Supermarket tour shows how shopping selections promote health

Dietitian Christine Hazewski advised the group from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church to avoid processed foods, which contain large amounts of saturated fat. Buy produce in season or frozen, she urged, avoid fried foods, reduce sodium intake.
Dietitian Christine Hazewski advised the group from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church to avoid processed foods, which contain large amounts of saturated fat. Buy produce in season or frozen, she urged, avoid fried foods, reduce sodium intake. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 02, 2012

Dietitian Christine Hazewski picked up a jar of a popular brand of peanut butter and read aloud its ingredients - other than peanuts.

"Molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono- and diglycerides, salt. Do you want to eat that?" Hazewski asked a group of 10 people.

No way, they answered, even though the extras were present in small amounts.

Hazewski then pointed out natural peanut butters that contained only peanuts.

The founder and owner of "Eating for Life" Nutrition Counseling Services L.L.C., Hazewski was leading a supermarket tour in December at the Fresh Grocer in East Germantown. Most of those in her group were members of the city's Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.

During the two-hour trip up and down the aisles, she showed how to read nutrition labels and gave tips about making healthier choices - ones that could benefit most people, but that are especially helpful for diabetics.

With the products at their fingertips, it was easy to analyze and compare labels.

"You read, but you don't really read to know how to take care of yourself," said Lynnette Coleman-Martin, an Elkins Park resident with Type 2 diabetes, who said she intended to study the labels more closely.

Enon church leaders take "connecting the physical health with the spiritual health" very seriously, said the Rev. Leroy Miles, associate pastor of pastoral care and counseling.

The church also offers a weekly exercise boot camp, and last spring contracted with Einstein Healthcare Network to hold a men's health event called "Know Your Numbers." More than 1,200 men were tested for body mass index, glucose levels, blood pressure, HIV, and other health measures, Miles said.

The supermarket tour is part of Enon's "Living Fit With Diabetes" series, a partnership with the Norvo Nordisk Community Care Program, which gave the church a $25,000 grant for the series.

The Norvo Nordisk program works with nonprofit groups to support lectures, screenings, and cooking and fitness classes in areas with high rates of diabetes. Norvo Nordisk, a Danish company with U.S. headquarters in Princeton, makes insulin and other diabetes-related products.

Most of the 30 people in the program have diabetes, said Angela Stewart, a nurse practitioner who runs a general clinic at Enon. The church has two locations in Northwest Philadelphia and more than 14,000 members.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the body doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin correctly, leading to a buildup of sugar in the blood. The disease is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and new cases of blindness among American adults. It also raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Minority and poor populations are generally at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, the most common kind, because they do not generally have access to nutritious foods - produce isn't readily available in many poorer communities - and often turn to more fatty, highly processed foods. Diabetes rates have risen in tandem with obesity.

About 13 percent of Philadelphia residents - and 9 percent of those in suburban Pennsylvania counties - have diabetes, according to the Public Health Management Corp.'s 2010 health survey.

Leg-amputation rates for men are four times higher in Philadelphia than in Montgomery County, said Ronald Renzi, a podiatrist at Abington Memorial Hospital who recently completed a study on amputation rates.

Many believe socioeconomic status plays a strong role in the higher rates, he said. Older African American men, who are a larger percentage of Philadelphia's population, are generally underinsured, or have no insurance. Many of them also mistrust the health system, Renzi said.

He recently spoke to the Enon group about proper foot care for diabetics.

"We want everyone to know about these racial disparities and that these complications are completely preventable with consistent health-care practices," Renzi said. Among them: getting the pulse in the feet checked regularly.

"Living Fit" concludes at the end of January with a celebratory dinner at a restaurant - a prime setting to discuss how to select items from a menu.

The Norvo Nordisk grant will cover three more groups taking the series. Stewart hopes that by the time the last one is completed, at least 100 people will have participated.

Not all of Hazewski's suggestions during the supermarket tour were a hit. Some of the participants groaned when she pointed out that white Hawaiian bread, which is sweet and lacks fiber, wasn't such a good choice. "But it's so good!" said one woman.

Processed foods - such as a sweet potato casserole in the freezer case - also were on the "no" list because they contain high amounts of saturated fat. Many precooked meats with seasonings contain too much sodium, Hazewski said.

She noted that the "percent daily value" listed on most nutrition labels is confusing because it usually applies to someone on a 2,000-calories-a-day diet. Most adults should be eating less if they want to maintain or lose weight, she said.

Her advice:

Buy produce in season or frozen.

Make your own salad dressing with vinegar and olive oil.

Avoid frying food.

Eat more greens than grains.

Cut out stick margarine, which has artery-clogging trans fats.

Reduce sodium intake.

When it comes to leafy greens, the darker the vegetable, the more nutrients.

Hazewski also recommends that diabetics eat no more than three servings of carbohydrates in one meal. It's not really about sugars, it's about the carbs that turn into sugar, she said.

Blood sugar can go up with more than three servings, Hazewski said. One serving is measured as 15 grams. Exceeding that happens easily with a hearty plateful of meat, potatoes, corn, and a roll.

On the other hand, protein and fiber slow down the elevation of blood sugar.

Donna Rae of Philadelphia, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes eight years ago, was surprised by the advice on carbs. "I thought that I was doing what I was supposed to do, but I need to go see a dietitian," she said.

Diabetics who develop good eating habits and exercise regularly "may be able to cut medications," Hazewski said. "Losing weight helps that as well."

Toward the end of the tour, the group wound up in the dairy aisle, where Hazewski touted plain Greek yogurt, for its high protein content, with an added topping such as fruit or granola. She recommended it over regular flavored yogurts, which could spike blood sugar levels and contain less protein, and light yogurts with artificial sweeteners like aspartame.

Diet products may have lower or zero calories, but the artificial sweeteners can make you hungrier, she said.

That was news to Philadelphia resident Dee Felder, who has Type 1 diabetes and thought she was doing the right thing by buying light yogurt.

"When you shop, it's all about portion size," she said. "And really reading your labels."


See dietitian Christine Hazewski lead a group of people, mostly diabetics, on a tour of a supermarket to teach them how to make more nutritious food choices at www.philly.com/nutritious


Contact Anna Nguyen at anna.nguyen9@gmail.com.

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