What You Should Know About the Supermarket
I’ve said before that you should buy fresh, local foods when you can. This is true, but there are many times when we go to the supermarket to purchase food. However, there are some things you should know. I recently took part in a Child Nutrition and Cooking class through Stanford University. Maya Adam, MD, presented some very good information and laid out several things we should consider about the places we shop for food. Here, I recap what I learned.
Supermarkets are designed to make us want to buy more than we need, and to make us consider buying the most expensive versions of products. The products we use most are perishable items such as milk and eggs. These products are typically located at the back of the store, with the most direct route to them being through food aisles that contain heavily processed foods like chips and soda.
Within the processed food aisles, it’s no accident that the most heavily processed versions of foods are on the shelves at eye level. Companies make more money by selling these items, so they’re positioned where they are most easily seen and reached. The next time you’re in the baking aisle, take note of where the ready-made cake mix and frosting is located. It’s in plain view, however the flour and other less processed items are usually on the very bottom shelf.
When it comes to children’s products, they’re either placed at the height of a typical three year-old or at the level of a child sitting in a shopping cart. Children see these items (usually the least healthy ones), ask for them, and parents respond. It’s important to know this and educate our kids on what it means to eat healthy, nutritious foods.
Even the environment within the grocery store is developed in a way that encourages us to buy more. Slower instrumental music has been shown to slow the flow of traffic in the store, making us spend more time shopping. Certain stores even use special machines to generate smells like freshly baked bread in the bakery or chocolate in the candy aisle. The sense of smell is a powerful one, and can often make customers hungrier.
Here are three tips to help you navigate the supermarket in a healthy, more effective way:
- Stick to the outside aisles as much as possible when shopping. The healthiest items are all located around the edges of the store: produce, dairy, eggs, and fresh meats.
- Before entering the store, make a list of items you intend to buy. You’ll be less likely to purchase items on impulse if you know exactly what you need (and don’t need) before going in.
- Avoid shopping when you’re hungry. Hunger can make us buy less healthy items on impulse.
It’s easier to make smart nutrition decisions when you’re aware of things that are working against you. Stay smart, be aware, and make good choices when it comes to you and your family’s health.