QUEENS — Sheila Neckles tries to buy healthy food every time she goes to the store.
She grew up in the Caribbean where fresh produce was abundant, but in New York, where she lives with her daughter and two grandchildren, it's too expensive for her to buy.
“If you don’t have the money to buy healthy food, you take whatever can fill your stomach,” said Neckles, 62, who lives in Richmond Hill and is on disability.
The women were part of a support group with Community Healthcare Network, a non-profit with two clinics in Jamaica offering affordable health care to Medicaid and uninsured patients in underserved communities.
During an hour-long shopping event, the group's nutritionists packed a shopping cart with healthy products including nuts, avocados, carrots, oranges, brown rice, rotisserie chicken and whole wheat bread, explaining the nutritious value of each item.
The goal was not to exceed $150 which, according to the group, is approximately what a family of four receiving food stamps gets each week.
“We want to empower low-income families to shop smarter and make healthier choices, enabling them to cook meals that are both delicious and affordable,” said the tour’s leader, Maegan Ratliffe, CHN’s director of nutrition.
The experts also helped participants better interpret product labels. “The smaller the list, the lower the risk,” said Wilda Souffrant, a nutritionist with the group, referring to the number of ingredients in each product.
Even items that people usually consider healthy, like salad dressings, can contain lots of fat and sugar, she added.
“Always read the labels, be a food detective,” said Souffrant.
Shoppers were also advised to eat many fruits and vegetables, use brown rice instead of white rice, to buy hormone-free eggs and lettuce with darker leaves which is more nutritious.
Catherine Abate, CHN president, said that there is a direct link between good nutrition and preventing chronic diseases, including heart disease and stroke.
“It’s not about looking good or having a certain size or a certain body image,” she said. "It’s about healthy choices."
But Abate also said that the level of obesity, both citywide and in the neighborhood, is skyrocketing. “One out of five adults who live in Jamaica, Queens, is obese and one in 10 has diabetes,” she said.
Kim Frey, 54, from the Lower East Side, who shops for a family of five including her daughter and two grandchildren, said she had thought her budget didn't allow healthy food.
But she said that as a result of the trip to the grocery store she will be buying 100 percent whole wheat bread and fewer processed foods.