better perspective.
Early on, for example, she pointed out that to get a better picture of how much sugar an item contains, divide the grams by four and that’s the number of teaspoons — an item with 20 grams of sugar per serving would have the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar.
Wool said she believed the tour was a success and looks forward to continuing the program in the future. For more information about this and other free programs sponsored by the Worcester County Health Department call Prevention Services at 410-632-1100.