Do you sometimes wish you had a personal shopper for the grocery store? It’s possible you already do—for free! Many natural foods stores now work with dietitians to help people make sense of what to buy and why. Here are the top questions to ask your in-store nutrition expert, according to supermarket dietitian Betsy Ramirez, RD, founder of supermarketnutrition.com.
What should I look for on a food label?
Betsy Ramirez: If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, or weight issues, ask your retail dietitian what matters on the food label for your needs. It’s easy to get confused; for example, for a diabetic, do you look for sugar or do you look for carbohydrates?
If you have high blood pressure, are you looking at sodium? For heart disease, are you looking at fat, or cholesterol? There have been so many new studies that it can get complex, but dietitians keep up on the latest research and news, so they’ll be able to help.
Should I really shop only the perimeter of the store?
BR: I know we’ve preached that for a long time, but I think dietitians should stop saying that. Yes, the perimeter is where the fresh stuff is, but inside the store you have dried and canned beans, rice, whole-grain cereals, oatmeal, maple syrup, honey, frozen vegetables and fruits—nothing wrong with those! By shopping only the perimeter, you’re missing out on important nutrients. Plus, it just isn’t realistic.
How can I find ideas for quick and healthy meals?
BR: Your store dietitian is going to have all kinds of recipe resources at his or her fingertips—community pages they follow, websites they love. A lot of dietitians also have YouTube channels and Facebook pages; and individual natural foods stores may feature dietitians’ recipes on their websites.
In addition, many store dietitians do quick-and-healthy demonstrations and provide recipes for a fruit or veggie that’s on sale. I know one who recently did an asparagus demo, and she got kids to try asparagus and discussed the health benefits with them. Store dietitians know what’s on sale in the store, and they can take you right to it.
How do I meet my special-diet needs?
BR: Dietitians are trained in medical nutrition therapy, and they know how disease processes work; a health coach or someone who doesn’t have a medical background may not. Even so, I don’t think of dietitians as the food police. It’s really about having the training to tell people the science behind [a diet]. Like with gluten free: Some people see it as a weight loss thing, and they don’t understand that some GF products have more sugar and calories [than regular products]. A dietitian will know that a person really needs to get tested [for celiac disease]. Likewise, if you want to eat paleo, that’s fine, and a dietitian can show you how to shop for it, but you may not realize that you may be lacking key nutrients, such as magnesium and some
B vitamins, found in grains. Dietitians will encourage you to check in with your doctor.
Why should I spend time on a store tour?
BR: Most retail dietitians give free aisle-by-aisle tours where you’ll learn about new products, healthy meal ideas, and how to navigate the store to get in and out fast because they know the layout of the stores very well. Dietitians also may know the best sales on healthy items that can save you money. It really is like having a personal shopper; it’s hard to beat that.