Ramona Douglas used to cruise the aisles at the supermarket and toss pretty much anything that looked good into the cart.
But these days, the 42-year-old diabetic is trying to shop smarter in an effort to better control her medical condition.
The Schenectady resident was at the Price Chopper supermarket on Altamont Avenue Monday morning, spending just as much time looking at the shelf tags as she was at the products on the shelves.
The tags list the product's price, the unit price, and in the top, right hand corner, a nutritional rating on a scale of 1 to 100. Foods with a rating of 100 are said to be the most nutritious, while those with a lower rating are less so.
In the bread aisle at Price Chopper, the average nutritional rating for a packaged bread product is about 26.
A package of hamburger rolls made with white bread flour is labeled 23 points, while a bag of thin, whole wheat sandwich rolls scores a 35.
"When you're at the grocery store, you're not really thinking about looking at all these things. You're here to shop; you get what you have to get and get out. But I'm learning a lot. I really am. I didn't realize all of the things you have to look to," said Douglas, who was at the store as part of an educational program for diabetics, sponsored by Price Chopper and health insurance provider Fidelis Care.
Other stores join in
Other area supermarkets, including Hannaford, Walmart and ShopRite, have product labeling programs similar to Price Chopper's, which help consumers make smart nutritional choices on the fly.
Walmart posts a "Great for You" icon on the labels of store-brand healthy foods; ShopRite has color-coded shelf labels that steer customers toward organic, natural, sugar free, fat free, low fat, low sodium and gluten free foods; and Hannaford has a Guiding Stars program that assigns between one and three stars to healthy foods based on their nutritional value.
Diabetics have more to consider than just a food's nutritional value, noted Dianne Fagan, community dietician for Price Chopper.
"You still have to be concerned about the amount of carbohydrates. What [Price Chopper's shelf tag rating] will get you is the most nutritious food in the category and then you can check the nutrition facts to make sure that the carbohydrates will work with your meal plan," she explained.
Diabetics should look for "smart carbohydrates" that don't include a lot of unwanted extras, such as a high sugar content, advised Sanjiv Shah, chief medical officer for Fidelis Care.
The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetics come up with a meal plan that will help improve blood glucose numbers, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers and also help keep weight on track. The plan should include a variety of vitamin-, mineral- and fiber-rich foods from each food group.
Making right choice
Educational programs can provide helpful suggestions for such a diet, but the key is to connect what is learned in class to what goes into the grocery cart, Shah said.
"I think the most important thing about health is we have choices. Every day you're making a choice about your health -- the next meal you're eating, whether there's adherence to your medication, or taking a preventative test. You've got to start thinking about it in a way that's smart," he said.
About a year ago, 78-year-old diabetic Frieda Legorius of Schenectady took her health by the reins. At that time, she weighed 229 pounds, her blood glucose level was sky-high and she was experiencing renal failure.
Thanks to diet changes and exercise, she has lost 30 pounds, her kidneys are now in stable condition and she no longer needs to take insulin.
"I eat three good meals a day and salads every night and they're most enjoyable," Legorius said, while at Price Chopper for Monday morning's program.
Her health aide, Marlene Lolik, compared Legorius' present health to how she was a year ago: "It was hard for her to walk to the bathroom," she recalled. "[Now] we're walking around the block."