‘A Healthy Grocery Cart’ Dietician offers tours to become informed food shoppers

Posted: May 14, 2014

The Winchester Star

Valley Health registered dietician Debbie Berg discusses portion sizes as she leads a group on a recent healthy shopping trip at the Food Lion in Sunnyside Plaza. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Valley Health registered dietician Debbie Berg (right) leads a group on a healthy shopping trip at the Food Lion in Sunnyside Plaza. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

Winchester — Grocery shopping for a healthier lifestyle isn’t about hard and fast rules but doing what works for the buyer and his or her body and wallet.

It’s all good and well to tell people to only buy certain kinds of foods, but sometimes those products are expensive or don’t work for their dietary needs, said clinical dietician Debbie Berg.

Speaking to a group of eight who participated in a recent “A Healthy Grocery Cart” tour, Berg made it clear that the best advice she could give them was to be an informed shopper. “Know what you are putting in your cart.”

The tour is a free offering that Berg, a diabetes educator for Valley Health, conducts each month as part of the Valley Health Diabetes Management Program. She leads the tours aisle by aisle, discussing everything from the sugars in fruits to whole grain in breads.

It is available for anyone who wants to learn about shopping for diabetes, weight loss, heart disease, or overall wellness, she said. While some of the content of the tour stays the same each time, she tailors her tours to the needs and questions of the participants.

Janice Downey, 78, of Frederick County, took the tour at her doctor’s recommendation because of a 6-pound weight gain since October. She was hoping to learn more about gauging food content. “I now know how to read labels better so I know what I am getting.”

Barbara Beatty, 75, of Inwood, W.Va., was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes seven years ago. She has been wanting to come on the tour for a while to learn more about shopping for a healthier diabetes diet.

“It is wonderful. It’s a great help to people who don’t understand all the ins and outs of diabetes and what we should and should not eat,” she said.

Fruits and vegetables

Berg is big on seasonal fruits and vegetables and planning meals around them. In this area, asparagus, spinach and strawberries are in season right now. Coming up soon after are cucumbers, green beans, summer squash, blueberries and raspberries.

However, people sometimes have limited budgets, which is why she doesn’t say to stay away from frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. “Not everyone can afford to buy fresh.”

She hands out a list of good foods for heart-healthy shopping — fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks, meats, beans, dairy, oil, grains — pointing out it is just a starting point.

The rule about five fruits and vegetables a day is a good one, but it is not always that simple, Berg said. People with diabetes or focused on weight loss need to be aware of both serving size and the amount of natural sugars in items.

For a diabetic, 15 grams of carbohydrates is one serving. That is the serving size in a 4-ounce apple or banana , 17 small grapes, 1/4 cup dried fruit, and 1 cup of raw vegetables.

“You have to weigh it. You can buy a food scale or weigh it at the store,” she said.

One serving is also equal to 3 ounces of potatoes (white, red or sweet potatoes), she said. People tend to demonize potatoes, “but it is just a substitute for bread. It is all in the amount.”

Also think about how you are going to prepare the potato, whether that means adding brown sugar, butter, cheese, bacon or another topping to the potatoes, she said.

Peanut butter, dressings,  canned meat

Berg pointed out something about peanut butter that is true of many foods. She didn’t recommend reduced fat peanut butter because to take out that fat and still have the product taste good, sugar has to be added.

This was the start of a message she wanted to get across about the importance of reading a label and not just trusting the advertising on a can or box when it says it is good for you.

When it comes to what brand of peanut butter she recommends, she said she is fine with the store brands, which are usually comparable with a name brand product.

One participant asked about almond butter. It is a slightly better source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fiber, she said, but “if you don’t have a strong history of heart disease in your family, I say get the peanut butter you can afford.”

With canned soups, even low sodium varieties are high, Berg said. If people really want that can of chicken noodle soup, she recommends diluting it and adding frozen vegetables to stretch one can into two meals. This cuts the sodium intake in one meal in half.

Canned meats get a bad wrap, but they can be less expensive, and if someone were to lose power — say if they went through an interminable winter or storms with power outages — they are good to have on hand, she said.

Berg breezes by most of the condiments but points out vinegar is a good flavor enhancer and has no calories or carbohydrates. It also is a slight appetite suppressant.

Light dressings are generally lower in calories, but “often the salt or sugar goes up to enhance flavor,” she reminded the group.

Canned vegetables, rice, beans

For anyone who automatically dismisses canned vegetables, Berg points out that canned tomatoes are more concentrated because they have less water than fresh tomatoes.

For people wanting to reduce the sodium on canned vegetables, they might try rinsing them off to possibly take away a portion of it, but too much has been absorbed to take it all out, she said.

White rice is created by removing the bran and germ portions of brown rice, thus reducing its fiber, magnesium, and zinc content.

The two kinds of rice have the same amount of carbohydrates and sugar, so people still need to pay attention to serving size, she said. However, “the whole grains take longer to digest, so you feel full longer. To some people, that is important.”

Beans, whether canned or in a bag, are a good source of fiber and protein, but they have carbohydrates, Berg said. People with diabetes should keep the carb count in mind.


Meat is a good source of protein without the carbohydrates, Berg said. When people are replacing meat with nuts, beans, or other sources of protein, they need to pay attention to the fat and carbohydrate content.

Vacuum sealed meats generally have a higher sodium content to keep them fresh longer, she said. She neither pushed nor discounted deli meat, but said people need protein and if that is all they can afford, go for it.

One advantage prepackaged deli meats have over the fresh ones is they are clear on the serving size, she said. If buying at the counter, she recommends asking for 1-ounce slices, so you know your portion size.

People need 6 ounces of protein a day in general, she said. When it comes to choosing a meat, lean meats such as light chicken or fish are a better choice, but red meat in moderation should still be OK.

“You are not going to get the iron in fish or chicken that you get in red meat,” she pointed out.

Also keep in mind that dark meat poultry is higher in fat and calories.


One participant asked about cream of wheat. It is not a whole grain, so it isn’t as filling as oatmeal or other products made with whole grains, Berg said. This goes for cereal, too.

Look at the ingredients on the label. Ingredients are listed by the weight of how much of each is in the item. She looks for the first item listed to be a whole grain.

Most people add milk to cereal, she said. People with diabetes have to count the carbohydrates in milk.


Another participant asked about nuts as a protein substitute. Picking up a can of nuts, the label said it had 5 grams of protein versus 6 to 7 grams in 1 ounce of meat.

“You have to eat the amount they say, which is about 1 ounce or 1/4 cup,” but pay attention to the fat content. “This is not something you sit and eat mindlessly while watching TV,” she said.

Baked chips are lower in calories and fat than regular chips, Berg said. When it comes to dips, salsa is one of the best options because it is low in fat but has a great deal of flavor.

Pay attention to serving sizes on snacks, she said. For instance with Triscuits, five of the crackers equals 15 grams of carbohydrates, a recommended serving size. The box’s actual serving size is seven crackers.


As with cereal, look at the ingredients in bread and see if the first one listed is a whole grain. It will be more filling and have more nutritional value, Berg said.

All breads are not created equal when it comes to the content. A bagel is more dense than a regular piece of bread so it has more carbohydrates packed in, she said. “Every 1 ounce of bagel is like a piece of bread.”

Frozen foods

Berg doesn’t eliminate frozen meals because they are portion controlled, which is a real struggle for some people. “If you can’t control your portions, they do it for you.”

Healthy Choice is a brand that is lower in fat and sodium because it was created as heart healthy meals, she said.

Frozen yogurt usually has less fat than ice cream because it is not made with cream, she said. But while there are few calories, “the carbohydrates are still there and need to be counted.”


“A Healthy Grocery Cart” tour will be held at 1 p.m. June 5, July 3, Aug. 7, Sept. 4, Oct. 9, Nov. 6, and Dec. 4 at the Food Lion, 269 Sunnyside Plaza Drive, Winchester. Meet in the produce department. It is free, but registration is recommended.

For more information, contact 540-536-5106.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com