Do candy bars have a tendency to jump off the shelves and into your cart when you’re at the supermarket? You’re not alone. From the weekly circulars to the cash register, the entire grocery-shopping experience is designed to ensure you spend as much time and money on junk food as possible.
But fear not! My book “Eat It to Beat It!” is full of easy tips that empower you, the consumer, to stand your ground against a food industry that wants to make you fat. Here are five ways you can outsmart the supermarket, and keep those sneaky vice foods out of your cart.
|Pay with cash|
Paper or plastic? When it comes to checking out at the supermarket, paper money may be your best bet.
A series of experiments by Cornell University looked at the effects of payment method on food choice. When participants used credit cards, they bought more unhealthful "vice" foods than they did "virtue" foods. Researchers suggest that you're more likely to think twice about an impulse to buy junk food if it means parting with a hundred dollar bill than swiping plastic.
|Shop with a cart|
I know what you're thinking: A basket has to be better than a cart because it's smaller—less room for bad decisions! In fact, a study in Journal of Marketing Research suggests the opposite may be true: Shoppers gathering groceries in baskets are more likely to reach for junk than cart pushers.
According to the study, shoppers are more apt to compensate for the tension and strain a basket puts on the arm with “vice products” such as candy and soda. In fact, the odds of purchasing junk food at the cash register for a basket shopper was 6.84 times that of someone shopping with a cart!
|Pump up the jams|
Antisocial as it sounds, bringing headphones to the supermarket and rocking out to some iTunes while you shop may keep unwanted items out of your cart.
According to a well-cited study by Ronald Milliman in the Journal of Marketing, supermarkets intentionally play slow, calming music to reduce turnover. That translates to 38 percent more time in the store, and an additional 29 percent more food in your cart! Stay jazzed and focused with music that puts some pep in your step.
|Have a snack before you shop|
If you're hungry, you're probably not going to reach for a bag of lettuce, which is why it’s a bad idea to do your grocery shopping with a grumbling tummy.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, participants who hadn't eaten all afternoon chose more high-calorie foods in a simulated supermarket than those who were given a snack beforehand. This was especially true in the hours leading up to dinnertime.
Try to schedule grocery runs early in the day, and try one of my favorite snacks under 100 calories before you head out the door.
|Make a list before clipping coupons|
The weekly circular may help trim a few dollars from your bill, but it could also add a few pounds to your frame, a recent study suggests.
The study, printed in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, looked at more than 1,000 online coupons offered by six major grocery chains and found most of them were for processed food snacks and prepared meals. In contrast, only 3 percent of coupons provided savings on fresh, frozen or canned produce; and a tiny one percent trimmed the price of unprocessed meats.
Don’t be swayed by deals on unhealthy items, and check out apps like Grocery IQ that will scan your (hopefully health-conscious) grocery list and zip code for relevant savings you can then print out.
Dave Zinczenko, ABC News nutrition and wellness editor, is a New York Times No. 1 bestselling author. His latest book, "Eat It to Beat It!" is full of food swaps, meal plans and the latest food controversies.