The supermarket can be the most intimidating and frustrating place you visit every week. You face endless decisions about what to buy, but almost always end up tossing the same things into your cart. Those poor decisions can have a negative impact on your wallet, your taste buds, and your health. Here, Dr. Oz takes the guesswork out of grocery shopping and gives you his supermarket survival guide with the help of nutritionist Kate Geagan, trainer and metabolic specialist Lisa Lynn, and TV chef Aaron “Big Daddy” McCargo, Jr. After that, supermarket sleuth Sue Perry gives you the inside scoop on how supermarkets trick you into spending and buying more than you need.
Spare your wallet and your health with these helpful supermarket don’ts:
Kate Geagan, Nutritionist: Don’t shop on an empty stomach. You’ll end up spending a lot on impulse purchases that will drain your wallet. Instead, head to the market after a big, healthy meal.
Lisa Lynn, Specialist in Metabolic Disorders and Personal Training: Don’t buy too many boxed and processed foods. They’re bad for your belly and for your health. Instead, head for the produce aisle.
Chef Aaron “Big Daddy” McCargo, Jr.: Don’t go in without a game plan. You’ll end up wasting time and money. Instead, go in with a list to save both.
First Stop: Meat and Fish
The meat and fish departments are generally the supermarket’s most expensive and most confusing sections. Dr. Oz’s supermarket superstars make surviving it a breeze.
Kate Geagan, Nutritionist: Cut the amount of red meat you eat in half and double your fish. Your goal should be to reduce your red meat consumption to once per week and, when you do buy it, to look for terms like “loin,” “round” and “grass-fed.” These meats tend to be the leanest, have less saturated fats that can raise bad cholesterol, and contain more heart-healthy omega-3 fats. The rest of the week, try for 3-4 nights of fish and 3-4 nights of chicken. They’re packed with protein and omega-3s without the negative consequences of red meat. And don’t be afraid to branch out beyond chicken breasts – chicken thighs with the skin removed can be more economical and healthier than the breast.
Lisa Lynn, Specialist in Metabolic Disorders and Personal Training: Seek out fish first. The whiter and lighter the fish, the better your weight loss will be, as they’re low in fat. When buying fish, seek out fish labeled “flash frozen” – it’s always available when you need it, never goes bad, and it’s fast and easy. Choose fish like barramundi, sole, scrod, or halibut, which aren’t over-farmed.
Chef Aaron “Big Daddy” McCargo, Jr.: Buy meat on the bone, like beef shanks. Braising bone-in meat in a slow roast will unleash its rich flavors. For seafood, seek out fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico, which typically has better flavor and sweetness than that caught in Indonesia or China. Give your fish a nice crunch by coating it in crushed pretzels before cooking.
Second Stop: The Produce Aisle
Next up, navigate your way through all those fruits and veggies.
Kate Geagan, Nutritionist: Make half of your shopping cart produce – that way, half your dinner plate will be produce too! Make life easier by buying pre-washed, pre-cut veggies in baggies that can be steamed directly in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. For greens, try bagged baby greens; loaded with carotenoids, baby greens are more tender and sweeter than some other greens, and don’t require the trimming or prep of kale or spinach. Lastly, seek out colorful potatoes like red or purple fingerlings, which are sweet, tasty, and loaded with powerful antioxidants like beta carotene.
Lisa Lynn, Specialist in Metabolic Disorders and Personal Training: To trim your belly, choose produce that creates a near-zero calorie flow. That means foods that are so low in calories that you’re practically burning fat while you eat them. Shredded cabbage and celery, either raw or sautéed, are two superstar veggies that will fill you up and leave you lean.
Chef Aaron “Big Daddy” McCargo, Jr.: Salt, while tasty, can lead to hypertension; the lemons and limes you’ll find in the produce aisle are the perfect replacement for salt, adding zesty flavor without the health risks. Then, splurge on fresh herbs, buying cilantro, oregano, thyme, or rosemary to spruce up your food’s flavor and healthful benefits. Finally, onions can really add a tasty kick to a meal. Use darker onions for their intense flavors in stews and stocks, and stick to lighter onions for everyday meals.
Final Stop: Pasta and Grains
Finally, learn how to wisely sift through all those boxes and bins in the pasta and grain aisle.
Kate Geagan, Nutritionist: Choose whole grains straight from the earth, like brown rice, quinoa and amaranth, and breads made from these grains. And here’s my best-kept secret: Seek out an ancient strain of wheat called Einkhorn wheat. In the 1990s, scientists found Einkhorn wheat on an ancient man who had been preserved in ice for more than 5000 years, making it humankind’s first domesticated wheat. They resurrected the grain and reintroduced it to market shelves. Einkhorn wheat has fewer chromosomes on its DNA than modern wheat, making it more easily digestible for people with gluten intolerance. It’s also loaded with protein, vitamins and fiber, and it regulates your blood sugar better than other grains.
Lisa Lynn, Specialist in Metabolic Disorders and Personal Training: Pick up some Japanese rice crackers and ak-mak crackers to boosts your metabolism. Japanese rice crackers are higher in protein that traditional crackers, have no cholesterol and little fat, and are grilled rather than fried. Ak-mak crackers are 100% whole grain crackers that are high in fiber, aiding digestion.
Chef Aaron “Big Daddy” McCargo, Jr.: When choosing pasta, be sure to size up your pasta for sauces. In other words, if you’re working with a thicker sauce like a Bolognese or Alfredo sauce, use a fatter pasta so the noodle will coat better and won’t wilt. Look for numbers on the pasta boxes. The 8, 9, 10 or 11 refer to the noodle’s thickness – the higher the number, the thicker the noodle. Use them to find the perfect noodle-sauce match.
Supermarket Tricks That Make You Overspend
Did you realize that your supermarket is set up to make you spend more than you want? With the help of supermarket insider and deputy editor for ShopSmart magazine, Sue Perry, Dr. Oz reveals the most common tricks supermarkets use to get you to empty your pockets.
Trick One: Keep an Eye on “Endcaps”
Endcaps are the products on display at the end of aisles. And while we usually assume endcap products are on sale, oftentimes they are not, which allows stores to boost sales by a third. Alternately, the supermarket will use the endcaps to tie in related items without placing them on sale. For instance, corn chips may be on sale but the salsa on display beside them may not be. Your strategy should be to buy the sale-priced chips, then head into the aisle and do some comparison shopping on the complementary item to get the best deal. Also, be wary of grabbing sale items too early. Stores may put sale items out the day before the lower price takes effect, but without the new signage revealing the actual sale date. Finally, these endcaps will often employ a “sneaky sale,” in which they offer 10 items for $10 or something similar. Many of us don’t realize that you don’t have to buy all 10 items to get the discount, so we end up buying far more than we need, allowing the store to move more merchandise.
Trick Two: Fake Organics
If you’re paying a higher price for “organic” seafood, you’re wasting your money – there are no “organic” labeling standards in place for seafood. Similarly, shampoos labeled organic are equally meaningless, with the manufacturers and supermarkets playing on your interest in making healthier choices. In addition, there are also some fruits and veggies that you don’t need to worry about buying organic – asparagus and broccoli have low levels of chemicals and pesticides anyway, so buying conventional varieties is fine. Click here for tips on when to go organic.
Trick Three: Look Out for Location
Supermarket designers lay out most stores so shoppers enter on the righthand side, then progress through them counterclockwise. By doing so, you hit items in a progression calculated to lead to the most purchases, many of them impulsive. Here’s the interesting part: When researchers compared counterclockwise shoppers to those went through a left entrance and shopped clockwise, clockwise shoppers spent less per trip, as they didn’t follow the predetermined path.
Along this predetermined path, you’ll also notice that healthy foods are placed beside unhealthy ones in hopes that you’ll grab for something impulsively. Piling a display of freshly baked goodies, like pies and cakes, right at the entrance with the fresh produce gives the subliminal message that it’s okay to give yourself a reward for picking up that head of healthy broccoli.
Finally, sometimes the same type of food will be sold in three locations throughout the market. For example, you’ll often find cheese right by the entrance, in the gourmet case, and in the dairy case. It’s usually cheapest in the dairy aisle, which is furthest from the door. The reason for that? Supermarket planners know most families will buy milk, so in order to get to the dairy, you have to pass by everything else first.
Trick Four: Colorful Doesn’t Always Mean Fresh
You used to be able to judge fruit and vegetable freshness by color. Not anymore. Before they’re arranged in neat piles along produce shelves, fruits like apples, kiwis, plums and bananas often receive chemical treatment to keep them looking fresher longer. Additionally, markets usually shine halogen lights on the fruit to make them appear brighter in the store. You have the best chance of getting something fresh if it’s in season. If you need something that’s out of season, buy it frozen because those fruits are flash frozen at their peak of freshness. And remember, you have the best chance of finding the freshest, in-season fruits and vegetables by visiting your local farmer’s market.