The Supermarket-Sugar Connection: Your Navigation Guide to Healthier Food Choices

The modern diet contains an overabundance of sugar. It’s found in nearly all processed and pre-packaged products in our supermarket.

There are a plethora of studies linking a high consumption of sugar to increased body fat, and overall, poorer general health. Poor diet and lack of exercise are amongst the top contributors to obesity.

According to the Australian Information and Statistics to Promote Better Health and Wellbeing (2016) 2 in 3 adults is classified as being overweight or obese; Australians are 10% more obese than they were in 1995. The picture is not any cheerier for Australian children, with 25% of children classified as overweight or obese.

The alarm bells should be ringing!

Obesity is the second highest contributor to the burden of disease, after dietary risks. It becomes a vicious cycle: Dietary choices influence your health, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave.

A study by Levy et al., (2015) found that foods which contain a higher ratio of fructose (together with glucose, fructose constitutes the common table sugar) may enhance the reinforcing effects of sugar and possibly lead to neurological and physiological alterations associated with addictive behaviours. Researchers in this study discovered that a higher intake of fructose, specifically high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is associated with two specific reward-gene alterations in the brain, also implicated with addictive behaviours.

So who is to blame?

Individuals or supermarket monopolies? There is science to back both sides of the story. While individuals are able to exercise will power, we can now see that some compounds, like sugar, do trigger the reward centre in our brains, leading us to physically crave more.

For some people, will power isn’t enough to stop them from becoming a ‘junk junkie’. Nutrition education and increased nutritional awareness is pivotal to making healthier food choices, but supermarkets will pull out the big guns to try to tempt your will power, and send you into a sugar craze.

First, let’s understand and pull apart the tactical supermarket consumer ploys. Only then can we understand how to navigate through the supermarket isles, and become a healthy, more informed, savvy shopper.

Advertising and promotional offers are key to increasing sales—-this is probably why you won’t ever see fresh fruits and vegetables on promotional offer. Farmers do not share the same interest as large food corporations (Hence, the reason it is so important to buy local and support your local farmers).

Advertisers are generating a systems of identity by associating their product with certain lifestyles and symbolic values (Jolly, 2011). For example, pre-packaged convenience foods are becoming a perceptive ‘necessity’ in life. In today’s fast-paced, high-stressed society and time-poor society, people are looking for ways to make life easier—-and many are unknowingly sacrificing their health.

What about those cheeky check out isles?

Have you ever noticed that most of the candy, sweets, and junk food is placed in the same location where we get our wallets out, nearest to the exit route? This is no mistake. More than 50% of all purchases made in the supermarket are done on a whim (Wilson, 2013).

You may be looking for some napkins, yet you walk out some some Twinkie’s; Temptation seems to takeover, and junk food companies know it.

A report conducted by Singh et al., (2014) found that 90% of food options for sale at the checkout isles was candy, energy bars, chips, chocolate, cookies, and other junk foods. Self-check out isles might seem to be the better option.

It’s a coupon crisis!

It’s safe to say we are experiencing a coupon crisis… and I don’t mean a lack of them. Lopez et al., (2014) analysed 1,056 supermarket store coupons, and found that less than 1% of coupons was available for fresh fruits and vegetables. It looks like junk mail really lives up to it’s name… junk! Those flashy coupon booklets sent in the post might do more good in the recycle bin than on your kitchen counter.

Given all this information, it’s time to talk about what you can do to make healthier foods choices, and navigate yourself through the supermarket.

Top tips for Supermarket Navigation:

  • Buy whole, fresh foods. These foods are typically found around the parameter of the grocery store. Steer clear of the centre isles, unless it’s household products you’re looking for, keep your sugar blinders on.
  • Learn to read labels. If the labels contain any long words you have trouble pronouncing, general rule is it’s probably synthetic and not so good for your health.
  • Plan your grocery shop. Go armed with grocery list in hand to avoid impulse decision making.
  • Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry. This will only lead to impulsive decision making.
  • Thirsty? Drink water… it’s the only drink you really need. If it’s a bit too plain Jane for you, add some ‘zip’ with citrus slices, strawberries, cucumber slices, or watermelon cubes.
  • If possible, opt for organic foods, especially when it comes to animal based products. Chemicals have an affinity for fatty tissue, thus, animal and flesh products have a much higher fat content than say, a carrot. If it’s meat, butter, nuts, or seeds, best to purchase organic.
  • Shop local. Support your local farmer. They grow good food, in good soil. Soil is incredibly important, as the vast eco-system beneath the ground is needed to grow nutrient rich food. Many farmers are chemical-free, but not certificated organic due to the expense. Many supermarket shops will stock local produce. Check with the produce manager, or find a local co-op near you.
  • Don’t buy anything that is ‘light’—-fat has been removed, and sugar has been added.
  • Yogurt is not meant to be sweet, it is a soured milk product. This sour is due to the fermentation process, creating multiple strains of different bacteria, vital to our health. Purchase natural forms of food products.
  • Condiment contamination warning… with sugar! Double check the label, as many condiments contain added sugar.
  • Lastly, stay informed, educated and up-to-date. The field of nutrition is constantly changing, but the old saying ‘back to basics’ has never rung more true—-basic, wholefoods are most certainly the way to go!

 

References

Levy A, Marshall P, Zhou Y, Kreek MJ, Kent K, Daniels S, Shore A, Downs T, Fernandes MF, Mutch DM, Leri F. Fructose:glucose ratios—a study of sugar self-administration and associated neural and physiological responses in the rat. Nutrients. 2015; May 22;7(5):3869-90. Doi: 10.3390/nu7053869.

Authoritative Information and Statistics to Promote Better Health and Wellbeing. Overweight and obesity. (2016). Retrieved on 21 April 2016 from http://http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/.

Fielding-Singh P, Almy J, Wootan M. (2014). Retail checkout promotes obesity: CSPI report. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Accessed on [March 14 2015]. Retrieved from http:// http://www.cspinet.org/new/201410161.html.

Jolly R. (2011). Marketing obesity? Junk food, advertising and kids. The Parliament of Australia. Research Paper No. 9 2010-2011. Dr. Rhonda Jolly, Social Policy Section. Accessed on [March 14 2015]. Retrieved from http:// http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1011/11rp09#_ftnref18.

Wilson J. (2013). A Food Blog entitled ‘Raw Food Explained’. The economics of junk food. Accessed on [March 14 2015]. Retrieved from http:// http://www.rawfoodexplained.com/junk-foods/the-economics-of-junk-food.html.

 

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