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If you buy it at the grocery store....
Scientists know that asking people to report on their own diet is a flawed means of finding out what people eat. People tend to minimize eating things that are bad for them (the "self-report bias") and over-report eating what they perceive to be good for them (the "social desirability bias"), because they don't want to appear to be unhealthy. It's understandable, but it makes it difficult to accurately assess the effects of diet on health.
Grocery Shopping While Hungry
You've probably noticed that it's not a good idea to go grocery shopping when you're hungry. It's all too easy to end up buying a whole bunch of things you didn't plan on buying just because it looked good and you were hungry.
Shopping The Edges of the Grocery Store: Good For You or Myth?
I was thinking about the idea that shopping around the edges of the grocery store is better for you. It's an idea that makes sense on the face of it. You start in the fresh produce section, make your way along to the fish counter, maybe pick up some fresh meat or dairy products and then to the bakery counter. I even had a group of the first year medical students suggest this as a healthy strategy in a recent student project, but upon closer inspection I think that using this as a general suggestion does folks a disservice.
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It may interest you to know that the food you keep at home provides 72%, by weight, of all food that you eat. This is assuming that you do not prepare most meals at home, however. If you do make most of your meals at home (breakfast and dinner made at home and taking your lunch with you to work or school), then 93% of the food you eat comes from what is kept in your home.
So what? Of course your food comes from what you have at home. Researchers at Rutgers University wondered if there was a difference in what foods were actually in the home between those families with overweight members and those families who were all of normal weight (Appetite 2009;52(2):479-484).
One hundred mothers with at least one child 12 years of age or younger were recruited to participate in the study. These women were all primarily responsible for all meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation, and were either married or living with a domestic partner. In addition, the family unit ate dinner at home at least three times per week.
To assess the quality of food kept in the home, the investigators conducted an inventory of the food in each participant's home. Yes, they literally went into the home and counted every food item in the house, with the exception of such items as condiments and seasonings, bulk items like flour and sugar, baby foods, pet foods, alcoholic beverages and leftovers. The specific item and its amount by weight was recorded for each food, then the investigators computed the total number of calories, protein, fat, saturated fat and so forth present for all foods in the house and divided that total by the recommended daily allowance (for an adult) of each nutrient. This yielded the number of days' worth of the nutrient that was present in each household. The researchers then had a standardized unit of the different nutrients in food so that each household could be fairly compared with others.
Each family member had his or her Body Mass Index calculated by the researchers, who then were able to compare the foods from households with overweight or obese parents (either mother, partner or both) with the foods from households of normal-weight parents.
While all homes tended to keep the same amounts of nutrients on hand, but the differences were in what forms of foods those nutrients were in. For example, those homes with overweight parents tended to have their carbohydrates in the form of frozen potatoes (like tater tots or french fries) or frozen vegetables with an included sauce (like broccoli with cheese sauce or brussels sprouts with butter sauce). Fresh and frozen meats also supplied much of the protein, total fat and saturated fats than in normal-weight households.
It's a saying among nutrition researchers that "people eat food, not nutrients." The take-home message here is about the choices the households had made about the type of food brought into the home. Instead of processed potatoes and vegetables, cook them fresh. Choose leaner meats and avoid processed meats so that you get less fat with your animal protein. Choose better foods to have in the house and you'll be healthier (and likely weigh less).
First posted: May 20, 2009