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How To Do A Healthy Food Shop (And Avoid Junk Food Temptations)

Damn you, reduced price chocolate.
Yep, bringing a shopping list is crucial.
Zachary Scott
Yep, bringing a shopping list is crucial.

It happens every single time: you go shopping with the intention of buying kale, quinoa and vegetables and you come home with a chocolate and chips loot great enough to impress Willy Wonka.

You're not alone in this constant conundrum. In fact, according to new data by LiveLighter, most Australian adults have healthy intentions when we go to the supermarket, but three in five of us get sucked into junk food and soft drinks 'specials' when we get there.

Although doing a healthy food shop seems impossible, there are ways to ensure you stay on track (and stay clear of the tempting junk foods).

For tips and tricks to get through a food shop without buying junk food, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Alison McAleese, a dietitian and LiveLighter Victoria campaign manager.

"The survey has found that most Australians go to the shops with healthy intentions -- two in three usually pre-plan their meals and half compare products to see which is healthier," McAleese told HuffPost Australia.

"However, when people get there, three in five find it hard to resist cheap junk food and sugary drinks."

The most popular items Australians buy when on sale are:

  • Confectionary and chocolate -- 67 percent
  • Potato chips and savoury biscuits -- 66 percent
  • Sugary drinks including soft drinks, cordial and energy drinks -- 65 percent

From LiveLighter survey.

On top of this data, the survey also found that the more often we visit the supermarket, the more likely we are to buy unhealthy foods.

One of the main reasons why we give into junk foods when food shopping is because they're cheap -- or so we think.

"Junk food like chips, chocolate and sugary drinks are often cheap to buy and heavily promoted in the supermarket, making them seem like a smart financial choice. But in the long run these foods could come at a cost to your health," McAleese said.

Every. single. time.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc
Every. single. time.

"Consider how junk food prices compare to healthier foods. One example is potato chips -- they cost around $20 per kilogram but bananas will only set you back around $3.50 per kilogram and are a healthier alternative if you're on the go."

As much as we wish otherwise, we all now what happens when we constantly buy and eat junk foods.

"If you're regularly buying and eating junk food, you're less likely to also include healthier snacks and therefore miss out on vital nutrients needed for overall good health," McAleese explained.

"Junk food is also high in saturated fat, sugar and salt and is a significant contributor to weight gain, which can put you at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers."

Here are seven top tips for doing a healthy food shop (and avoiding junk food temptations).


1. Plan your meals and write a shopping list

According to Heart Foundation Victoria's Healthy Living manager, Roni Beauchamp, knowing what meals you're going to be making and writing a shopping list is key to healthy food shopping.

"Planning your meals, writing a shopping list and choosing the healthiest option by reading the labels are all great ways to ensure you buy what you need for a healthy diet, but it's also important to avoid buying unhealthy products just because they're on sale," Beauchamp told HuffPost Australia.

2. Stay in the outer aisles, and avoid the middle aisles

Think about it: where are all the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and health foods usually located in the supermarket? Around the outside.

And how about the chocolate, chips, soft drinks, biscuits and lollies?

"Steer clear of cheap promotions on junk food and drinks by sticking to the outer aisles of the supermarket where there is plenty of fresh healthy food like fruit and vegetables," McAleese said.

Your local greengrocer or farmers' markets will have more healthy foods and less junk foods.
Getty Images
Your local greengrocer or farmers' markets will have more healthy foods and less junk foods.

3. Shop at your local greengrocer or farmers' markets

The supermarket is a treasure chest of delicious treat foods, so to put the adage "out of sight, out of mind" into action -- don't shop at supermarkets for food. Head to your local farmers' markets instead where the temptation simply isn't there.

"Consider shopping at local markets, greengrocers or butchers," McAleese said. "They typically sell less junk food and are often a cheaper alternative for fruit and vegetables."

4. Don't shop hungry

We all know from experience how dangerous shopping on an empty stomach is. Your brain might be telling you no, but your stomach will win the fight over those reduced price dark chocolate and croissants. Damn you.

"Avoid going to the supermarket on an empty stomach. You're more likely to buy unhealthy food you didn't plan on buying," McAleese said.

Making the choice between these two becomes very difficult when food shopping hungry.
Getty Images/OJO Images RF
Making the choice between these two becomes very difficult when food shopping hungry.

5. Look at the price 'per 100g' shelf label

We're much more likely to buy junk food that's on special. Even still, these foods aren't cheap when you compare them to whole foods.

"While junk foods are often heavily discounted, the actual price is often more than a healthier option," McAleese said.

"Compare the true cost of food and drinks using the unit price on the shelf label. For example, look at the price per kilogram or 100 grams."

6. Avoid food shopping with kids

Let's face it, kids can be very good junk food enablers, so if these kinds of foods always end up in your trolley, you may want to consider doing the food shop on your own.

"If possible, leave the kids with their other parent, carer or a friend," McAleese said.

Tantrum in three, two, one...
Fred Paul
Tantrum in three, two, one...

7. Shop less frequently

Shopping more means we're more likely to get sucked into specials and promotions on junk foods. To help you steer clear of those foods, try going food shopping less frequently, thus decreasing your exposure to tempting foods.

"Limit your visits to the supermarket each week. The less you go, the less you'll be tempted by promotions on high kilojoule food and drinks, reducing the amount you spend at the checkout," McAleese said.

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