Navigating food information maze: Dietitians guide grocery shoppers to better food choices

CLEVELAND - A recent Stanford University study concluded that there isn't much difference between organic and conventionally grown food. But, it did show that organic foods have about one-third less pesticides and food-borne pathogens.

With new nutritional studies coming out almost daily, the quest to eat healthier foods can be confusing for many shoppers. Some local grocery stores are now offering an in-store dietitian to consult before you start filling up your shopping cart.

Sandra Smith is a reformed shopper, after her doctor warned that she was in danger of developing type 2 diabetes. She and her husband had to change the way they eat and shop for food. But navigating the maze of nutritional information was overwhelming.

"Labels can be a scary thing if you don't know how to read them properly," she said. "They can be a landmine."

That's where in-shore dietitian Katie Boyd stepped in to shed some light on confusing labels. She helped guide Sandra through new shopping choices at the Giant Eagle store in Wadsworth.

"There is so much nutrition information out there and not all of it is necessarily reliable information so the biggest thing is helping people learn how to read labels, picking it up and looking at the whole label," she explained.

More and more grocery chains across the nation are employing dietitians as a featured in-store service. Food specialists offer short courses on different nutrition topics, one-on-one counseling, guided tours through the aisles, and seasonal healthy cooking demonstrations.

"It's fun to come here and see what they are doing," said shopper Michael Wilkinson.

And that's what stores are counting on. Having an in-store dietitian not only draws in new shoppers, it also builds brand loyalty with established customers, like Sandra Smith.

"Do it," she said. "You have everything to gain, nothing to lose except some weight, and it's empowering, absolutely empowering."

Some dietitian classes and services are free, while others are reasonably priced. Giant Eagle offers dietitians at four locations in the Cleveland area, and Meijer's also has a dietitian available at their stores in Mansfield and Sandusky.

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