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How to shop heart-healthy

Tammi Brochman is leading grocery store tours to teach people how shopping habits can improve heart health.

Just add water! Three simple steps! Quick and easy!

We've all seen these phrases reaching out to us from boxes, bags, cans, or any other type of package that lines the shelves in the grocery store. Their concepts are tempting, but aren't always the best choices for a heart-healthy diet.

Shopping healthy doesn't always come naturally, which is why Tammi Brochman, a registered dietician and Regina Medical Center's manager of nutrition services, will be leading free grocery store tours June 25 and June 26 at Coborn's Superstore in Hastings.

The tours are the idea of a committee called Heart of Hastings, a cooperation between Regina, United Hospital, Allina Medical Clinic and the St. Paul Heart Clinic.

Caretakers noticed an influx of heart patients coming into the emergency department, "and they weren't necessarily middle-aged to elderly," said Maria Reis, Regina's public relations coordinator.

Seeing the need for better education about heart disease, the committee came up with a few ideas to raise awareness in the community. A grocery store tour was one idea.

"It's information right where it counts," Brochman said.

Tours will visit the produce, deli and meat departments, the refrigerated and frozen sections and inside aisles. The tours aim to teach people about what food choices are heart-healthy, how to stock their pantries and how to read nutrition labels.

"Really, reading the label is an important step." Brochman said.

The marketing printed on the front of labels doesn't always accurately describe how healthy the food is.

Health-conscious shoppers should focus their attention on the perimeter of a store, where they'll find the less-processed foods.

Many people, Brochman said, are afraid to venture away from boxed foods because they might not know how to prepare them or even know which foods they should buy.

"Grocery store tours can be a way to lessen your fear," she said.

Food-focused television, cookbooks, websites and cooking classes (Hastings Community Education offers a few) are good ways for novice cooks to learn more about preparing meals, Brochman suggested.

Some of the shopping tips might surprise you - shop more frequently, but buy in smaller amounts, for example. The nutrients in produce start to deteriorate the longer they sit, Brochman said, so buying less more often helps ensure you're getting the most out of your food.

Another suggestion: Buy frozen.

"The frozen is an equivalent option for the fresh," Brochman said.

Because the food is flash frozen at its peak, virtually all the nutrients are still present in frozen fruits and vegetables.

Buying healthy food doesn't have to be complicated.

"It's okay to stick to the basics," Brochman said.

Something as simple as keeping a head of lettuce in the refrigerator and adding a leaf to a sandwich is a good place to start, she said.

"Once you do it once, you realize how easy it is," Reis said.

Brochman said that buying fresh is slightly more expensive than processed, but you make up for it in saved health care costs, she said.

"It's a balance thing," she said.

Many processed foods are high in fat, sugar and sodium, which can lead to health problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. Without enough antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found in fresh foods, the immune system weakens as well, Brochman and Reis said.

Eating well isn't just good for the heart. Good nutrition contributes to overall health, Reis said, and can reduce the risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments.

Tour groups are limited to six people each. Openings are still available at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday, June 26. To register, call 480-4244 or e-mail your name and phone number to marketing@regina

If enough people are interested, more tours could be scheduled in the future.

Heart of Hastings is willing to schedule other tours for personal groups, businesses or community organizations, and can arrange virtual tours outside of a grocery store.

"We'd be happy to accommodate them," Reis said.