If you don't put it in your buggy, you won't put it in your mouth. That's what you'll learn if you take a class from Batina Timmons.
Timmons, 42, of Lutz takes shoppers to the local grocery store to teach them how to make healthier shopping choices.
The idea came to this registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist as she was counseling patients in her office.
"Today there are so many labels on packaging that it's become completely confusing. I wanted them to be able to actually flip over the packaging and read the ingredients."
There are no regulations for what gets printed on the front of food packing, so bold labels like Natural, Organic and Smart are completely misleading, she said.
"Most of these are just marketing terms to lead people to believe they are buying something healthy when it's really junk food," she said.
On a recent 90-minute tour through a Publix, participants learned that the most important part of food packaging is on the back side. That's where manufacturers print the ingredients and the nutrition facts panel. Both are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which makes deception much less likely.
Even then, Timmons said, consumers can confuse saturated fats with trans fats, and carbohydrates with sugars. And what do you do when a food is rich in fats but low in sodium, or high in sodium yet low in fat?
Never mind the actual ingredients.
"Unless you have a chemistry degree, you don't even know what some of these ingredients are," she said. "Even as a nutritionist, I still have things pop up sometimes."
Christine Rexroad, a stay-at-home mother of four young boys, found the excursion invaluable.
In addition to seeing up close how she could improve dairy and snack choices for her children, Rexroad learned dietary tips for her husband, who has Crohn's disease, and how to combat her own hypoglycemia.
"It was so exciting for me to go through the store and to learn how to make better choices for my boys, which makes me better at my job of being mom," Rexroad said. "I take my job very seriously. I've already cleaned out my pantry and my fridge and thrown away all the excess junk."
Big changes are coming to participant Elena Doris' home as well.
"Milk and fruit choices will become organic, bread will be 100 percent whole grain, and I will read past the standard nutrition label to the ingredients and look for what is really inside," said Doris, 41, a marketing coordinator from Land O'Lakes. "It's all about knowing what you are eating."
Timmons stressed that choosing healthy foods is far reaching.
"High blood pressure and high cholesterol are all related to the choices you make in the supermarket every day," she said. "My ultimate goal is to keep you out of the doctor's office."
Contact reporter Sheryl Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (813) 230-8788.