Dave Shaw

Performance nutritionist, clinical dietitian and health expert, Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: Are you being tricked at the supermarket?

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Learn the tricks for savvy supermarket shopping. Photo / Thinkstock
Learn the tricks for savvy supermarket shopping. Photo / Thinkstock

Our ancestors encountered all sorts of dangers when hunting and gathering food, I guess not much has changed. Although we don't face the immediate threat of death in our local supermarkets, they have become a treacherous environment for people wanting to eat healthy and well.

Supermarkets are a shopper's paradise and have changed the way we eat. Cheap food, perfectly presented and variety we'd never have been imagined 50 years ago.

Most people do the grocery shopping at least once a week and leave believing they have a car boot full of tasty, healthy food.

But have we been tricked?

Maybe. See, supermarkets are a sophisticated landscape designed to extract as many dollars from our wallets as possible. Even if that means spending money on high sugar, high fat food and drink that can compromise our health.

The games supermarkets play:

The 'closed' entrance

When we enter a supermarket, the swinging gates prevent us from leaving the same way. The place immediately has us in its power.

Fruit and vegetables come first

The natural imagery, fresh scents, and bright colours inspire a positive and happy mental state in shoppers. We are now in a good mood and ready to spend, spend, spend.

Next comes the bakery

The smell of fresh baked breads and pastries tends to make us feel hungrier while shopping, driving us to buy more. Every food in sight becomes a potential treat to satisfy our taste buds.

Wholefoods are on the perimeter

Generally, the healthier unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy are around the edges. This makes sense as we spend more time walking up and down the aisles containing the most profitable, highly processed foods.

Products placement

Products are strategically placed to steal our attention. Even the height of products can influence what we buy. Those at eye level are the most profitable, with the less enticing money spinners down on the bottom shelves. You will always see the super processed cereal right in front of you, while the poor old oatmeal is hidden down below.

Milk, eggs and bread

Despite these three foods being staples in many of our diets, they will always be the maximal amount of steps away from the entrance, with the path having many temptations along the way.

Ten tips to be supermarket savvy

1. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you need. Look out for the bargains on your list, but don't go grabbing extras treats you haven't planned for.

2. Set yourself a budget and try your best not to break it.

3. Shop around the edges and aim to go down the aisles as little as possible. Fill your trolley with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and low fat dairy.

4. Don't shop when you're hungry. We often crave those energy dense snacks when we haven't eaten.

5. Spend most of your time in the produce section. This is the first area in most grocery stores and usually the largest. Choose a variety of colourful fruit and veg.

6. Don't confuse hype with facts. If you want to eat healthy food, ignore the screaming claims on the package and go straight to the nutrition information label on the back.

7. Shop less often. The more we go to the supermarket, the more likely we are to spend on foods we don't want.

8. Stay away from goods covered in pictures and cartoons. These are often masking the junk.

9. Stock up on frozen fruit and vegetables. These foods are as good for you as they were when fresh and help fill your produce quota, especially in winter.

10. Don't be loyal to loyalty cards. Avoid going to the supermarket altogether by shopping local. Farmers markets, fruit and vegetable outlets, and butchers are a great way to get your groceries each week.

Dave Shaw is a NZ registered Dietitian and Nutritionist

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