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Get Fit by Shopping Smart
Part 2 of 3

Produce Sections Have Evolved

When you walk into a grocery store, it's an amazingly lopsided battle. The store has decades of consumer research, computers carefully tracking millions of buying patterns and merchandising experts highly skilled in the art of customer manipulation.

If you're lucky you've got a list and some reusable shopping bags.

Here are some strategies you can use in the different departments to level the playing field. The selling starts when you walk through the door.

Fruits & Vegetables

Produce departments are often near the beginning of your trip and they're designed to lure you in. Beautiful flowers, plump ripe fruits and gorgeous vegetables are laid out to give you a sense of "health and freshness."Since you're more likely to buy things at the beginning of your shopping trip, you're shown the most perishable and profitable stuff first. When people leave that section, they feel less guilt about grabbing soda, cookies, chips and candies. Stick to your list.

Choose whole fruits and vegetables instead of pre-cut. You'll save money and get fresher food. You also lower the risk of cross-contamination that can occur when commercial kitchens slice up large volumes of produce together. If you're in a hurry and decide to buy the pre-packaged salads, look for ones that have at least 7 days before they expire.

When Consumers Union tested packaged salads, the closer they were to expiring the higher the levels of enterococcus and coliform bacteria were. Rewash everything, even bags that claim they were, "triple washed."

Write down the cost of produce on your list when you pick it up. More mistakes happen with produce than any other item in the store. When merchandise doesn't have a bar code, it's easier for a busy clerk to enter the numbers or quantities wrong. You don't want to buy something that charges per unit (like a head of lettuce) and instead be charged that same price per pound.

Cereal, Oatmeals & Private Labels

Look up high for the healthiest options. Products placed at eye level sell better than similar products higher or lower. In the cereal aisle the brightly colored, sugar-filled disasters tend to be on the bottom shelves where kids will grab them. The higher fiber and lower sugar options are more often across the top shelves. Don't bother expecting them to be in alphabetical order either. Forcing you to look through them all leads to 6% higher sales from impulse buys.

Compare the newer brands to older ones. New doesn't make it better. Look at regular Cheerios beside Multi-Grain Cheerios. The old regular is much lower in sugar and the Multi-Grain doesn't offer any additional fiber.

Be careful of the pre-packaged oatmeals. Don't settle for brands that advertise "Lower Sugar," look for brands that have no sugar. Your best buy is the large containers of rolled oats, they just don't have the flavorings. If you want something a little more firm, choose steel-cut oats. Keep in mind, the steel-cut can take 25-30 minutes to cook, so they might not be a good choice if you're in a hurry.

Private or store labels are often to the left of brand-name products. Remember that left to right bias we talked about earlier? Shoppers see the store brand with its lower price first, then they see the national brand. As long as they look similar, price-conscious shoppers will pick up the store brand.

Spices, Syrups & Dressings

Small is beautiful when it comes to seasonings. The average spice will lose much of its flavor after sitting on a shelf for two years. Buying big jars you end up throwing away is just a waste. Little jars are good, pouches may be enough, you might even get all the seasonings you need in multi-spice packs so nothing goes to waste. Always check and get the lower sodium versions.

Syrup toppings are wonderful, but look for the sugar-free varieties. If you're concerned about "natural," only buy the ones that say PURE MAPLE SYRUP. The rest are primarily sugar, colorings and water.

Choose low-fat or fat-free dressings to make raw vegetables taste great. The low-fat typically have less sodium and sugar than the fat-free, so you need to balance out what's more important for you; reducing the fat, the salt or the sugar.

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