Natural Foods Is A Natural Fit

More People Making A Choice To Eat Healthy

By Colleen Lent

Hampton Union, Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Kathy Kopala, left, the store manager for Hampton Natural Foods for 20 years,
says she is excited about the store's new location at 580 Lafayette Road.
[Photo by Jay Reiter]

HAMPTON - In the early 1980s, regular shoppers at health., :food stores were stereotyped as "earthy crunchies," driving Volkswagen vans graced with faded Ralph -Nader and Greenpeace bumper stickers. In her 21st year as the owner of Hampton Natural Foods, Frances Foster says the industry demographics have changed dramatically.

"There was a very small group of people that came," Foster says. "Then gradually quality natural products have become more mainstream."

Despite reports from the centers of Disease Control that more than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, suffering from a host of related chronic conditions, ranging from type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease, Foster says some people are making a conscious effort to eat healthy foods. First-time store visitors start with a multi-vitamin, and gradually start exploring other supplements and organic foods.

Some of the bulk food bins at Hampton Natural Foods.
[Photo by Jay Reiter]

While Foster is encouraged by increased foot traffic, she verbally grimaces when she thinks of corporate food manufacturers and burgeoning health issues. She says consumers are enticed by print and electronic ads for triple cheeseburgers, double french fries, and milk-shakes not containing milk. At the same time, the corporations aren't touting their behind-the-scenes processing and cooking practices. Foster finds feeding cows byproducts from meat processing plants to minimize waste problematic. She says cows are vegetarians, not carnivores, and shouldn't be fed their own recycled body parts. Years ago, she commented on the health risks to humans. Now, with the repeated outbreaks of mad cow disease, Foster is convinced some consumers will gravitate toward purer meat products and others will reconfirm their status as vegetarians.

Currently, about 20 percent of Hampton Health Foods customers are strict vegetarians, avoiding all animal products, including dairy items. Meanwhile, another 15 percent avoid meat, poultry, and fish, but incorporate eggs, milk, cheese, and other related items in their diet. Foster, a former vegetarian and certified nutritional counselor, says many find it difficult to adopt the pledge of no animal products, as some like the taste of a rack of barbecued ribs or hunk of aged cheese. Others experience excessive weight loss from a plant-only diet.

Of course, high-protein and low carbohydrate products items are the centerpiece of the Atkins Diet, which is eroding the sales of ."white" products, such as bread, rice, and potatoes. At the same time, some businesses including GNC and Subway are modifying their product lines to accommodate the latest weight-loss frenzy. Hampton Natural Foods does carry some Atkins products, including baking mixes, shakes, and snacks. However, Foster is more inclined to recommend a protein isolate powder made solely from soybeans and providing zero grams of fat and carbohydrates, 13 grams of protein, and 50 calories per serving. Often, a short list of ingredients indicates a healthier a product.

"This is the real stuff," Foster says, pointing to snack bar containing dates, walnuts, raisins, honey, crisped rice, puffed amaranth, and salt. "It's real food."

For years the i1. S. Food and Drug Administration classified nutritional supplements as food, and they were regulated the same way. However, the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 placed supplements in another category. Foster says there's a misconception that supplements now bypass safety and quality checks. "They are regulated," she says. An excerpt from the FDA's Web site reads: "As a result of these provisions, dietary ingredients used in dietary supplements are no longer subject to the premarket safety evaluations required of other new food ingredients or for new uses of old food ingredients. They must, however, meet the requirements of other safety provisions."

The 1994 act also provides .guidelines on supplement labeling, prohibiting statements saying a product "treats, mitigates, cures, or prevents" a particular disease or medical condition. However, the label may include a "support statement," if there is substantial evidence behind the claim. For instance, a statement saying folic acid may help to reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects would be acceptable.

"It's semantics, but that's the law," Foster says.

Foster says most supplements are nutrients normally found in foods, and are safe. However, she says patients taking prescribed medicines or preparing for surgery need to be mindful of possible drug interactions or complications. For instance, if a person is taking high blood pressure medication and ginkgo biloba, their blood pressure may become too low.

As Americans are reaching for over-the-counter herbal remedies and foods, especially after a new drug or nutritional study is released, Foster says grocery and drug stores are adding new prod- .ucts to their shelves. Shaw's Sub permarkets and Hannaford Bros. now have at least one aisle of natural and organic products. Rite Aid is partnered with GNC to carry a whole host of dietary supplements. Despite the increased competition, Foster says business is doing well.

On Dec. 26, she moved from a 1,600-square-foot site at 321 Lafayette Road to a 2,000-square foot site at 580 Lafayette Road. The additional space has allowed her to add store shelves, a salad bar, kitchen, and a six-seat-lunch counter. Foster says the cozy atmosphere and relationship with her customers gives her an edge over larger retailers.

Wilford Rand of Rye says he and his wife Irene have been shopping at Ilampton Natural Foods for 20 years, and can always count on a free smile. Supplements, rather than food items, are on the top of the couple's shopping list. Rand says peanut butter is his weakness. Foster is quick to say it's actually a healthy food choice, but then chides Rand about his affinity for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Owner: Frances Foster
Address: 580 Lafayette Road
Hampton, New Hampshire
Phone Number: (603) 926-5950