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Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Like many nutritionists, I imagine, a trip to the supermarket gives me plenty of food for thought. I cannot help looking into other people's shopping trolleys and imagining the type of food they are going to serve. Who, I ask myself, would buy frozen roast potatoes and how many people are going to consume that extra large can of baked beans? I am also critical when people buy many packets of biscuits or chocolates or stock up with large packs of sweetened fizzy drinks. My pet hate is to see young children sitting in a trolley in the middle of the morning eating a chocolate bar to keep them quiet while their mother makes her food selection.
Sometimes the tables are turned, as, for example, the time someone asked me why I was buying so many cans of cat food. Instead of replying that it was to satisfy my two pet cats for a month, I was mischievously given to reply that it was delicious curried! I hope my fellow shopper did not take my reply literally and try it for herself.
Now Tesco has taken a much more serious and scientific line with family shopping. A total of 224 families in the Leeds area, who do their main shopping at Tesco, have been asked to keep food diaries and receipts for other food purchases from different stores and restaurants. The families were chosen as a demographic sample and their food purchases were examined over a period of one month. It was found that the foods bought generally gave a good idea of the families' diets.
The Supermarket Nutrition Information Project, conducted by the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council, will investigate whether till receipts can be used to show the amount of fat and calories in each shopper's trolley. Tesco say that the technology to give this sort of information is already there on their tills. There is also evidence that many shoppers examine the nutrition information on the products they buy. Despite the increase in eating out, 85 per cent of food is eaten at home. With more than 90 per cent of the population buying their food from supermarkets, it would be useful to know whether their selection of foods was in keeping with current dietary guidelines.
In the past, supermarkets have done a lot to encourage healthy eating with their dietary leaflets offered free of charge. Many nutrition educators use these leaflets as readily understood sources of nutritional advice. These leaflets are to be encouraged in our quest for improving the health of shoppers and their families.
But back to my curried cat food. I must confess that I have not tried to do this and would not ever consider it an option for family meals. Even for the cats, the strong flavour of the spices would be too much. They like their Whiskas straight from the can. I was interested to learn that most adult cats are lactose intolerant and that explains the cartons of special cat milk to be found in my trolley, should anyone see me in the supermarket. But lactose intolerance in cats is a debate outside the scope of this journal.