11/09/2012 08:30 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2013

5 Secrets of Supermarket Shopping

Since childhood, the grocery store has been a fascinating place for me -- my own toy store with interesting and fun things to look at and tasty treasures to eat.

Today, the temptations are still there for me, but it has gotten increasingly complicated to make the right choices. For many items, it is difficult to decipher the contents. Then, when you do look at the labels, there are layers of mysterious ingredients. Increased options adds to the challenge , resulting in a barrage of products that can overcome your healthy due diligence to choose wisely.

Marion Nestle's research on food politics shows how the food industry invests money to manipulate us to buy their products, without us even knowing they are doing so.

Here are some supermarket secrets:

1. The produce and flowers in the front of the store are there to entice you into shopping. Add to that the warm, fresh smells from the bakery, which can lure you into buying things you had no intention of purchasing when entering the store.

2. Displays at the end of aisles, as well as those that you have to navigate around, are there to expose you to as many products as possible. The more you see, the more you will buy.

3. High-profit items are at eye level. Processed junk foods that are nutritionally depleted are highly profitable. If shopping with your child, remember food manufacturers target a child's eye level as well. Millions of dollars are spent each year on advertising to children in an effort to convince them to persuade adults to buy food that is made "just for them." Guess what? It works.

4. Manufacturers use the words "nutrition," "health" and "free" to sell foods. They use these words to make you believe these foods are the right and healthy choice for you.

So how can you, as a consumer, navigate the mysteries of the grocery store?

1. Location, location, location: Shop the perimeter of the store as much as possible -- these are areas you will find more unprocessed foods that maximize your health. Try to avoid the temptation of the sale and special items at the end of the aisles.

2. Stick to fresh, whole foods, preferably without a label. If something does have a label, try to limit the number ingredients to less than five or six. If the product contains multiple ingredients, it is more processed and less nutrient-dense. Case in point: Apples and lettuce do not have labels!

3. Make a list before going to the store and stick to it. You may have to put on blinders to get past all the processed foods and temptations, but your wallet and body will thank you later. Avoid the samples being given out since they are normally high-cost, low-health, value items being pushed by the manufacturer.

4. Don't be fooled by the labels on the front such as "lowers cholesterol," or "helps lower heart disease." If they have to put a health slogan on the label to convince you to buy it, go back to the perimeter.

5. Become educated on food items and terms -- know which foods are genetically modified (containing GMOs), and which foods are preferable to buy organic. This last one takes time and is a process, but a little education outside of the grocery store will make your in-store experience easier and less complicated.

It is possible to get in and out of grocery store without being submarined. You just have to stick to what you need, and then go on autopilot.

How you spend your dollars at the market sends a message to the food industry, and at the same time allows you to take better control of your health. Taking time to educate yourself and shop wisely can crack the mystery on grocery shopping.

Happy (and healthy) sleuthing!

Susan is the author of A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian. Her new book Healthy You, Healthy Baby: A mother's guide to gestational diabetes is now available. For more information, visit

For more by Susan B. Dopart, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.