How to Save Money at Grocery Stores and Avoid Supermarket Rip-Offs

If you wanted a magic show, you’d buy a ticket to see David Copperfield, right?

Well, now you can see some of the slickest sleight-of-hand tricks down at your local supermarket. Here’s to save money at grocery stores and how food marketeers are playing “now you see it, now you don’t” with you food dollars…

Food “extenders” — the great pretenders

Those of us watching our money these days sometimes rely on “extenders” to make a meal stretch further. My wife may add brown rice to our homemade chili or chopped mushrooms to burgers and meatloaf to get a few extra servings out of them. Beside the savings, these extenders add more fiber and nutrition, while lowering the calories.

But in the food industry, extenders have nothing to do with adding health benefits — and everything to do with faking you out and ripping you off. For example…

Do you realize that 90 % of supermarket pork is up to 40% water? Or that most of their chicken and poultry are “plumped up” with salt water? Or that the same sneaky practice “extends” to supermarket beef?

Water at $4.99 a pound!?

The meat industry claims the water is injected to replace the liquid that dribbles out when meat and poultry is cooked. But the real reason they add water is to stretch their profit margins.

Think you’re getting ten pounds of pork at the meat counter? That may be what you’re paying for, but you’re really only getting six. The rest is very expensive water.

“Stop, thief!”

If you or I tried to steal from the supermarket this way, they’d bust us for shoplifting. But the meat industry gets away with it every day because, under current laws, this deceptive practice is “perfectly legal.”

But this shifty trick could come to an end soon thanks to a newly-proposed labeling regulation that will force meat-packers to tell shoppers the truth. Unfortunately, even if it passes, consumers won’t have accurate labeling until 2014. By then, we will have spent a small fortune on expensive, salty water.

Is wood the new oat bran?

Here’s another nefarious food rip-off you might not be aware of…

Wood pulp is being added to many supermarket foods (legally!) as a secret “profit extender.” Big food companies are jumping all over this blockhead idea because it increases their revenue by up to 30 percent!

Wood pulp is referred to as “cellulose” In the food world — and what a difference a word makes. They know you would never reach for a breakfast cereal that screams: “Now, with 25% more wood pulp!” on the front of the box.

Cellulose is added to extend a food’s fiber content. And it’s everywhere these days: In breads … pancake mixes and syrups … ice cream … shredded cheese … pizza crust … dehydrated egg and “potato powders.”

When most shoppers see the words “high fiber” on a food label, they believe they’re buying a healthy food. But passing on these “high-fiber” packaged foods — and replacing them with good ole fresh fruits and vegetables — will improve your fiber intake by 600% or more! Plus, you’ll be getting Mother Nature’s disease-fighting antioxidants, along with her entire food “farmacy” of vitamins, minerals, and healing nutrients.

Beware of fake blueberries

A few weeks ago I alerted you to all those new faux blueberry products on supermarket shelves. This is just another example of how food marketeers try to cash in on every new nutritional discovery that scientists make — by fooling shoppers and short-changing them.

Sure, they could put real blueberries in their products — and organic ones at that — but this would eat into their profit margins. And they’re not about to do that, no matter how much healthier it might make us.

How to beat the scammers

As the price of real food rapidly rises along with everything else these days, be on the lookout for even more “profit-extending” sneaky tricks like these.

And never forget that Big Food doesn’t give a fig about your health or waistline, no matter what their fakey ads and labels claim. They’re only in it for one thing: Their own bottom line.

Here are a few tips that will help save money at grocery stores and bring home better bargains and better quality for every food dollar you spend…

  1. Shop for fresh, seasonal produce and other locally-grown foods at your Farmer’s Market. This way, the people who really care about food quality will be rewarded.
  2. Sign up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA). Each week, you’ll receive a basket of fresh, locally-grown, organic produce as a dividend for your investment. You can even add in meat and dairy.
  3. If you must shop at a mainstream supermarket, stick to the selections featured on the store’s periphery and avoid the interior aisles — because that’s where all those high-priced fake foods are stocked.
  4. Buy your meat, eggs, milk and dairy products direct from local farmers. Seek out growers who treat animals humanely by raising them in pastures (not feedlots) — and who do not use antibiotics, pesticide, and growth hormones. Spending your money with these good guys will motivate more farmers to make the switch to healthier agricultural practices.

“Wood and water: It’s what’s for dinner!”

Don’t fall victim to the faux food magic show. When you choose healthful, whole foods, you’ll be getting vitality and longevity. You’ll also help to create a decent living and sustainable future for conscientious, principled growers and food companies who really care about your health and our country’s future.


Jim Healthy is founder of the popular website and
is its current Food Editor. He is the co-author The Healing Kitchen (Bottom Line Books,
2011), Arthritis Interrupted (Jim Healthy Press, 2009), and The 30-Day Diabetes Cure
(Jim Healthy Press, 2010).