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Semper Fit dietitian Lauren King shows students at her June 1 "Supermarket Savvy" nutrition class how to read the newly-revised USDA nutrition labels. The labels will now show the amount of added sugar, Vitamin D, and potassium in the product. The class also offered tips for shopping for healthy food on a budget.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

You don’t have to eat gourmet to eat healthy

9 Jun 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

“Lots of people think that healthy eating means gourmet,” Lauren King, Semper Fit dietitian for Marine Corps Community Services Quantico told Marines and civilians at her “Supermarket Savvy” class June 4. “I teach Marines who live in the barracks how to cook healthy food in the microwave. You don’t have to be a chef and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”

King’s monthly nutrition class for May and June covered how to read food labels on grocery store products and how to shop for healthy foods on a budget.

“I’m here because I want to learn how to eat a little better so I can shed some unwanted pounds that I haven’t been able to lose through exercise,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Barrera, Marine Forces Cyber Command, who attended the class.

King’s number one tip for healthy, budget shopping is to plan ahead.

“Plan meals for a week and write out a list,” she said. “Not having a list can result in missed items, last-minute changes, and extra shopping trips, which can cost you time, gas, and money.”

She recommended planning meals based on MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s guidelines for building a healthy diet. Each meal should contain grains, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables—with fruits and veggies taking up half the plate. In addition to the health benefits, cutting the amount of meat a family eats, or substituting plant proteins such as nuts and beans for meat proteins, will lower the grocery budget.

Some more of King’s shopping tips are to buy staple foods—pasta, potatoes, rice, flour, oatmeal, beans—in bulk; choose the store brands; buy frozen fruits and vegetables instead of fresh (just as nutritious); and try to stay on the perimeter of the store, where the produce, meat, dairy, frozen foods, and bakery are, and avoid the middle, which is home of the unhealthy, packaged “convenience” foods.

“Also, try not to go shopping with children!” King said. “It’s too distracting. And manufacturers spend a lot of money to get products kids might want to buy displayed right at their eye level.”

The second half of the class covered how to read food labels. King provided the USDA-mandated definitions of common label terms.

“Food labels are confusing,” she said. “Food manufacturers are not on the consumer’s side.”

For instance, the term “reduced calorie” on a label means the food has 1/3 less calories than regular food. The trick here, King said, is to compare the nutrition label of the reduced calorie version with the original version to see what has been changed. Often the reduced calorie version will have increased sodium or added artificial sugars.

Foods labeled “fat-“ or “sugar-free” also hold a sneaky trick, King said. The term only means that the food has fewer than 0.5 grams of fat or sugar per serving—and servings are usually smaller than consumers think.

“Artificially sweetened” means that table sugar has been removed and alternative sweetener added. “Low calorie” means the food contains no more than 40 calories. “Enriched or fortified” means that the product has added vitamins, minerals and protein. “USDA organic” means the product must consist of at least 95 percent organically-produced ingredients, free of antibiotics, growth hormones or pesticides. There is no USDA definition for the widely-used term “natural.”

King recommends buying organic meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables if a family’s budget allows, but even better, she said, is to buy these foods at a Farmer’s Market. She said many base personnel attend the market behind Stafford Hospital (125 Hospital Center Blvd., Stafford), held Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Because the farms who sell at these markets are local, their products don’t have to last for a week’s truck ride from California, so you know they are unprocessed,” King said. “And produce that you buy at a market is in-season, which is always cheaper.”

Writer: auphausconner@quanticosentryonline.com