The grocery store is a temple of marketing. As soon as you walk into a grocery store, you are bombarded by the most innovative marketing techniques that are trying to sell you anything and everything in the store.
From the placement of the products to the music selection, everything in a grocery store is carefully picked to make you, the consumer, more likely to buy certain products, and to buy more than you meant to.
How can you avoid the pitfalls of impulse buying? How can you avoid becoming susceptible to buying products you weren’t planning on? How can you avoid the unhealthy, processed foods and leave the store with healthy, good tasting foods?
There are strategies for healthy shopping. Some nutritionists go into grocery stores with their clients and walk them through the store to teach them how to identify healthy foods, read and understand the nutritional labels, and how to avoid the tricks grocery stores employ to get you to buy certain foods. Some grocery stores employ nutritionists to walk consumers through the stores and teach them how to shop healthy.
The battle against buying snacks and bad for you foods begins as soon as you walk into the grocery store. As we walk in we are usually given a list of in store coupons.
A study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, looked at more than 1,000 online coupons. They found that most of them were for processed foods and prepared meals. Only 3 percent of the coupons offered provided savings on fresh, frozen or canned produce, and only 1 percent cut the cost of unprocessed meats.
The healthiest areas of grocery stores are usually the outer, surrounding aisles – the perimeter of the store. The aisles in the middle of the store stereotypically house the processed, sugary, and bad for you foods. The more time you spend on the periphery of a grocery store, the better food selections you will make. The more time you spend away from the middle aisles of a grocery store, the less time you will spend being tempted by the bad for you, processed, sugary, salty foods.
Food manufacturing companies know where to place their products to make them easy to spot, and hard to resist. Most foods manufacturer representatives battle every day for product placement. These reps go into stores every day to make sure that their products are at eye level and in the front. They know that consumers are more likely to notice, and therefore buy, their products if they are at eye level.
They also place children’s food at a lower level so as to be at a child’s eye level. So when you walk down the cereal aisle with your four year old, and the child is crying and complaining that they “NEED” the newest, frosted chocolate cereal with a cartoon character on it, the child is responding to the food company marketing. They are very good at what they do, and your child is reacting to that marketing.
I always say to my youngest child that he is an example of why marketing geared towards kids works. Everything he sees in the grocery store or on the television convinces him that he needs whatever product it is. Doesn’t matter if it is something that he will like or not like. If the packaging contains a character that he likes, he wants that product.
If you use a basket, rather than a grocery cart, you will be more likely to buy snacks and sweets. This seems counter intuitive, because I would think that if you use a small basket to shop with, there is less room for unhealthy foods. Instead, most people who shop with baskets will subconsciously buy snacks as a way to reward themselves for carrying the heavy basket.
Even the music played in grocery stores is carefully selected to reduce turnover. The music in grocery stores is meant to make the consumer linger longer in the store. The longer someone lingers in a store, the more they are likely to buy more products.
This is similar to what casinos do in Las Vegas. The casinos pump in fresh air to keep their customers awake and prevent them from getting tired. They also paint the ceilings sky blue to give the illusion of day time, so that customers will lose track of time and spend more time in the casinos then they meant to. The longer consumers are in the casino, the more likely they are to spend more money.
Have a snack before grocery shopping. If you go to a grocery store hungry, you will buy more food than what you need. You will also end up buying more unhealthy foods to snack on. Don’t go to the store hungry. If you do, you will be less likely to chose a bag of lettuce and more likely to chose a bag of Doritos.
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, participants who hadn’t eaten all afternoon and then went to the grocery store bought more high calorie foods than those who had a snack before hand.
Pay with cash. You will be more likely to choose healthy options if you have to pay for it with cash. If you pay for your groceries with a credit card, then you’re more likely to chose “vice” foods, or bad for you foods. A study from Cornell University looked at the effects of payment methods on food choice. They found that those who shopped for groceries with credit cards were more likely to buy unhealthy foods versus those who spent cash.
Read nutrition labels. Nutrition labels don’t have to be intimidating or scary. If you know what to do and what to look for, they are very simple. If you don’t know how to read them they can be intimidating and misleading.
When looking at a nutrition lablel, I always look at the calorie count, the amount of sugar, the amount of sodium, and the ingredients list. The amounts of protein and carbohydrates are important, but not as important as the other ingredients.
The first area I look at on a nutrition label is the calorie count. Be careful when looking at total calorie count because many foods will list the calorie count for half of the container. At the top of the label will be listed how many servings are in 1 container of the food. This is a way for those who are not careful about reading the nutrition labels to get suckered because it is easy to look at a bag of chips and think that it is only 150 calories, while ignoring the fact that there are three 150 calorie servings contained in the bag.
Processed foods are jam packed with sodium. I have read various recommendations on daily sodium intake. My opinion is that we should not consume more than 2000 mg of sodium per day. If the can of soup you are thinking of buying has 750 mg of sodium in 1 serving, and the can contains 2.5 servings, then don’t buy that can of soup. It will have almost 2000 mg of sodium in the 1 can. I heard a saying in a nutrition conference and it stuck with me because it makes sense. The saying was that if you can consume a can of Campbell’s soup without being thirsty afterwards then you have too much sodium in your diet.
Sugar is another ingredient that needs to be carefully watched. These days salt, sugar and fat are added to almost every processed food to make them taste better. These ingredients are a way to off set the off tastes that accompany processed foods. Sugar and salt can mask the funky smell and taste of a meat that has been cooked and stored in a can for months. Try to eat foods that have less than 20 grams of sugar total in the food. If there is more in the container of food, then put it back.
Research is showing that sugar can be as addictive as drugs. Sugar stimulates the same brain pathways that addictive drugs do. Sugar needs to be regulated in your diet in order to be healthy.
The other main area that I pay attention to on an ingredient label is the ingredients list. As a rule of thumb, if the food contains chemicals with long names that you can’t pronounce and don’t know what it is, then don’t eat it. The first ingredient listed is the one that is most prominent in the food. If the ingredient list is long, then it is probably something processed that you want to stay away from. Go for foods with short ingredient lists, with ingredients that recognize and can pronounce. These foods will be less processed, more natural, and better for you.
If you are the type of person who goes into a grocery store and sweets jump off of the shelf into your basket, then try to apply these tips when shopping.
If you grocery shop intelligently, then eating healthy will be much easier. A calorie is not a calorie. If you are smart about what foods you buy, and which foods you eat, then you don’t have to diet or starve yourself.
Eat smarter, don’t just eat less. This is the Pain Free Way.
Here is another article that I wrote about food ingredients and how they affect you: All Calories Are Not Equal