Processed foods are often among the products with lowest prices in American supermarkets. But processed foods often have high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat. Too much of those ingredients can cause obesity -- meaning the person gains too much body fat. People can also become sick with disease if they eat a lot of processed foods with high levels of salt, sugar and fat.
Many poor families buy processed foods because they seem to cost less than fresh vegetables, fruits and whole wheat products.
But a national group is showing families that they can buy healthy foods for about the same amount of money as manufactured foods. The group, called Share Our Strength, was set up to fight hunger and poverty in the United States and worldwide. It offers a number of free programs to help Americans living on a budget eat a much better, healthier diet.
"How many of us like to look at sales when we shop? I want you to ignore the sales..."
Nutrition educator Lindsey Seegers is leading this tour at a store in Silver Spring, Maryland. She says people should make meal plans before they go to a store because it helps them eat healthier meals. She warns that if no plans are made, you might buy something that is not as healthy.
"...but there is the pizza, there is the ice cream on sale. A lot of times, those sales are sometimes going to be driving us to buy things that were (not) on our list, were not on our budget and, most important from my perspective, not the healthiest things. Absolutely, right?"
Lindsey Seegers says the people she teaches at the store do not have a lot of money so they need to spend it wisely.
"So how to come to the store with $10 and be able to get food for more than a day, for more than two days, especially when you have a family?"
The grocery store tour is offered several times a week. The class is part of Cooking Matters, which is a program of Share Our Strength. It begins in the fresh fruit and vegetable area of the store. People learn to compare prices and how to find the best value. And they learn that frozen fruits and vegetables can be a good choice. Many people believe that frozen foods do not have as many vitamins as fresh foods, but that is not always true.
"Why? Why do we want whole grains?"
"Fiber. Absolutely! Anything else?"
Lindsey Seegers is telling her students about the benefits of whole wheat foods. She then shows them how to find and carefully read information on food packages. The boxes or bags often tell about the product inside, including how much salt, sugar and fat they have. She says people should avoid foods with high amounts of those ingredients. She says it is important to read the nutrition information.
"People are very confused looking at the front of the label. Something that might say ‘multigrain' or ‘contains whole grain' is, in fact, an item that's primarily white flour. For someone who is diabetic, that difference makes a huge difference to their health. And this tour really allows people to look, turn the package over, to look at the ingredients, and see what's crucial and what's really in the food and how it impacts their health."
Tia Taylor says she is happy she signed up for the program.
"This is a free program that's offered that can help you live better, something that will have a long-term benefit. One of the main things I learned was the unit price, like really paying attention to the unit price on a sticker. So that was really reinforced today and also frozen foods. I use a lot of frozen foods. So I was glad to hear Lindsey talk about that and the nutritional value in the frozen foods."
Tina Pawlik said the information she learned helped her change the way she eats.
"I was eating a lot of pasta, but I found that you don't have to eat pasta to save on a budget. I was eating pasta because it was cheap. I thought it was impossible to get healthy food on a small budget."
But after learning about how to shop more effectively, she and others learned that it is possible if they make better choices at the grocery store.
I'm George Grow.