Supermarket Counseling Could Improve Your Shopping Choices

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Just a few minutes with a nutritionist helped shoppers make healthier grocery purchases.

The Doctor Will See You Now
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The grocery store can be a confusing place when you are trying to choose healthy foods. Though nearly all foods have a Nutrition Facts label, not everyone knows how to read or interpret the label correctly. Some food packages have health claims printed on them, and some stores provide indicators that certain foods are good for you. But it can get to be a bit confusing unless you have a degree in nutrition.

Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and Arizona State University set out to determine if providing in-store nutrition counseling could make a difference in the foods shoppers chose. A supermarket chain offered a packaged EatSmart program created by a registered dietitian chosen for the study.

The foods people purchase are indicative of their dietary intake so education and information can have a long lasting impact on the diets and health of individuals and families.

The program includes colorful nutrition shelf tags placed under items using recommendations from the American Heart Association: "healthier option," "hearthealthy," "calcium rich, "immune booster," or "low sodium." In all, each store had about 600 shelf tags. EatSmart educational materials were also available in the stores.

Shoppers were recruited onsite. Half of the 153 participants shopped using only the store labels and had no other nutrition education. The other half of the shoppers had a 10-minute face-to-face session with a nutrition educator that focused on better understanding of two of the labels, "heart healthy" and "immune booster," before they shopped.

For the purposes of the EatSmart program, "heart healthy" foods include those that are low in total fat, saturated fat, and trans fats. All fruits and vegetables, and particularly the dark green and bright yellow, orange, and red produce, are considered "immune boosters."

After the participants completed their shopping, researchers analyzed each grocery cart to determine the fat content and the amount and color of the fruits and vegetables purchased. Those who received the face-to-face intervention purchased more servings of whole fruit and dark green and bright yellow vegetables compared to the group who received no nutrition education. There was no difference in the fat content of the carts between the two groups.

The foods people purchase are indicative of their dietary intake so education and information can have a long lasting impact on the diets and health of individuals and families. The value of face-to-face nutrition education by a registered dietitian at the point of purchase (the grocery store) may be a service grocery store merchants (or public health officials) should consider offering.

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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