You’ve decided to embark on a new, healthier lifestyle regimen, and are determined to stick to it religiously. But when you open the refrigerator, you find that chocolate bar you picked up a few days ago at the checkout lane of the supermarket. And we all know what happens next.

Supermarkets want only the best for us—best deals and best prices, right? Wrong. These big businesses invest a lot of money researching how to hinder your energy goals, cloud your focus, lower your self-confidence and make your jeans tighter by making you purchase cheaply-made, nutrient-poor products. And the foods that make their way into your shopping cart are sure to make it to your plate too.

So, here is a game plan that will help you navigate the aisles and pick up just the ingredients that you need, without falling for the meanest supermarket tricks!

1. Stick to the periphery of the store

Supermarket aisles are designed to walk you through the store in a specific direction. In general, foods in the centre aisle are conventional and processed, and have a longer shelf-life than fresh produce like fruits and vegetables or breads that are usually kept at the periphery. Locate the section that has the fruits and veggies and spend the most time there, so as to avoid temptation.

2. Read the labels

With so many options to buy from, who really has the time to read the tiny print about what’s inside the food? Yes, I’m talking about the ingredients. Make sure that the food item you purchase has about just 1-5 ingredients that you can pronounce easily. For instance, your store-bought makhana (lotus seeds) should have makhana, dried herbs, salt, pepper and/or oil. It is astonishing how basic food items can be loaded with trans-fat, added sugars and preservatives that reduce their nutrient value.

3. Take a good look around

Looking at the products placed only at eye-level means that you are seeing only what the supermarkets want you to buy, which might not be the best or cheapest of the available options. These are the products that generate maximum profit for the store. Hence, look at the bottom shelves, even if that’s a little uncomfortable. At least you will be more aware of the available options.

4. Beware of not-so-special offers

Flashy boards with discount offers and catchy phrases are sure to attract you, but honestly, you shouldn’t even give them a second glance. The multi-buy packages actually aim to trick your mind into thinking that you are saving money, when in reality you’re buying things that you may not need in the first place! For instance, you walked in just to buy a packet of chips, but there’s also a combo offer on the chips that includes a soft drink. Like most other people, you extend your arms towards the combo pack, inviting ‘double damage’ to your body (high fat and high sugar), and spending more than you intended to!

5. Watch out for deceptive marketing

We all love free stuff, and marketing engineers play on that very smartly. Many food products use the word FREE so freely that you are tempted to toss it into your cart. My favourite example here is the practice of labelling nut-based butters as ‘cholesterol free’. The truth is: nuts and any plant item will not contain any cholesterol. It is found only in animal sources, and thus natural nut-butter has to be cholesterol free. Similarly, “sugar-free items” are usually loaded with artificial sweeteners which are potentially harmful and addictive instead of doing any good to you.

6. Do not shop hungry

You have heard this earlier as well, and it actually works. When you are hungry, your blood sugar dips and your brain releases hormones that make sure you grab some sugar. So, be a smart player and eat something before you shop. A handful of nuts or a fruit should also do the trick if you can’t have a full meal.

7. Avoid taking your kids along

Marketing is an art, and your kids aren’t spared either. To allure kids, supermarkets store various brightly-packed items with the images of popular cartoon characters or with freebies inside. Your child will force you to buy that item, and you do it, either because you can’t resist their pleading face or because you don’t want them throwing a tantrum. And Voila! The work is done. Instead, take your child along to traditional ‘sabji-mandi’ (vegetable market)and encourage them to try a new fruit or vegetable. Use the drive or walk back home to educate your child about the benefits of the produce they picked!

8. Use a shopping list

This is extremely useful. Plan your meals ahead for the week, jot down the items you will need, and put only those listed items in the cart. Another hack is to use a basket instead of a cart on wheels. Baskets are usually smaller, and thus you will not feel the urge to toss in other items when you see it getting full or when it starts to get heavy in your hand.   

You have the power to decide what goes into your shopping basket, your home and ultimately your body. So, get past with these sneaky tricks and make it strategically through the supermarket. Most importantly, be vigilant because the supermarkets are always finding more and more ways to get you to spend more.

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  • Neha Ranglani

    Integrative nutritionist and lifestyle educator

    Neha Ranglani is an integrative nutritionist and lifestyle educator, YouTuber, blogger, speaker, and a plant-based food coach. She believes that the body has magical healing power, provided we supply it with the right fuel in terms of food and thoughts. She is a fat-loss expert and has helped thousands of people reduce weight, reverse diabetes, thyroid, cholesterol, PCOS and other health issues. According to her, we are the creators of our own health and for that, we need to be educated about our body. Therefore, her aim is to make everyone health-independent.