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May 9, 2013 | 2 minute read

Study: Shopping Hungry? Shopping Unhealthy

If you’re stomach is rumbling with hunger a new study now gives you a solid reason to put off that grocery trip, suggesting you might buy the same amount of food but you’ll come away with more unhealthy items.iStock_000016308603_ExtraSmall

The study was published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Research already suggests that hunger can affect food purchases, but study researchers wanted to see what happens to the types of foods people buy after skipping a meal or other short-term fasts.

The researchers delved into our shopping habits with two tests: One in a laboratory and the other a supermarket. In the lab study, 68 participants of all ages were asked not to eat for five hours before they went to the session. Half of the participants in the sessions could eat as many crackers as they wanted until they no longer were hungry. The other half remained hungry. All the participants were then asked to shop in an online grocery store.

The field study tracked the purchases of 82 shoppers at different times of the day when they were most likely to be full (1 to 4pm) or hungry (4 to 7pm).

Whether shopping online or in the store, the shoppers who were hungry compared to those who were likely full ended up with a higher proportion of high-calorie foods. The hungry online shoppers chose more higher-calorie foods but there were no differences between the number of lower-calorie choices. The grocery store shoppers who went late in the day when they were more likely hungry purchased fewer low-calorie foods relative to high-calorie ones, compared with those who shopped after lunch, when they were likely not hungry.

If you are hungry, think more carefully about your food choices when shopping, the authors conclude. Or just eat something small before hitting the market. Another oldie but goodie tip, from AICR’s dietitian Alice Bender: make a list and stick to it.

The study was funded by Cornell University.

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