A Smart Diet: Shop the Market Perimeter to Be Healthy

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

You talk the talk, but are you walking the walk, as in the supermarket perimeter walk? According to Civic Science, a market research group, consumers talk a lot about being healthier, buying more fresh foods. But in reality, they’re mostly spending their budget on packaged and prepared foods.

The group surveyed about 5,800 adults and found that in the past year only 20 percent of those surveyed spent 50 percent of their total supermarket budget on fresh foods. Almost 54 percent of those surveyed spent a quarter of their budget (or less) on fresh foods. Have you heard the mantra that your shopping cart should be mostly filled with foods located in the perimeter of your local grocery store or supermarket?

Who is shopping the perimeter?

Not surprisingly, the survey found more women than men shop the perimeter, where fresh foods are mostly located. Another finding was that 21 percent are likely to have an annual income of more than $100,000, and likely to fall in the 30 to 44 year old range.

Who is shopping the center aisles filled with prepared and packaged foods?

It’s likely a man, older than 45, with a yearly salary that mirrors the average income of the consumers surveyed. Overall, the package shopper is also pickier and less willing to try new products, compared to the general population, unless they’re offered a freebie sample. This shopper isn’t consumed by the GMO issue or motivated to seek out organic options, so it’s less likely that packaging claims drive their purchases. Packaging claims do resonate with the perimeter shoppers, who look for healthier packaged goods.

Other survey findings

TV advertising is less likely to lure perimeter shoppers to go to the store’s center aisles. In fact, perimeter shoppers watch far less TV daily than average consumers, or those who shop the center area. They also engage less with social media and friends and family do not sway their food purchasing habits. Those fresh food perimeter shoppers may actually respond better to packages with organic claims, and they may be lured by on-the-go foods that do have healthy labeling. They may also feel better purchasing packaged foods when they have windows or clear cellophane wrapping so they can see what’s inside the package.

If your goals are weight loss and buying healthier foods, what should you be buying?

  • Load your cart with fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables, and canned fruits and vegetables with no added salt or sugar (no syrups or juice) are also excellent purchases.

  • Yogurts with simple labels (no added sugars or fillers), fat-free milk, nut milks, and lower fat cheese are great sources of protein, with lower levels of artery-clogging saturated fat.

  • Beans, nuts, seeds and legumes (dried, frozen, canned) are all good choices for animal-free protein and healthier fats.

  • 100 percent whole grain pastas, cereals, breads and ancient grains and brown and black rice should be your target carbohydrate purchases.

  • Corn, peas and potatoes are considered nutrient dense vegetables, and also fall under the “starchy vegetable/carbohydrate” sector. Just don’t fry them or douse them in oils.

  • Healthy fats include extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, avocado, and nut butters

  • If you need healthier condiments consider hummus, mashed edamame, mustards, vinegars, pickle relish, and salsas.

  • Load up on fresh and dried herbs.

  • Skinless chicken and turkey breast, fish, tofu should be your go-to protein sources, in addition to beans.

If you notice, most of the items I mention come from the perimeter or from select aisles. If you do go to the treat aisles, have a single selection in mind and try to choose items that are in single serve packs.

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at healthgal.com. Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”