This Simple Trick May Help You Make Healthier Choices at the Grocery Store

What you do before you head to the store may affect what ends up in your cart

Cornell University Food and Brand Lab

Could making healthier choices at the grocery store be as easy as eating a small, healthy snack before you begin your food shopping excursions?

Researchers at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab think so. Their recent study, published in Psychology & Marketing, revealed that people who ate an apple sample before shopping for food bought 25 percent more fruits and vegetables compared to people who didn’t eat a sample.

Aner Tal, Ph.D. and Brian Wansink, Ph.D. suspected that healthy snacks can help motivate food shoppers to make healthier selections, and to test their hypothesis they conducted three separate studies.

The first included 120 shoppers who were randomly given an apple sample, a cookie sample or no sample before shopping. Each shopper's purchases were tracked and Tal and Wansink found that the shoppers who ate the apple sample bought 28 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who ate the cookie sample, and 25 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who ate no sample.

"What this teaches us," Tal explained, "is that having a small healthy snack before shopping can put us in a healthier mindset and steer us towards making better food choices."

The second study involved 56 “virtual” shoppers who ate either an apple or cookie sample and then were asked to imagine they were shopping for groceries as they were shown 20 product pairs (containing a healthy, low-calorie item and an unhealthy, high-calorie item) and asked which of the two choices they would purchase.

Once again, the participants who ate the apple sample chose more options from the healthy category.

Finally, the third study involving 59 participants who were divided randomly into three groups were given either a chocolate milk sample labeled as “healthy and wholesome,” a chocolate milk sample labeled as “rich and indulgent” or no chocolate milk sample at all. They were then asked to select foods from a virtual grocery store that contained a variety of healthy (low-calorie) and unhealthy (high-calorie) foods.

The researchers found that the participants who drank the milk labeled “healthy” also selected more healthy foods, which they said indicates it’s likely the perceived healthfulness of a food eaten before shopping that influences our choices, and not its actual healthfulness.

Ultimately, Tal and Wansink concluded that it’s a good idea to eat a healthy snack like a piece of fruit or some vegetables before shopping because in addition to decreasing your hunger (other studies have shown that shopping while hungry can lead you to make unhealthy food choices), it can likely influence you to choose more healthy items.

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