The Grocery Store Is A Trap

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It wasn’t too long ago that we learned about, and wrote about, the psychology of grocery stores and how they are set up to get you to spend money on food you don’t need. Since then, every time I go to the grocery store, I can’t help but be aware of the music, the product placement, and the floral department. It’s like looking at the world, or at least the grocery store, with brand new eyes.

It also got us thinking—are there other ways grocery stores and the food industry are working against us? How we can make our grocery shopping healthier?  Everyone pretty much knows to stick to the outer aisles in a market, but what else can you do to make your grocery store work for you instead of against you? Read on.

1. Read the ingredients label, not just the nutritional label. Most people look at the nutritional label first, and may not ever get to the ingredients list, but that’s a mistake. For example, the nutritional label can tell you a product has 0 g of trans fats. That’s good! Once you read the ingredients list, though, you see one of the ingredients is hydrogenated oils. That’s bad. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats. The current standard allows for a product to have as much as .4 g of any ingredient and still be marked as 0 g on the nutritional label. So by the time you’ve had 3 servings of the product, over the course of a week—or a day—you’ve had more than a gram of trans fats. Better yet…

2. Buy foods that don’t need labels whenever possible. Fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins. These are the foods that should be making up the majority of your diet. When you do buy foods with labels—because let’s be honest, we all do—look for a short list of ingredients. Not only should the list be short, but most of the ingredients should be words you recognize and can pronounce.

3. Don’t be fooled by grocery store buzz words. Groceries are full of buzz words right now, like “natural” and “organic.” Learn what they actually mean, and you’ll know which ones matter and which ones are all spin. Natural doesn’t actually have to mean anything, but organic has a set standard that must be followed and maintained. Cage-free and free-range aren’t the same thing, either. Cage-free can still mean packed in a barn in inhumane conditions—just no cages. Free-range is better. Humanely-raised/pasture-raised is best. Bottom line is natural, cage-free chickens and cows are not the same thing as organic, humanely-raised chickens and cows. Don’t let the labels convince you otherwise.

4. Choose your organic wisely. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to afford all organic all the time. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and organic is more expensive than traditionally, commercially grown food. So follow the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. These are lists created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of foods you should always try to buy organic—the Dirty Dozen—and foods you can buy grown traditionally—the Clean 15. You can find the full lists at the EWG website. They’ll help you stay healthy and save money.

5. Fill your grocery cart like you would your plate. Just like your dinner plate should be at least 50% vegetables, your cart should be, as well. When it comes time to make your grocery list, make sure you’re splitting your food budget up the same way you’d split up a meal: 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% lean proteins, 25% whole grains, and a “sprinkling” of healthy fats. Be sure to look it over one more time right before you check out, to make sure you haven’t strayed too far.

You’ve taken charge of your health, and your diet. Now, you can take charge of your grocery shopping, too!