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Shopping for Groceries When Hungry Leads to High-Calorie Food Purchases

Update Date: May 07, 2013 03:18 PM EDT

When people are hungry, their bodies naturally inform them to find nourishment. Whether it is reaching for a snack or for a healthier food option, like fruits, fulfilling the craving can lead to either good or bad calorie intake, which is why surrounding oneself with healthy snacks can lead to an overall healthier body weight. However, sometimes, people do not realize the power that immediate hunger has on food choices under different settings. In a new study, researchers concluded that when hungry people shop for groceries, they tend to subconsciously purchase foods that have more calories, leading to unhealthier foods for the body.

"It is known that hungry people buy more food in the grocery store, but what happens more is that people shift their shopping patterns to contain more high-calorie foods," one of the study's researchers, Aner Tal, said. Tal worked with Brain Wansink at the Food and Brand Lab in Cornell University. "When you are hungry, you think high-calorie food can provide you with more energy."

The researchers conducted two experiments within this study. The first one was a lab experiment in which participants were informed that they could not eat five hours prior to the study's starting point. Right before the experiment started, some of the 68 volunteers were given crackers to snack on. The participants were then required to shop for food via an online stimulated grocery store. In this experiment, the researchers discovered that people who were hungry chose foods with more calories. For example, the group of people who did not receive the crackers picked regular ice cream as opposed to low-fat ice cream.

The researchers left the lab setting in the second experiment and entered a more realistic environment. They followed 82 participants that were actually shopping for groceries throughout the day. The researchers noted that certain times of the day equated to a higher chance of hungry shoppers. Based from the shopping carts, the researchers concluded that hungry shoppers also bought higher-caloric foods more frequently than shoppers who were not hungry. The study's findings continue to stress the importance of eating at intervals as opposed to some diet crazes that involve fasting or starving.

Tal is now researching the possible effects of snacking right before a trip to the supermarket. Tal wants to see if the snack will lead consumers to pick low calorie food options. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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