Supermarket boot camp
The supermarket is where you gather up the food to properly […]
The supermarket is where you gather up the food to properly nourish your budding baby. But stores both large and small contain no shortage of edible hazards that can quickly trip up your prenatal diet if you’re not careful. Shop smarter with the help of our grocery survival guide.
A nutritious snack beforehand can set the stage for making healthier choices at the market. In a Cornell University study, researchers discovered that people who crunched their way through an apple before shopping bought 28 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who ate a cookie and 25 percent more than those who ate nothing. The study authors believe that noshing on a healthy snack can put you in a healthier mind-set and, in turn, steer you toward making better food choices. Grocery shopping without a growling belly also reduces impulse buys, especially when you’re up against the smell of the bakery cinnamon rolls wafting through the store.
Fight back: Avoid shopping on an empty stomach by having a nourishing snack— such as yogurt and berries, hummus and sliced vegetables, or a handful of nuts— before you start ticking off your grocery list.
Beware of health halos
Savvy food marketers know we’re suckers for clever branding. Research shows that shoppers view snack foods like chips and cookies that are labeled “organic” as having healthier attributes (such as being lower in calories and higher in fiber) than identical items not being sold as organic. Foods like yogurt and candy bars that are packaged in green (a hue we associate with power foods like kale and spinach) rather than white or red also elicit greater perceived healthfulness among consumers. Being swayed by front of package claims like “all-natural” or “gluten-free” can lead you to pull up to the checkout counter with a cartful of less-than-nutritionally- stellar foods.
Fight back: Of course, it’s fine to buy bushels of broccoli without much worry, but for most packaged foods it’s important to practice due diligence and read what matter most: the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list. In fact, research from the University of Tennessee shows that female shoppers who spend time reading food labels have an easier time maintaining healthier body weights.
Don’t wing it
Showing up without a grocery list is a recipe for dietary breakdown. An investi- gation by scientists in Australia found that people who use a written list of foods to dictate their purchases at the grocery store were less likely to be overweight than those who shopped without a game plan. Why? Not taking the time to menu plan and scribble down a list of needed foods means you’ll be prone to shopping on impulse, which makes it more likely nutritional land mines will find a home in your shopping basket.
Fight back: To avoid being tempted by the two-for-one deal on frozen pizza, make a detailed grocery list based on a week’s worth of meals and snacks. Try organizing your list by aisle, so you don’t waste time backtracking or return to aisles where tempting food hazards await. The more you walk, the more you buy. Before you hit the checkout, double-check your list, and remove any unnecessary items— like the priced-to-sell day-old muffins that “snuck” into your cart.
Think salad first
You want to hit up the produce section immediately when you still have plenty of energy and are less likely to feel rushed to get out of the store. This simple task will encourage you to purchase a bigger bounty of fruits and veggies that contain many of the nutrients that a growing baby requires most.
Fight back: Make a beeline for the produce section, and spend more time there than the parts of the store dominated by bar codes. You can even query produce managers about when their main delivery day is and try to shop accordingly, as fruits and vegetables can lose flavor, texture and nutrients the longer they sit out.
It can be dangerous to be asleep at the cart. An experiment published in the journal Obesity found that subjects provided with a fixed budget were more likely to purchase higher calorie foods from a mock super- market when shopping in a sleep-deprived state than when they made their food purchasing choices following a good night’s sleep. One possible explanation is that inadequate shut-eye fires up a part of your brain that makes bags of cheese puffs and other unhealthy packaged foods seem more alluring and increases the chances they’ll end up coming home with you
Fight back: Try to schedule supermarket outings for times when you’re more likely to feel well-rested. So, if you catch more Zs on Saturday evenings than Tuesday evenings, consider strolling through the grocery store on Sunday mornings. Or try taking a power nap before shopping if that pregnancy-induced fatigue is getting the best of you.
Don’t join the rush
If you grocery shop at peak times when the store resembles a crazed battlefield, you could be more susceptible to candy bar catastrophe. That’s because the longer you’re exposed to the grab-and-go snacks that tempt you at the register, the more likely you are to reach for them.
Fight back: Cut down on your exposure to tempting last-minute purchases by using the self-checkout lanes or shopping during off-peak hours, such as Wednesday evenings.
It’s OK to take the easy way out and wheel a shopping cart instead of lugging around a basket. A study in the Journal of Marketing Research found that the act of pushing a cart instead of carrying a basket makes shoppers nearly seven times less likely to purchase junk foods. It seems that the arm flexing that’s required with a basket and the associated strain it causes may encourage you to gravitate toward vice foods. (Not to mention a basket gets more awkward to tote the bigger your bump.)
Fight back: Grab a cart, and make it a habit to fill the larger part with nutrient- dense edibles like vegetables, fruits, dairy, lean meats and whole grains. You can then reserve the small section up front for one or two treats.
Those free samples may seem innocuous, but they may have the power to blow up your healthy pregnancy diet. Researchers from Arizona State University found that nibbling on samples like chunks of cheesecake makes it more likely you’ll actually buy the item as well as other nutritionally suspect foods, even if you normally wouldn’t consider them to be wise choices.
Fight back: Unless the sample lady is offering up apple slices (yeah, right!), pass on those not-so-innocent nibbles.
Flex your neck
The supermarket staff doesn’t just shelve those boxes of cereal and cookies haphazardly. What you may not know is that major brands often pay grocers “slotting fees” for prime real estate on shelves, which usually means those at eye level. So, if you just purchase what you see first, there is a good chance you won’t be coming home with the most wholesome choice.
Fight back: For potentially healthier and even cheaper items, be sure that you look up and down store shelves. The best option could very well be higher up or lower down than what is staring straight at you.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that shoppers are more prone to making impulse purchases of less nutritious easy-to-grab foods—like the sweet treats that populate checkout lanes—when they pay by credit or debit card than when they are forced to hand over hard currency. You’re less likely to think twice about giving into cravings and dropping that bag of chips into your cart if you don’t have to part with the set amount of cash you have on hand.
Fight back: Outwit the checkout aisles by visiting the ATM on your way inside the store. Doing so can also trim your grocery bills in the process, as you’ll have more awareness of the money you’re spending on food when you pull out bills compared to just swiping a credit card.
By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD
Image: iStock.com / Gilaxia