Avoid Supermarket Ploys to Eat Healthier

Don’t let grocery stores trick you into buying fattening foods



Elizabeth Smith, EMT-B | From the June 2013 Issue | Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Good nutrition starts in the grocery store, because having healthy ingredients on hand is the first step for preparing healthy meals. For a lot of people, the amount of food on grocery store shelves can be overwhelming. The average supermarket stocks thousands of items, and there are more new items available each day. Products are strategically advertised and placed to catch our eyes and convince us that we need them. Grocery stores intend to sell food, after all. Information on labels can be confusing and misleading, causing us to buy “healthy” products that we think are good for us but aren’t healthy at all. All of this, combined with personal habits, lack of knowledge and lack of time, can mean walking out of the store $50 lighter with nothing to show for it but a box of soy cookies and 15 packs of microwavable noodles.

Product Placement
One of the best tactics for being an informed consumer is to understand the anatomy of the grocery store. It’s most important to know the healthiest foods are on the perimeter. In the vast majority of markets, the produce section, dairy refrigerator, meat and fish counters, and bakery with fresh-baked breads all lie on the outer edges of the store. The middle of the store contains mainly processed, pre-packaged convenience foods. These foods are high in sodium and often low in nutritional value, so you should eat them sparingly. This layout is intentional. We have to walk past all these money-making processed foods to get to the back of the store for the staples we actually need.

Another strategy for being a healthier consumer is to be aware of the way items are placed on the shelf. The area right at the customer’s eye level is considered prime space. Stores actually charge more to place products there, so those shelves tend to carry national brands and bestselling products. The lower shelves, set in the line of sight of a child, usually carry products with bright colors and lots of sugar, meant to appeal to children who are at the right height to reach out and grab them. The very bottom shelf tends to have larger items, often bulk, that can be comparable to and more affordable than items placed more visibly. So if we head in without a plan, we’re more likely to buy the items that are most easily seen and most brightly colored (especially if there’s a child helping with the shopping), rather than those that are the best price or most healthful.

Shop with a Strategy
The soundest strategy for avoiding these marketing tactics is to start your shopping adventure armed with a plan. Before heading to the store, make a list of the meals you want to prepare for the week. For each day, plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner. This doesn’t need to be fancy. You may eat cereal for breakfast every day, so that’s all you need to write in your menu.
From your menu, make a shopping list. Include each item you will need for your planned meals and its quantity. For example, if you’re making grilled chicken breast for two, you would write: “Boneless, skinless chicken breast (2).” This tells you exactly what you need to pick up off the shelf (see a sample meal plan at right and a sample shopping list below). As you become more familiar with your grocery store, you can arrange your list in order of the store layout, making it easier to avoid retracing your steps and reducing the amount of time you spend shopping.

When you’re ready to go shopping, make sure to eat a small snack or meal before you leave. Going to the store hungry drastically increases the chances you will buy junk food. Once you arrive, stick to your list. Remember the tactics vendors use to convince you to spend more, and don’t buy into them. Buy only what you need, and you will save money while avoiding the temptation brought by having a cabinet full of sandwich cookies and potato chips.


Sample One Week Grocery List

Strawberries (1 pint)
Green peppers (2)
Onions (2)
Romaine lettuce (2 heads)
Asparagus (1 bunch)
Button mushrooms (1 package)
Green beans (3 cups)
Idaho potatoes (1 bag)

Eggs (1 dozen large)
Skim milk (1 gallon)
Low fat shredded cheddar cheese (1 package)
Low fat shredded mozzarella cheese (1 package)
Fat-free sour cream (1 container)
Spray butter
Sliced turkey breast (1 package)
Chicken breasts (4)
Pork chops (2)
Lean ground beef (1 pound)

Frozen vegetables (1 package)
Black bean burgers (1 box)

Frosted Mini Wheats (1 box)
Whole wheat bread (1 loaf)
Whole wheat spaghetti (1 box)
Marinara sauce (1 jar)
Pizza sauce (1 jar)
Prepared pizza crust (1)
Breadcrumbs (1 container)
Taco shells (1 box)
Salsa (1 jar)
Brown rice (1 box)
Whole wheat tortilla chips (1 bag)


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Related Topics: Health And Safety, Provider Wellness and Safety, supermarket, meal planning, marketing trick, marketing strategy, healthy eating tricks, grocery store marketing ploy, food placement, buying food, Jems Features

Author Thumb

Elizabeth Smith, EMT-B

Elizabeth Smith, MS, RD, LDN, EMT-B, is a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist based out of Pittsburgh. She works part time as an EMT-B. She's interested in providing practical nutrition information and healthy eating strategies to her fellow emergency responders. Contact her at elizabeth.smith.nutrition@gmail.com.


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