Santa Barbara residents who honor the ongoing grocery workers’ strike may end up eating a more healthful diet.

Because the UFCW strike involves all of the major local grocery chains – Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons – shoppers who honor the strike must shop at smaller chain stores or independently owned stores. These grocery stores, such as Lassen’s Health Foods and Trader Joe’s offer food that is, on average, more healthful than the major chains.

Alternative grocery stores have seen an increase in business since the strike started last fall. Barbara LeMons, grocery manager at Lassen’s, said that she is happy to see more people choosing health food.

“We’ve been growing steadily over the last year,” LeMons said. “Business definitely has been up.”

Lassen’s is located in the same shopping center as a Ralphs, so it is a ready alternative for shoppers who arrive at the center and do not want to cross the picket lines.

Isla Vista residents have also been taking the strike seriously, said David Johnson, floor manager at the I.V. Food Cooperative.

“We’ve had a lot more customers, especially college students,” Johnson said.

Shoppers who switch their routine of buying from major chain stores to smaller, more health-conscious markets will have the opportunity to eat a more nutritious diet.

“With the advent of the new year, people are definitely on a kick of trying to get healthy,” LeMons said.

The I.V. Food Co-op also has its share of longtime customers, like fourth-year geography major Maggie Suval.

“I come here once a day, sometimes twice a day,” Suval said. “I love the atmosphere here.”

Goleta resident Karen Gumtow routinely travels to I.V. to do half of her normal grocery shopping at the Co-op.

However, shopping at health food stores is only part of getting a healthful diet. Savvy customers should also know about basic food nutrients and how to read nutrition labels.

Nutrition Label

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required manufacturers to put standardized nutrition labels on most food products since Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990. Some products are exempt, such as meat, poultry and items that are too small to accommodate the labels.

The nutrition label contains a summary of the food product’s basic constituents. This allows customers to choose food based on its nutritional value. The percentage numbers on the right side of the label show the portion of the FDA-recommended daily value that the food fulfills for each constituent.

Serving Size

The serving size of a product is put at the top of the label because all of the information following it depends on the size. Sometimes the label does not reflect how much people really eat. When comparing two products, the serving size must be taken into account. If a person eats twice the amount of one serving, all of the nutrition values on the label must be doubled.


A dietary calorie is the amount of energy that can heat one liter of water one degree Celsius. Food is essentially a fuel, and its caloric content describes how much energy that food will provide the body.

The body spends this energy keeping itself warm, performing physical and mental activity, and regulating internal bodily functions.

An average adult metabolizes about 2,000 to 2,500 calories in a day. Athletes burn more calories, and unusually inactive people burn fewer. If a person consumes more calories than he or she burns in a day, some of the extra energy is stored in the body, usually as fat.

The label shows the total calories and calories from fat to give customers an idea of how much of the food’s energy is coming from fat. The other sources of energy are protein, carbohydrates and alcohol.

The FDA recommends that consumers avoid foods in which more than 30 percent of their total calories come from fat.


Cholesterol is a compound that is found in many bodily tissues and in the blood. It is necessary for proper cell membrane function, but having too high a concentration of it is bad because it can form deposits in arteries and block the flow of blood.

When arteries that supply the heart or brain with blood become critically clogged, a heart attack or stroke occurs, respectively.

Cholesterol is synthesized by the body and is also obtained directly from food. In either case, the cholesterol bonds with one of two other molecules to form new substances: low density lipoproteins (LDL) or high density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL cholesterol is considered bad because it carries cholesterol through the blood to the cells. HDL cholesterol is considered good because it carries cholesterol from the cells into the blood, and out of the body.

The nutrition label does not specify HDL or LDL because this designation is made only after the body processes it. Eating saturated fat will cause the body to synthesize more LDL cholesterol.


The FDA requires that saturated fat be shown in addition to total fat, because it is one of the least healthful food constituents.

Saturated fats, such as butter and lard, are solids at room temperature, and they raise the LDL blood cholesterol level. This is a problem because high LDL levels leads to clogged arteries, heart disease and strokes.

A saturated fat molecule is one loaded with hydrogen atoms to the point where it cannot hold any more. Unsaturated fats, such as light oils, contain fat molecules that are able to hold more hydrogen atoms and are usually liquid at room temperature.

Some manufacturers voluntarily print information on the label about unsaturated fat and its two classifications, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats contain molecules that can only hold two more hydrogen atoms until they are saturated. Polyunsaturated indicates that the molecules can hold more than two more hydrogen atoms.

Numerous studies such as those done by Sacks, et al., at the Harvard School of Public Health show that eating fat can affect blood cholesterol levels, even though the exact mechanism is still unknown. Polyunsaturated fats lower both LDL and HDL blood cholesterol, so it is preferable over saturated fats, but monounsaturated fats are even more preferable.

Monounsaturated fats lower the LDL cholesterol level while raising the HDL cholesterol level. Because of this, they are the least damaging of all fats.

The FDA has required food manufacturers to list trans-fats on the nutrition label by 2006. Trans-fats are usually man-made by adding hydrogen atoms to an oil. The result is a fat that is solid at room temperature, but technically is not yet saturated. According to the FDA, trans-fats are less healthy than unsaturated fats, and could be worse than saturated fats.


All nutrition labels are required to show the amount of sodium ion in the food. The most common compound containing sodium is table salt, but baking soda, preservatives and other food additives also contain sodium.

Sodium is a necessary nutrient for a healthy body, but excessive sodium can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure.


The total amounts of carbohydrates, sugars and dietary fiber are required to be on the food label. Sugars and fibers are types of carbohydrates, but it is useful to separate them from the others.

Fibers are sometimes further divided into soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is gelatinous in water and usually found in some fruits, nuts and beans. Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, whole wheat and wheat bran.

Soluble fiber slows the passage of food through the digestive system, so that there is more time for nutrients to be absorbed. It also can bind with fats and be passed from the body, taking the fats along with it.

Insoluble fiber helps the stool retain water in the intestines, which makes for easier bowel movements.

The body burns sugar quickly, sometimes causing hyperactivity followed by lethargy. Other carbohydrates are burned more slowly, and offer more consistent energy levels.


Protein is found in meats, dairy products and some breads. It does not have a recommended daily intake lis
ted because it is not common to get too much protein in one’s diet. Eating an excessive amount of protein would mainly result in consuming too many calories.

The body uses protein to build muscles and lean tissue; however, simply eating a diet high in protein will not result in getting big muscles.

Vitamins and Minerals

The body also needs some substances for good health that are not metabolized like foods. These substances are usually required in small quantities. The FDA requires that vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium be shown on nutrition labels.