It’s a classic scenario: you’re shopping for groceries and you want to buy healthy foods, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s actually healthy. The labels might say “low-fat” or “reduced sodium,” but sometimes that can be misleading. Still, you want to try to eat better and maybe even lose a little weight, so you fill up your cart with items using your best judgment. But, what if you were jinxed from the moment you set foot in the store? Your healthy shopping mission may have been destined for failure right from the start. The good news is there are things you can do to improve your chances at buying healthy groceries.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says one tip for healthy grocery shopping is the so-called “half-cart” solution. “If you think about your typical grocery cart when you’re shopping, odds are it’s less than half full of fruits and vegetables when you head to the checkout,” Tillman said. “If our goal is to eat more fruits and veggies, then it’s necessary to have more of them on hand, which means we need to buy more of them. Often, shoppers who try the ‘half-cart’ method, wind up buying twice as many fruits and vegetables as they normally would,” she explained.
Tillman says there’s also a strategy for navigating the grocery store’s aisles. “When you’re trying to shop for healthy foods, it can be beneficial to shop the healthy aisles first,” Tillman said. “Also, remember that the healthier items in the grocery store tend to be along the perimeter, not in the middle. Think about the time you spend on a particular aisle while you’re shopping. The longer we spend in a section or aisle, the more we tend to buy,” she said. “Try purposefully walking down every aisle of the produce section, and then head for the frozen vegetables and lean meats,” she added.
Another old adage has some value: don’t shop hungry. “Research shows that we don’t necessarily buy more when you’re hungry, but we do tend to buy ‘worse,’” Tillman said. “This, of course, means junk foods such as the ‘four Cs’ – crackers, chips, candy and cereal. One strategy that seems to interrupt these types of cravings is to chew gum while you’re shopping. It tends to block our sensory desires for crunchy chips or ice cream. Research has found that shoppers who chew gum while shopping for groceries rated themselves as less hungry and less tempted by food,” she explained. “They also bought less junk food than those who did not chew gum,” she added.
Finally, Tillman says the ‘half-plate’ rule can help you buy healthy foods. “When you’re trying to eat healthy, you want to try to fill your plate halfway with fruits, vegetables or salad. The other half of the plate, though, can be anything you want it to be,” Tillman said. “This type of freedom seems to encourage most people to continue to make healthier choices by filling the rest of the plate with similarly healthy foods and eating less overall,” she explained.