'Natural' grocery is great but not fat-free


March 22, 1994|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Special to The Sun

I took a field trip to Fresh Fields last week to see what all the uproar was about, and I really like the place, with a couple of reservations.

The Fresh Fields in Annapolis is one of 12 grocery stores in the mid-Atlantic region offering what they call "good for you" foods. Others are in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Bethesda and Rockville.

Fresh Fields touts itself as a store with "principles," set forth in one of its brochures; its food contains no synthetic preservatives, artificial colors or flavors; no refined sugars or synthetic sweeteners; no hydrogenated oils, tropical oils or cottonseed oil.

Grain products are never bleached or bromated. Meats are produced without hormones or other growth-promoting drugs.

Food is never irradiated, is organically produced whenever feasible, not tested on animals, and does not contain phosphates or chlorine.

And Fresh Fields guarantees your satisfaction unconditionally.

The store is bright and spotlessly clean, and the employees will happily discuss the ingredients and what they think are the benefits of their products.

It has the largest array of organically grown produce available anywhere. It's all fresh and bright and beautifully displayed, a far cry from the initial resurgence of organic foods when everything was old and wilted and moldy. They've come a long way.

In fact, it's a sort of "Back to the Future" business. It's gone high-tech to bring you low-tech food like great-grandparents might have had on the farm.

It offers hormone-free beef, and free-range chicken and veal, along with cheese, butter and eggs produced by organically fed animals.

The cereal aisle is like a foreign land. You'll see few brands or packages you recognize. But the shapes and styles will be familiar.

It offers a vast array of grains like quinoa, couscous and wheat berries, and vegetarian foods and products, including every type of soy-based food you can think of.

Its home-baked products and deli foods look delicious and tempting, and you can taste anything that looks good to you.

The wild rice salad with pecans and mandarin oranges, and chunk chicken with wheatberries were unusual and appealing.

But don't be misled into thinking you can wallow in anything and everything Fresh Fields offers.

It has no principle against high-fat foods. In fact, it carries butter, a natural fat, but no margarine, because it's hydrogenated. It's no stranger to whipped cream and full-fat cheese, although the store offers reduced-fat products, too.

Many of the deli salads are made with full fat mayonnaise or salad oils.

The store has no principle against natural sweeteners. So its bakery is bursting with high-calorie cakes and baked goods sweetened with honey, corn syrup, maple sugar and a product called Sucanat, an organically grown evaporated juice from sugar cane. Those desserts are all high fat, too.

High-fat, high-sweetener products are OK, as long as you realize what you're getting.

Portion control is just as important at Fresh Fields as at any other store. People with diabetes need to realize there's no advantage to these "natural" sweeteners. Folks watching their weight need to know that "natural" fat and sweeteners count too. And remember, studies show hydrogenated fats do raise cholesterol, but not as much as butter. So, natural or not, the rule is still to use fat sparingly.

Although the flours are not bleached or bromated, they're not necessarily all whole grain. Those are just the final refining steps, after all the fiber and germ have been removed.

So if you want whole-grain products, you still have to read the label. And there are plenty of whole grain cereals and breads to be found in Fresh Fields.

Despite promoting high nutrition principles, Fresh Fields employs no nutrition professionals at any level of management. In discussing nutrition issues, employees are a bit muddy in some of their ideas. It's like talking to a vitamin salesperson in a health food store. They're there to promote their products.

Fresh Fields is clear in stating their own guiding values, which makes it easy for you to choose foods that meet yours. Take a field trip to Fresh Fields. You'll be amazed. Call for directions to Bethesda (301) 984-4860, Rockville (301) 984-4880 or Annapolis (410) 448-1600.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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