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The EATEN PATH: A shocking walk down the grocery store aisles

Registered dietitian Sharon Fast advises label-reading on your favourite foods to see, among other things, how much sugar you’re getting. - Paul J. Henderson
Registered dietitian Sharon Fast advises label-reading on your favourite foods to see, among other things, how much sugar you’re getting.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

Sharon Fast is the type of person who tells you something so full of common sense that once she says it you feel as if you already knew it.

But while some of what the registered dietitian says seems obvious, her words are worth heeding as her advice isn’t just helpful and healthful, if followed it could save your life, not to mention saving the healthcare system billions.

“Reading labels is important,” she tells me during a recent grocery store tour.

Well, yeah.

“Focus on local foods. Fruits and vegetables from far away have less nutrients.”

Makes sense.

“Sugar is a really big problem.”

Don’t we all know that? Well, the answer is yes and no.

It’s hardly a secret that we shouldn’t be adding too much sugar to coffee and cereal, and we should avoid too many cookies and doughnuts and pies.

But take a closer look at the labels of your favourite foods and you might be surprised. There is added sugar in just about everything.

According to University of California pediatrics professor Dr. Robert Lustig, there are 600,000 food items in the U.S. and 80 per cent of them have added sugar.

Lustig is one of the sources in the new anti-sugar industry documentay Fed Up.

Pasta sauce, salad dressing, supposedly healthy cereals, all have added sugar and lots of it.

And while Canadian food products are required to have nutritional information labels, consumers will note there is no percentage recommended daily value next to sugars.

Those prone to sugar industry conspiracies will suggest the powerful lobby is to blame. There is also the practical fact that other than energy, sugar has zero nutritional value. So how could there be any acceptable daily value?

The prevalence of added sugar over the last 30 years is certainly the main culprit when it comes to the epidemic of obesity facing the current generation.

The problem is so bad and so understated, according to Fast and others, that Alzheimer’s disease is increasingly being called Type 3 diabetes.

OK, sugar consumption needs to be decreased, and since some of us are at least sometimes buying food from the middle aisles of the grocery story—where all the added sugar is—we need to read labels.

As an example, Fast looks in the cereal aisle (an aisle, incidentally she says is best avoided) at a common product: Cheerios. So what is better, regular Cheerios or Multigrain Cheerios with its less showy packaging and with five whole grains?!

Whole grains are always good, more fibre is always better. But take a look at the per serving level of sugar in regular Cheerios: one gram. In Multigrain? Six grams.

Fast offers her grocery store tours through Chilliwack’s Ascend Fitness Coaching. They run approximately one hour and are complimentary for Ascend clients and $20 for guests.

To start with, Fast brings tour attendees to the produce section.

“This is where I want people to spend most of their time,” she says.

Fast tells people to buy local, in season, fresh and as dark as possible.

“The deeper the colour, the more nutrients,” she says.

So not only does kale and arugula and even red leaf lettuce have more nutrients than iceberg lettuce, but so to do red grapes have more than white grapes and red cabbage than white cabbage.

If you love sugar, Fast’s message will be a bit of a downer, but one area where she is no buzz kill is fat.

“Fat is flavour,” she says. “Fat will not make you fat. Eating sugar will make you fat.”

This doesn’t mean you should be now eating bacon three meals a day—trans fats are bad—but when it comes to choosing between yogurt with zero per cent fat and full-fat Greek yogurt, Fast picks the latter every time.

For one thing, most zero per cent fat yogurt people buy has “fruit” in it, which mostly just means sugar in addition to emulsifiers to help the consistency.

But also, full-fat yogurt is full of protein and it will help you feel satiated.

“Eat the fat, enjoy it. Go with the plain or add berries yourself.”

Other tidbits from our grocery store tour: Orange juice? Thumbs down; Bread? Eat less; choose butter over margarine; skip the chips aisle; and watch out for meaningless labels like “natural” and “a source of fibre.”

Try to eat vegetables at every meal and shop around the outside of the grocery store where the least processed foods are located.

But Fast isn’t a stickler; you’re allowed to have a “miss” once in a while. In fact, she says eat 80 per cent healthy and 20 per cent misses and you’ll be OK.

“I like to focus on mindful eating,” she says. “Being aware of what you put in your mouth.”

And remember why you are eating.

“When we are eating we want to be nourishing our bodies.”

Obvious, right?

w To find out more about Ascend and  Fast visit And check out for more about the sugar industry’s PR tactics over the last 30 years.

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