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    Archive for the ‘supermarkets’ Category

    Navigating the Supermarket Aisles, 140 Characters At A Time

    Grocery cartAs you have probably noticed, the majority of my communication these days takes place via Twitter and Facebook.  However, this blog has certainly not been shut down or discontinued; case in point — this post!

    Given today’s demands for quick-and-at-your-fingertips information, I figured it would be fun to take a Twitter-inspired tour of a supermarket.  Below, my 140-characters-or-less recommendations for popular foods.

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    “Shop the Perimeter of the Supermarket”? I Don’t Think So!

    aisle1Earlier today at my dentist’s office, I flipped through a fitness and nutrition magazine and spotted this ever-prevalent food shopping tip — “stick to the perimeter of the store; that’s where the healthiest items are.”

    Alright, time out. I disagree.

    While the perimeters of most supermarkets offer fresh and frozen produce as well as lean protein (ranging from chicken breasts to tofu to shrimp), there are also plenty of healthy options waiting smack in the middle of all those aisles!

    Branding aisle shelves as “evil” is overly simplistic — and inaccurate. After all, that is where you’ll find these nutrition all-stars:

    * Canned beans
    * Lentils
    * Nuts and seeds
    * Nut and seed butters
    * Olive oil
    * Plain instant oatmeal
    * Quinoa
    * Brown rice
    * Whole grain pastas
    * Spices (a great way to reduce sodium in your cooking!)
    * Canned tuna and canned salmon

    So go ahead, check out what’s on sale in aisle four. Just be sure to glance over the nutrition facts — and take a peek at the ingredient list!

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    In The News: Aisle-Worthy

    An interesting piece of legislature passed in my home country of Argentina yesterday.

    All supermarkets in Buenos Aires are now required by law to house healthier options and diet-specific products in clearly marked aisles.

    This means, for instance, that all gluten-free products must be in the same aisle (as opposed to spread out in different aisles depending on what food category they belong to.)

    Additionally, product varieties that classify as “lower in fat/calories/sugar” must all be housed in one aisle. Under this new law, low-fat mayo, lower-in-sodium soups, and reduced-sugar cereals would be clustered together.

    Legislators say the goal is to “facilitate consumers’ search for products that meet their dietary needs.”

    I like this idea quite a bit.

    While by no means a perfect solution (ie: how about housing 100% whole grain products? Who decides what makes a product “healthy” enough to be placed in these aisles? What if a product is lower in fat but has the same amount of — or more — calories?), it’s a start.

    I also appreciate the decision to make food shopping slightly easier — especially for those avoiding certain ingredients due to allergies and intolerances.

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    In The News: Coming To A Supermarket Near You…. Health Foods??

    I can’t help but roll my eyes at the news of “a start-up that helps pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs [signing] a deal with Kraft Foods Inc. to help develop foods that offer specific health benefits.”

    I’m assuming this means that certain phytochemicals naturally found in certain fruits and vegetables or lignans in flaxseed might possibly be tacked on to Oreos or ready-to-eat mac and cheese.

    What this is supposed to accomplish — other than provide higher profit margins for Kraft — beats me.

    If health foods are what people seek, how about starting out with the produce — rather than cookie — aisle of their supermarket?

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    In The News: Wall Street, Farm Subsidies, and Our Health

    The Los Angeles Times published a nifty article tying in the current economic situation, the horrendous farm subsidies (“for the last 60 years or so, the government has subsidized the production of commodity crops — corn, wheat, rice and soybeans — that are ingredients in many high-calorie foods… to receive the subsidies, farmers must refrain from growing any fruits and vegetables,”) and nutrition.

    The article also highlights a study published last year in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which tracked the prices of 372 foods and beverages sold in the Seattle area for a two year period (2004 – 2006.)

    The conclusion? “The average price increase was 7.9%… [but] foods most dense in calories had dropped by an average of 1.8%, [while] prices of the lowest-calorie foods had gone up by an average of 19.5%.”

    As discouraging as that may seem, here is my by-no-means-exhaustive list of affordable and nutritious foods you can rely on (whenever applicable, buy generic):

    Bananas
    Raisins
    Apples

    Plain yogurt (non-fat or low-fat)
    Plain quick-cooking oats
    Whole wheat bread
    Natural peanut butter
    Brown rice (cook in large batches and refrigerate)
    Ground flaxseed (a two pounds bag costs between $4 and $5 and will last you months)
    Canned beans (I suppose dry beans are the true money saver, but canned beans are inexpensive and a wonderful source of lean protein)
    Potatoes (the key is to keep the skin on and cook them with little added fat)
    Sweet potatoes
    Garlic (an inexpensive way to add flavor)
    Frozen spinach
    Frozen broccoli
    Eggs
    Canned tuna (ideally chunk light and packed in water, to preserve the Omega 3’s and slightly cut down on mercury levels)

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    Argentina: No Gluten? No Problem!

    I took this photo last December at popular Buenos Aires supermarket chain Disco.

    In case the resolution isn’t clear enough, the sign up top reads “Productos Celíacos” (“Products for Celiacs”).

    Like many other conventional supermarkets in the city, they delineate approximately half an aisle exclusively to gluten-free products, enabling consumers living with celiac disease to have a much easier shopping experience.

    In Argentina, the province of Buenos Aires analyzes products and stamps a gluten-free seal on them if they fall below 1 parts per million of gliadin (a protein in gluten).

    Following this inspection, the Argentine Celiac Association reviews laboratory results from the Ministry of Health and must give its approval before a product can officially be sold as “gluten free.”

    It’s not just supermarkets that provide gluten information.

    Persicco, a renowned gelateria with various branches in Buenos Aires, places a gluten-free icon next to the flavors that are celiac-friendly.

    Although the United States offers thousands of gluten-free products to the approximately three million people diagnosed with celiac disease (as of 2007, the market was valued at $700 million!), these are mostly available exclusively online or specific health food stores.

    I have not, at least in New York City, seen standard supermarkets devote as much as one shelf to gluten-free products.

    Part of the problem, I think, is the lack of regulation. Although you may see “gluten free” advertised on many products, no official standards for this claim have been set.

    Last January, the Food and Drug Administration attempted to tackle this problem.

    Currently, there is no Federal regulation that defines the term “gluten-free” used in the labeling of foods.

    Based upon comments FDA received during its public meeting on “gluten-free” food labeling held in August 2005 and other information available to the Agency, there is no universal understanding among U.S. food manufacturers or consumers about the meaning of a food labeled as “gluten-free.”

    You can view the PDF file of the full (and by full I mean “very long”) gluten-free labeling proposal here.

    The 90-day comment period concluded last April, but I haven’t heard anything since.

    I do believe, though, that the original plan was to have something sorted out no later than December of this year.

    I’m interested in hearing from readers who are gluten intolerant.

    Do you find it difficult to know what products to buy and stay away from due to a lack of federal standards?

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