Grocery Store Traps to Avoid

You probably head to the store with the best of intentions -- namely, to buy only the freshest healthiest food, stick to your list and stay within your budget. But by the time you reach the cashier, your cart inevitably holds several impulsive, and possibly less healthy, purchases. It's not entirely your fault. Grocery stores have several tricks they use to tempt us to spend more and buy more than we bargained for. Here are a few sneaky things to look out for on your next shopping trip.

Pricing schemes: Signs that boldly announce "5 for $5" apparently sound too good to pass up. A study done at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab found that promotions that use numbers are hard for customers to resist. Whether it's pushing multiple units, limiting the amount you can purchase, or suggesting things like "buy 10 for your freezer," these sorts of schemes can increase purchases by anywhere from 30 to 105 percent.

End-of-aisle displays: We've all been told to mostly shop the perimeter of the store. That's where you find fresh produce, dairy and meats, as opposed to the more processed and packaged stuff that lines the aisles. So in order to get you to see the food you're trying to avoid, stores routinely stack products they want you to buy in kiosks in the perimeter or at the ends of aisles. "Beware of what you find there because it's usually not the healthiest foods and whatever it is probably isn't on your list,” says Karen Dolins, EdD, RD, a nutrition consultant in White Plains, NY.

Eye-level enticements: Grocery stores work hard for your business, but they don't want their customers to work too hard to find the healthiest products or best deals. So they will line up whatever they want you to buy most right at eye level. You'll need to reach up or bend down if you want to compare prices and food labels.

Free samples: Not only can you wreck your healthy diet by munching your way through the grocery store, but you can easily end up with a cart full of goodies you had no intention of buying. "It’s hard to resist when samples of sweets are being handed out at the bakery or cheeses are being offered at the deli counter," says Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition, Penn State University. "But even if you sample, try to stick to your list and not purchase every treat you taste."

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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