Partnership seeks to bring healthy options to local corner store

Lynn Kyle, left, and Caitlin Pfeifer look at the label on a drink to check its sugar content during the Healthy Corner Store Initiative at Harvest Moon Wednesday. COURTNEY HAYDEN/SunGazette

Over six weeks, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative — in partnership with The Food Trust, Harrisburg YMCA and Geisinger Wellness — visited Harvest Moon to encourage and educate people about healthier foods and drinks available at corner stores.

The initiative follows the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program guidelines.

It “brings community partners together in an effort to not only spread nutrition education information and provide the health screenings but also there have been efforts done to help to increase the amount of healthy foods in the store and encourage store owners to get on board with the healthier initiatives in the community in their own store,” said Caitlin Pfeifer, project associate in the Nutrition Education Department at The Food Trust.

On June 27, Pfeifer and fellow associated Alex Roche, both of Reading, gave three-minute education lessons about healthy beverages and eliminating sugars from one’s diet — excess salt, fats — based on My Plate, through the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the nutrition assistance pro

gram. My Plate encourages people to have the five basic food groups in every meal, Roche said.

During the lessons they showed people how eating healthy does not have to be expensive, Pfeifer said. During the sixth week, they had flavored sparkling water to sample, a healthy alternative to soda. You don’t want too much extra sugar in your diet. When looking at a drink’s label, a lot of serving sizes are a half a bottle and sugar averages about 30 grams, appearing that you’re not consuming too much, Roche said. Typically, people drink the whole bottle, doubling their sugar intake. A rule of thumb for sugar is every four grams is a teaspoon. A bottle of soda can have about 18 teaspoons of sugar.

In addition to sodas, Roche cautioned to watch out for flavored milks, like chocolate, as they have a lot of added sugar. Another drink to be mindful of, is juices. It’s best to make sure it’s 100 percent juice, Pfeifer added. For example, juices with 25 percent juice will have high fructose corn syrup and sugar. However, a 100 percent juice has fructose, which is natural sugars.

While it is easy to grab a soda from the local corner store, it’s not bad to treat yourself to a soda on occasion, she said.

“Water is the best option of all because it hydrates and has zero calories,” Pfeifer said.

Each week, the group had simple and inexpensive taste tests and focused on fruits and vegetables, how much food from each food groups one should eat and combined foods that people already may eat, Pfeifer said. In previous weeks, fruit salad taste tests were available including fruit, fresh produce such as bananas and apples. These mixed with 100 percent fruit juice, Roche said.

After the lesson, people had the opportunity to fill out an anonymous survey to receive a gift, a Heart Buck, worth $4 to purchase a healthy item in the store.

The Food Trust establishes what is considered healthy or unhealthy and those from the initiative help participants choose a healthy item, said Chelstan Anderson, from the Harrisburg YMCA. By working with Harvest Moon, she coordinated to have prepackaged, inexpensive food, around $4, such as wraps and salads, healthy juice or beverages with no added sugar and healthy snacks, such as low-fat cheeses, milk or eggs.

“We are trying to prove … even though you are coming in quick and you need something inexpensive, it can still be healthy and even small snacks can really impact your health, especially if you’re eating them enough, so the idea is we are not only doing nutrition education but we are also introducing healthy recipes using foods and drinks today from the store,” Pfeifer said.

Corner stores that are enrolled in the Heart Smarts program also focused on building a healthy heart and targeting sodium by offering free blood pressure checks, Roche said.

An additional partner, Linda Poorman, of Geisinger Wellness, offered blood pressure screenings for the community. The American Heart Association has changed its blood pressure guidelines and had information for people about what their numbers were and how to reduce blood pressure, Poorman said. The five different blood pressure categories are measured by the systolic, how hard your heart works, and the diastolic, how your heart is resting.

If “a blood pressure reading … was high, that doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure but that does mean you should keep an eye on it if you notice that it’s trending to be high,” Poorman said. “But blood pressure can come back down again depending on your mood, depending on all different kinds of factors — if you’re getting enough sleep, if you’re taking any over-the-counter medications.”

“The community cares about the health of individuals within the community. … Their health is important,” Chelstan said.