Default Grocery Items Lead to Healthier Food Purchases

Having online grocery shopping carts prefilled with default healthy items may lead to healthier overall food purchases for people with diabetes, according to a new article published in the journal Obesity.

Online grocery shopping is unfamiliar to many people, but it has become increasingly common in recent years — with many stores offering the option to complete a purchase online, then pick up the entire order at the store at a predetermined time. Not only can this save time compared with traditional grocery shopping, but it can help you avoid impulse purchases — although the online shopping experience for many stores involves suggesting items that you can add to your cart, virtual junk food may be less tempting than the real thing sitting right in front of you. Of course, online shopping doesn’t give you the opportunity to browse produce and decide what fruits and vegetables look appealing — but you can still add produce to your cart just as easily as you can add packaged items at most stores, with store employees picking out the produce for you.

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For the latest study, researchers recruited 64 adult participants with, or at increased risk for, type 2 diabetes, with an average age of about 53. These participants were randomly assigned to one of three study groups for three weeks, with all three groups receiving diabetes-friendly recipes. The first group (23 participants) was asked to shop online, and their online cart was prefilled with food items needed to prepare the healthy recipes they had received. Participants in this group could, of course, remove or add any items as desired. The second group (21 participants) was asked to shop online but didn’t have any items automatically in their cart, and the third group (20 participants) was not asked to shop online, specifically, for groceries. Participants provided the researchers with their grocery store receipts at the beginning of the three weeks (before the study began), after each week during the study period, and again later after the main study period had ended.

Grocery cart prefilled with healthy items linked to healthier food selections

As noted in an article on the study at Healio, the researchers found that members of the group with default healthy items in their online cart ended up buying significantly healthier groceries during the main study period. Once the study intervention ended, though — when participants were left to their own devices for grocery shopping — there were no longer significant differences between the groups when it came to how healthy their food purchases were.

These results suggest that making it easy for people with diabetes to buy healthy grocery items — such as by prefilling their online grocery carts — leads to healthier purchases, but these habits don’t tend to last once it’s no longer practically automatic to buy healthy foods. The researchers noted, though, that this study represents just one snapshot of how giving people “optimal defaults” for food purchases leads to behavioral changes — and that future studies should examine different approaches, more diverse groups of participants, and longer durations of interventions to find out what the best approach may be to encourage healthy purchases.

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Strategies for Healthy Eating,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “What Is the Best Diet for Diabetes?”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

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