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Food Shopping Strategies for People with Diabetes

October 25, 2011

Learn How to Avoid the Pitfalls and Leave the Grocery Store with Healthy Food

Grocery stores can be filled with temptations. Even if you don’t intend to buy junk food, somehow it ends up in your cart. And even if you can avoid impulse buys, is the food you are choosing really that good for you?

If you or someone you care about has diabetes, you know how important it is to eat right. But that can be difficult.

“Grocery stores are good at enticing you to buy things you don’t need,” said Anna Mazzei, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. “They are set up specifically for impulse-buying.”

Mazzei will present “Food Shopping Strategies for People with Diabetes,” part of the hospital’s free monthly Diabetes Matters education series. It will be held on Thursday, November 3, from 7 to 8 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. You can register online at www.whhs.com, or call (510) 745-6556 for more information.

“I’ll give some basic points to consider when shopping so you leave the store with the healthy items you need,” Mazzei said. “We’ll talk about strategies for convenience and cost-savings in addition to shopping tips that will help you keep your carbohydrates under control.”

She said the number one tip is to make a list and stick to it. Don’t even think about buying items that aren’t on the list. And don’t shop when you are hungry.

“You tend to make bad choices when you are hungry, especially if you are also tired,” she said. “Tired and hungry is the worst. Everything sounds so good and you are too tired to think clearly.”

Mazzei said try to stick to the perimeter of the store. That’s where the healthiest foods are, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy.

“Most of the impulse foods are at the end of the isles,” she said.

Labels are Key

A big part of Mazzei’s talk will focus on food labels. Nearly every packaged food product sold in the United States is required to have a nutrition label that lists the ingredients and nutritional value of the item.

The best place to start when looking at the food label is the portion size at the top. Portion control is critical for people with diabetes. The label provides the serving size and the number of servings in the product.

“That means if the label says the food item has three servings and you eat the entire package, you have to multiply the calories, carbohydrates, and other nutrients by three to know what you are really eating,” Mazzei explained.

The number of calories, carbohydrates, and other nutrients are also listed on the label so you know how many are in one serving. Other nutrients listed on the label include fat, cholesterol, fiber, protein, sodium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.

“The label is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and is required by law to provide certain information,” she said. “But food manufacturers have figured out loopholes, like including the words ‘whole grain’ on the front to make you think it’s healthy. You have to watch out for health claims on food packaging.”

She said cereal is a prime example. While the box may say whole grain, if it’s loaded with sugar, it’s not a good pick.

“You have to be aware of what these claims really mean,” she said. “For example, ‘low sugar’ doesn’t mean the item is carb-free or calorie-free.”

Mazzei said she will also talk about ways to keep costs down while shopping.

“Coupons are good, but not if you are buying something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy,” she said. “Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season helps to keep costs down.”

To learn about other diabetes programs at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/diabetes.