A Tour at the Grocery Store with a Dietitian

Stella organised a tour the grocery store with a dietitian for the South Arm Cooking Club for Seniors. The tour is conducted in Save-On-Food at Ironwood, Richmond. Nonnie is the dietitian in-charged of this tour. Nonnie had been a dietitian for many years and she is currently working with children with kidney disease.


The tour focused on the Canada’s Food Guide on eating well which covers the recommendation on the number of food guide servings per day for various age group and sex. For more information on the Canada’s Food Guide, please visit http://www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide. Nonnie also focused on issues like diabetic, high cholesterol and high blood pressure during the tour.


We started off the tour at the Dairy Section. The first thing Nonnie talked about is fat. She explained to us that brick margarine is made of hydrogenated oil which the manufacturer combines vegetable oil with hydrogen to make it into a solid form. The hydrogenated form of fat is bad for our health. So, when it comes to margarine, always pick the non-hydrogenated type. Nonnie also touched on the issue of butter verses margarine. She advised that our intake of daily fat should be divided into 3 equal parts of animal fat, non-hydrogenated fat like non-hydrogenated margarine and vegetable oil like olive oil, etc.

Nonnie also explained that there are different version of butter like no-salt butter, reduce salt fat free (RSF) and light butter which has higher content of water in it. However, Nonnie did mention that light butter does make soggy toast.

For sauteing, it is best to use oil like olive oil, canola oil or peanut oil rather than butter. Canola oil is good for baking while olive oil is good for salad.

The next section is the Cheese section. We were introduced to the fat content of various cheese. For example:

  • cheddar has 35% milk fat (i.e 1/3 of the cheese is actually butter)
  • light cheddar has 19% milk fat (translate to 1/5 or 20%)
  • brie has 24% milk fat
  • cheese stick has 18% fat
  • mozzarella has 15% milk fat

Nonnie illustrated that lighter cheese will not taste as good as the higher milk fat cheese. She recommended that we use a combination of higher milk fat cheese with lower milk fat cheese to get better flavour.

Nonnie also pointed out that an 1″ cube of cheese is equivalent to one glass of milk.


This brought us to the milk section which include beverage like soy milk. Milk is also categorized in the same manner like cheese in term of different milk fat content. 1 cup of homogenized milk has 2 teaspoons of fat. Cream of half and half has 10% fat while whipping cream has 33% fat in it. As an comparison, whipping cream has 10 times more fat than homogenized milk.

It is recommended that infant and toddler to drink homogenized milk as their brain needs the higher fat content for a healthy growth. As for young kids and teenagers, 1% or 2% milk is recommended. A teenager will need 3 to 4 cups of milk daily.

As we know, milk is one of the main source of calcium which is crucial for our bone health. For those who is not a milk drinker, you may substitute with soy milk or rice milk but you have to make sure that they are fortified with calcium, phosphorus and vitamins. For those who do not drink enough milk or soy milk, calcium supplement is recommended with doctor’s recommendation. Calcium is more so important for aging women.

Yogurt, another source of calcium is also categorized similar like milk. However, you have to watch for the sugar content in yogurt. Some are sweetened with sugar and others with artificial sweetener.


Next we visited the cereal aisle, our favourite breakfast item. Cereal is not only our main carbohydrate source but also one of the source of fiber. Fiber plays an important part to keep our bowel active and healthy. A daily intake of 35g Nonnie explained that fiber is categorized into 2 types, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is those found in peas, beans, apple, carrot, etc. Insoluble fiber helps to increase bulk, soften stool and shorten transit time through the intestine tract. Nonnie described insoluble fiber as the scratchy type and they are found in whole wheat, bran, flax seed, celery, potato skin, etc. Picking a high fiber cereal will help to keep your guts healthy.


Nonnie also gave us a few pointers on how to read the nutrition facts label. The first thing to look for is the serving size. You have to adjust the nutritional values to your actual serving intake. Some labels give us a false impression as the serving size indicated on the label is usually much lesser than your normal intake.

When coming to cereal, we found that all bran cereal has much higher fiber content that the rest. However, their texture might not appeal to your liking. In order to increase your fiber intake, you may mix your favourite cereal with some all bran cereal, sprinkle some in your yogurt, add some in your favourite muffin recipe or even use them in making meat loaf instead of using bread crumbs.

One thing for sure is there is no fiber in meat.


Label reading brought us to the processed food section where we can find canned soup and pasta, cup noodle, etc. Nonnie brought to our attention on the high salt content of such processed food. Salt will drive up our blood pressure and hard on our kidney. Statistic shows that a lot of Asian had kidney problem due to high salt intake. Our daily recommendation of salt intake is less than 3000mg. A look at some of this canned soup or instant noodle gave us a shock as one serving has nearly 1000mg or more. So, next time you want to reach out for a convenient meal, check the label first. A simple way to look for food that is not high in salt is to compare the number of calories with the number of sodium. If the number of sodium is way much higher than the calories, then this is a very high salt item and should be avoided. In another word, the number is sodium should be less than the number of calories.


Nonnie then pointed out to us that not all chips are bad. You have to read the label to make sure that the fat and sodium are low. One important thing to remember is to eat in moderation and exercise. Excess eating and less active life style are the main culprits behind obesity. Nonnie brought up to us that children of today actually consume 20% of their daily calories in the form of soft drinks and juice. A can of pop has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Juices are easily poured out from the cartons instead of press out from the real fruit. With the abundance of food, one can easily over eat. Nonnie advise to use smaller cups at home so that when the kids go for a cup of milk or juice, they get the right amount instead of a supersize cup like those you get from convenience store. Always avoid mindless eating in front of the TV. If you want a snack, pour them in a bowl instead of eating from the original packaging.

Our last stop is the meat and vegetable section. Nonnie told us that we need 100 -125g of protein per serving. That is about 4 oz of raw meat which will cook down to 3 oz. We should get a variety of meat like beef, pork, chicken and fish. Fish is a good source of Omega 3 which is good for our brain. Nonnie recommended a vegetarian meal a week where we can get the protein from lentils, beans and tofu which is a cheap substitute to real meat. A vegetarian meal will help to reduce the consumption of saturated fat.

When it comes to vegetables and fruits, always eat a variety of colours. The brighter the colours, the more nutrients they have. Nonnie also said that using frozen vegetables is not bad at all as they are usually fast frozen to ensure the nutrients are not lost and there will be less wastage when it comes to using frozen vegetables. So often, when we buy fresh vegetables and fruits, we ended up not using all of them and they’ll rot in our crisper. This is more so for small families and seniors.

Nonnie also shared with us an important tool that we have. Our hand can be used to measure the right amount of food. The right size of meat is the size of your palm, without the fingers. We need 5-10 handful of vegetable or fruit daily. A handful is approximately 1/2 cup serving.

When serving a meal, The Canada Health guide recommends that you serve 1/2 of your plate with vegetable and fruit, 1/4 with meat (protein) and 1/4 with grains (carbohydrate and fiber).

Nonnie, thank you so much for the tour and it certainly brings our awareness on what we get from the grocery store. Stella, thank you so much for organizing such an informative tour for the South Arm Cooking Club for seniors.

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  1. cutemommy

    Wow! So informative n detail. TQ

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