The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Value of Healthy Eating

The Value of Healthy Eating

Dietitian Dialogues

March 27, 2011

I love my job, but one of the challenges of my job as a supermarket dietitian is to help my customers eat healthy meals at an exceptional value – overcoming the claims that it just costs too much to eat healthy. The first step is to help consumers define what is “a healthy diet” based on current nutrition science. When talking with customers and consumer groups, I make it a point to teach them the following principles.

A Healthy Diet Defined

According to the FDA, a healthy diet is “a diet that emphasizes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars; and stays within your daily calorie needs.”

Notice the key words here: “variety,” “fruits, vegetables, whole grains,” “low-fat dairy,” and “lean protein.” In other words, they are the wholesome, simple foods we’ve been eating for centuries. Selecting healthier foods, rather than focusing on individual nutrients, is the easiest way to guide customers to healthier eating. 

Also notice what isn’t included in that definition. Terms like “organic” and “natural” become optional in the basic healthy diet equation, making selection of these foods a personal choice – not a health necessity. While I personally love many organic and natural products, current science doesn’t tell us that they are any better than conventionally grown foods. But, they do cost more – sometimes significantly more! 

Okay, so let’s narrow this down now to some concrete advice for consumers:

Store Brands

Buying store brands in place of name brand products offers significant savings.  According to a recent Consumer Reports investigation, families can save from 20% to 50% on groceries by switching to store brands or value brands.

Use Coupons

Faithful coupon clippers spend an average of 20 minutes per week clipping coupons and save an average of $1,000.00 per year according to the Promotion Marketing Association. That’s a great return on investment!

Plan and Shop

The most effective way to save money on your food bill is to plan your weekly menus, shop using a list and coupons based on your menus, and stick to your plan! Our retailer offers menu planning and recipe resources at www.meijermealbox.com.

Whole Grains

If you have time, you can bake your own healthy breads to save money (I really wish I had time!). When shopping, select foods that are whole grain and naturally rich in fiber. Whole wheat and whole grain breads (not gourmet breads) that offer about 3g of fiber per slice are good budget-friendly options. Breakfast cereals are one of the best fiber sources in the American diet. Look for cereals with no less than 3g of fiber per serving, choose store brands, and buy on sale or with coupons, to maximize your savings. Since cereals have a long shelf life, it makes sense to stock up on these during a great sale. The same goes for pasta and rice. Our Meijer brand whole wheat pasta costs about 40 cents less than the name brand and is equal to or better than the quality of the name brand.

From a professional perspective, I do have some concerns about formulated, added fibers. What is the long-term effect of these fibers on gut health? Should I really get my fiber from yogurt? I encourage customers to eat foods naturally rich in fiber. Adding one daily serving of a fiber fortified food to the diet is a great idea to help meet daily fiber goals, but these foods should not be the primary source of fiber intake.

NuVal Note

Use your retailer’s nutrition guidance/shelf labeling program to compare price and nutrition to get the most nutrition for your food dollar. At Meijer we use NuVal, an independent scoring system that rates foods on a scale of 1 to 100 – the higher the number the more nutritious the food. You can learn more at NuVal.com. One of the best features of NuVal is that customers can compare nutrition and price at a glance and quickly make a healthy, budget-conscious food choice at the point of purchase.

Eat More Produce 

Whenever I talk to consumer groups, one of the most common complaints I hear is that “produce is so expensive” – and it can be. The best advice for fresh produce is to buy produce in season. I’ve heard other dietitians set limits on the price per pound they will spend on produce. For example, not buying any fresh produce that exceeds $1.69 per pound. Better yet, you can stock up on nutrient dense frozen vegetables and fruit without added salt, sauce or sugars. Don’t overlook canned items as well. No salt added canned goods and fruit canned in water have nutrition profiles that rival fresh produce. You can also stock up on frozen and canned goods when these items are on sale (provided that you have freezer space).

Penny-Pinching Proteins 

Meats, poultry and seafood can be the most costly grocery purchases. Emphasize less expensive, high quality protein foods such as canned tuna, canned beans, eggs, milk and yogurt, and even peanut butter to cut your grocery bill. Create dinner meal plans using less expensive proteins like tuna noodle casserole with whole wheat noodles, or pasta with cannellini beans, spinach and seasoned canned tomatoes. 

Consider the regional food preferences of your shoppers. Have fun coming up with ideas to teach your customers how to eat healthy on a budget!

 

Tina Miller, MS RD, is a healthy living advisor at Meijer and specializes in consumer nutrition education and wellness promotion to the communities in East Michigan and Northern Ohio. Tina can also be heard on local radio with her weekly nutrition spot on the Lucy Ann Lance show on 1290 AM. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Eastern Michigan University in the Dietetics program.

 

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at allison@supermarketguru.com.