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In-store Dietitians Latest Strategy in Drive to Eat Healthy
August 25, 2012

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As more and more reports surface claiming that greater and greater numbers of Americans are obese, many people are embracing a healthy lifestyle as never before. One way they are doing this is, in some cases very reluctantly, watching what they eat.

It's not just consumers who are doing this, either. Producers are getting into the act in a big way. One of the latest innovations is a major U.S. supermarket chain employing a full-time licensed dietitian in every one of its more than 200 stores across the country. A big part of what these dietitians do is designing meal programs for shoppers, but that is definitely not all they do.

The dietitians are available for consultations with shoppers, impromptu or planned, and also put on special events attended by shoppers concerned with what they eat and how they're eating it. Events range from in-store cooking demonstrations and side-by-side shopping expeditions to full-blown daylong events aimed at reducing focus on fatty foods and gaining ground against obesity. The influence of the dietitians' recommendations can be seen on store shelves as well.

Dietitians have been found to be especially helpful who struggle with food allergies, such as to milk or nuts or wheat or shellfish. Greater disclosure in food labeling in recent years has enabled many people with allergies to shop with confidence that they won't endanger themselves simply by buying the wrong thing.

America is still dominated by fast food outlets, and many families struggle to find time to cook healthy food. More and more supermarkets are stocking prepared foods that are healthier in nature and content. And ultimately, it's all about consumer choice. People, many psychologists say, have to want to change. Orders from a doctor to skip fatty foods may very well drive someone into the supermarket in search of the dietitian. That's where the health-minded professionals come in.

The in-store dietitian commitment by the nationwide supermarket chain is an innovation in one sense, but providing healthy food is nowhere near being new at many other food outlets. Some companies are known for providing primarily healthy foods. Many organic food shops can be found in these ranks. Food at these shops has tended to be more expensive than at more pedestrian shops because of the great cost needed to produce food organically or because the numbers of customers is low enough that shops have to charge more for their goods just to be able to get ahead in their business. But that model is starting to change, as awareness grows for the need of many people to live longer by watching what and how much they eat.

School lunches have long been a target for healthy food guidelines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is in the process of phasing in the llargest overhaul of national school meal guidelines in more than a decade. Among the particulars:

  • all meals must be free of trans fats
  • flavored milk must be nonfat milk
  • at least once a week, vegetables must be orange, red, or dark green
  • at least once a week, beans or other legumes must be on the menu
  • rice must be brown
  • cereal, pasta, bread, and pizza must have whole grain listed as the No. 1 ingredient.
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