If you’ve gone shopping in a Ralphs supermarket lately, you might have bumped into a medical doctor and a registered dietitian standing near the entrance, offering friendly feedback and advice about the best food choices for good health.
For the second year in a row, HOAG has partnered with Ralphs to offer on-the-spot nutrition tips to shoppers who are open to having experts look in their carts to point out what’s good and bad in terms of fat, sugar or sodium content. Shop With a Doc, as the six-event program is called, aims to help customers understand how food choices affect their health.
“Some people had no idea about the difference between saturated versus unsaturated fats, or lower calorie options for juices,” says Dr. Jason Jilk, a primary care doctor with St. Jude Hospital, who participated in the event held at the Anaheim Hills Ralphs. “There were people with diet soda in their carts who didn’t know that artificial sweeteners can contribute to weight gain, as opposed to drinking water.”
Understanding which foods add on pounds is a critical point. An increasing number of adults and children in Orange County are overweight or obese, causing them to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. According to statistics provided by HOAG, obesity is the eighth leading cause of death in Orange County.
How aware are shoppers of the connection between specific diet choices and good health? “It’s a mix,” says Jilk. “Some shoppers I met were aware of what’s involved for good nutrition and others had no idea what I was talking about.”
Check The Labels
As a starting point, Jilk showed several customers how to read nutrition labels, zeroing in on the number of fat and saturated fat grams. For people with high blood pressure, checking the sodium content in packaged foods is also key. “A lot of soups have a tremendous amount of sodium,” he says. Also critical: How many servings are in each can? “For a lot of products, the label lists information for one serving—but you know you’re going to eat the whole thing,” Jilk says. “That means you’re eating two or three servings, so how much sodium is that?”
There’s nothing like reading the numbers on a nutrition label, with the help of a doctor or registered dietitian, to make them real, which is why Jilk says he hopes the Shop With a Doc program is effective.
But many people make choices by how fast the food can be prepared or eaten, and the price. So they pick fast food over fresh vegetables, and packaged foods over ingredients that require assembling and cooking.
Jilk says that even busy people on a budget can find good choices in the store if they know where to look. Take whole grain bread, for instance, which contains more fiber and nutrients than refined white bread. “Now there are many more varieties of whole wheat bread, and it’s not that much more expensive than white bread,” he says.
And there’s no need to sacrifice some favorite foods. Love the flavor and convenience of canned soup? “There are lots of low-sodium soups to choose from these days,” says Jilk.
Getting Out Of A Rut
Getting stuck in bad eating habits can be lead some people to become overweight or obese—and this is why Jilk, who has several young patients who are obese, likes to focus attention on the whole family’s health. “The child is not the one doing the shopping. Parents are buying for the whole family, and most often the moms. But they’re trying to buy food they can afford and food the family is asking for.”
And this is why programs like Shop With a Doc can be so effective, by educating a range of people so they can learn how to buy good food for themselves and their kids.
“This is an opportunity to reach out and involve our whole community, not just our own patients,” says Jilk.