Which Helps You Shop Healthier: Pushing a Cart or Carrying a Basket?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  131 comments   :  23,415 Views

When it comes to healthy eating and weight loss, does the method you use to cart—or carry—your food around the supermarket really make a difference?
I hadn't thought about it much until I heard about an observational study published recently in the Journal of Market Research. Researchers observed 136 people grocery shopping and found that those who used a grocery cart were more than three times as likely to choose healthy items versus unhealthy ones.

The explanation behind these findings gets a little interesting. Researchers theorize that bodily sensations—like holding the weight of a shopping basket—can influence your thoughts and emotions. They believe that the act of flexing your muscles to holding a basket influences people to choose instant gratification—like junk food. And that for some reason, pushing a cart with the arms extended or lengthened, has the opposite effect.

I'm not sure that I agree with this small study or the theory behind what the researchers observed, so I wanted to ask, which do YOU think results in healthier shopping habits: pushing a cart or carrying a basket?  
Personally, I shop with a basket 90% of the time. Since I only ever shop for one or two, I don't need as much food as a family might. But I also often purchase food from multiple locations, which means I never fill up a cart in a one-stop-shop sort of place. I start my weekend buying fresh vegetables and fruit (and sometimes some bread or eggs) at the farmer's market (with nothing but my own cloth bags to carry my food). Then I go to the grocery store where I use a basket. Very occasionally, we'll use a cart if our house is really low on food or we hadn't been to the store for a long period of time.
But my experience is that shopping with a basket helps me shop smarter. I can only fit into the basket what I need—the healthy foods on my grocery list. But if I have a cart, I can fill it will all kinds of impulse buys that might catch my eye, and I can also overbuy on food in general simply because I have the space for it. Not only can that result in food waste, but it also means there is a lot more food—and calories—in my house at any given time.
So overall, I disagree with these study results based on my own experience. I think a small basket allows you to stick to the essentials and doesn’t leave room for extras or impulses like chips, soda, ice cream or other snack foods. No room for those means they don't make it to your house or into your belly. On top of that, I think a little extra "work" for my food is a good thing. I love to carry the basket through the store, and I never let my husband carry the groceries out to the car. I won't use a cart then either—I prefer to lift all the bags and flex my muscles a little more. Every little bit counts, right?
It's not that I've ever thought about this until now, or even that I use a basket on purpose to avoid buying other food, but now that I'm reflecting on it, it seems to result in that outcome—and I think that's a good thing. I won't be switching to a cart because of the suggestions of this small study (which also has some design flaws).
I realize that how others shop for groceries (with a basket or cart) may differ from what they think is ideal for making healthy choices though. Maybe you think a basket is better but you have to buy food for a large family, literally cart your kids through the store with you, or have difficulty carrying the basket. But what do you think actually results in the healthier habits, pushing a cart or carrying a small basket?

What do you thinks results in healthier shopping habits?

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  • 131
    I prefer to use the basket so that I don't just lean on the cart. Also using a cart doesn't let my fitbit count steps and I hate to miss those earned steps. - 6/19/2017   9:55:15 AM
  • 130
    I don't know that the whole arm position argument is really all that credible. I think that shopping with a cart can make it easier to load up on non-essential junk food splurges, but personally, I'd rather take that risk than choose not to buy things based on weight. I tend to move back and forth through the aisles, so I've definitely found that when I'm using a basket I'm less likely to take heavier (and often healthier) items like vegetables, beans, etc. - 3/22/2017   2:04:20 PM
  • 129
    I use a trolley because I need something tio lean on as I go round the shop. I don't think it's the container either. It is our own self control to shop what we should. - 3/21/2017   3:49:36 PM
    I always shop with a cart, but that's out of habit. I have a large family, and rarely will a basket do. Even when I'm just going in for a few things, I invariably get more, even if it's healthy. So I'm a cart girl. - 11/12/2014   9:22:17 AM
  • 127
    I use a mini buggy when I shop. Then I only have room for the things on my list. - 12/5/2013   1:31:06 PM
  • 126
    As others have already commented, I don't think the container is a factor. What matters is what is in the container. - 6/24/2012   4:36:07 PM
  • 125
    I think it is what ever works for you. remember being able to pack and pile quite a bit of junk food into both a cart and a basket. Now, I impulse buy its from produce section. (nothing like walking in and seeing&smelling what ever is in season at the door) I use a basket when only picking up a few lighter weight items. I use a cart when doing big shopping which includes toilet paper, kitty litter, cat and dog food etc. Either way I try to make sure I am not hungry and have a list.

    As to if this is a marketing scheme - who know's. It could be. I agree with CAROLFAITHWALKR that we should have more information about the study before we put all our eggs in their basket (or cart). I suppose as long as we are thinking about our shopping habits and ways to make them better that is what is important. - 6/20/2012   3:47:07 PM
  • 124
    I definitely am more likely to throw in junk when I'm using a basket versus a cart. I don't think it has anything to do with how my arms are positioned, however. I think it's just a mental thing. Basket means quick, quick means convenient, convenient means pre-packaged, and so it goes. Cart means I'm taking my time, considering what I'm buying, and able to buy things that are squishable, but don't get squished because they have plenty of room in the cart. But every person is different. - 1/11/2012   9:52:06 AM
  • 123
    I think this study is hogwash, and agree with Coach Nicole. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out it's propaganda from grocery or marketing people, who want you to use a bigger cart to increase the amount of the sale. (Who sponsored this study; and what are the company names behind the trust names of the grants that funded the study? She already mentioned design flaws, which I doubt are accidents, either.) And in the olden days, if I had a big cart, then I'd think well, look at all this healthy stuff; with this much good it won't hurt to add a pkg of ___. Or two or three. Now I only use a basket, and head to the produce section. I don't eat processed foods and I'm not going to. I might need vinegar or something; other than that I don't even see the rest of the store. A marketer's worst nightmare . . .

    I only use a big cart when I'm buying bulk something on sale, or, the store has a ton of really good sales. Which isn't happening alot in this economy recently.

    And to confirm my earlier hunch, when I clicked on the link to the study, the study is copyrighted by American Marketing Association. Bingo! I would love to know the corporate names of the grant-givers who are behind the sponsor of the study. Kraft, ADM, etc perhaps? Marketing is about getting consumers to spend more. If you go from store to store throughout the month with a basket, and at each store hit the produce section, pick up a sale item outside of produce, and then leave; that's much less revenue for the individual store than buying an entire cart full of groceries at a single store (which is every grocery store's dream that the consumer will do). Fresh produce has to be boughten regularly, and you don't need an entire cart full of fresh produce unless you're feeding a large family. What the American Marketing Assoc and food producers want is for us to fill the rest of our cart with processed and packaged foods. They dream of us filling our basket like the people at Walmart do. NOT! Fit people do eat less, and do eat healthier. Amer Marketing Assoc hates to hear that frugality is back, and that healthy people are buying "less", so they finagle a study that says to be healthier we need to use a cart (implied: to be healthier we need to buy more). What a bunch of hogwash. My stupidity meter's antenna is buzzing with this study.

    When I had crippling pain from plantars' fasciitus the wheeled cart was very helpful. There are reasons (that have nothing to do with marketing) to use a big cart; like mobility, large family, only shopping once a month, etc.

    But generally speaking other than those exceptions, using a big cart instead of a basket, is like using a credit card instead of paying with cash. It's proven you buy 18-38% more when you put it on the card. "Just toss it in the cart - we're Grocery Shopping and the cart's not full yet."

    I'll bet menu planners are also Amer Mktg Assoc's worst nightmare, as well. - 10/10/2011   9:23:31 AM
  • 122
    I think I shop healthier with a cart. When I shop with a basket, I'm usually in a hurry, and I'll avoid heavy items or things I don't want to squish. When I'm shopping with a cart, I'm far more likely to read labels, stock up on produce, and plan meals further ahead. - 10/9/2011   12:29:11 AM
    I think produce gets squashed in a basket. If I used a basket I'd have to go to the store every day or two, and that makes no sense for me because every time I go in is another chance to make bad decisions.
    - 10/8/2011   2:01:23 AM
    I have a brain condition that is gradually robbing me of my ability to balance on my own two feet. I once knocked down an entire display by lurching into it. A cart is critical for me to shop successfully. I also have no vehicle so I cannot get to the stores I want very often, so although I am only shopping for one I tend to buy more. But only healthy food! - 8/28/2011   9:48:56 PM
  • 119
    Actually it doesn't matter if I use the basket or the half cart. I go with a limited list of necessities, which involves just healthy everyday foods that run low. Mainly fruits and produce, the basics. My goal is to stick to my list and not have room for extras. I also avoid most aisles and stick to just the aisles I need something from and most items come from the perimeter. - 8/28/2011   9:43:00 PM
  • 118
    With 2 bad knees and a bad shoulder, a cart helps me walk better through the store. We are suppose to shop the ends of the store for the fresh and healthy food, right? - 8/26/2011   6:47:12 PM
  • 117
    I noticed if I put items in my basket it helps you realize you need the room for things you "need" and not want....but when you have a cart you end up getting the entire store! Okay not really, but you end up purchasing items that are unnecessary and you probably know it but make up excuses to buy it anyway. - 8/16/2011   7:14:11 PM
  • 116
    I thought this was an interesting question. My first response was the small basket since you could only hold a few items. However the lightest items are junk food! I usually shop only once a week so need a basket but also one of my main buys is milk which is heavy and definitely needs a cart! I really like the half carts one of the stores near me has available. Enough to hold the milk and veggies but too small to get too many extras in. Overall a very interesting topic! - 8/13/2011   1:11:32 PM
  • 115
    If you are dedicated to healthy eating, you will put healthy foods in either a cart or a basket. I don't like baskets because I go through 6 or more bunches of celery, romaine, or bananas before finding the best one and often need two hands to look for labels and nutritional values. - 8/5/2011   3:34:09 PM
  • 114
    A basket works best for me because when I only have a basket I tend to stick to my list better. If I have a cart I am more likely to detour into the areas where I don't need to be and buy stuff I don't need to buy. - 8/4/2011   3:57:57 PM
  • 113
    Since I try to combine shopping trips, I normally wind up using a cart. I refuse to haul the kitty litter around the store, unless that is all I came for - then it's no cart or basket. I don't believe that there is a correlation. I can get plenty of junk into a basket too. What makes me eat healthier are my choices, not going shopping when hungry or overly tired. - 8/4/2011   11:38:25 AM
    I think it all depends on what you are there for! If you go in thinking "I have to grab something quick to eat and some snacks" you are going to grab junk! Most people in for a quick jaunt through the store for a few items will use a basket. I don't think there is any validity to the claims that this study makes. I have seen plenty of junk in a shopping cart too! I also buy my produce at that farmers market, and I try to stay away from overly processed foods. I shop for a household of 5, so I always have a cart. On the few occassions I was running through and just needed a basket it was still full of "good" food. - 8/4/2011   8:37:09 AM
  • 111
    I use a cart however have found the best way for me to shop is going around the perimeter of the grocery store. Everything you need for a healthy diet is there. When I require staple items, such as paper towels, laundry detergent, etc, then I go into the aisles for these items. I am rarely in the aisles as we do not eat prepared foods or canned anything. I actually do not even buy my meat in the grocery store as I buy it from a butcher who sells non medicated meats, chicken etc.. I even make my own whole wheat and multigrain breads from scratch. OOOOOOH that sounds so much like pontificating but it really is not. I am retired and have all kinds of time on my hands so I am able to do this. I am going back to my childhood, when my mom taught me to "market" and to a time when I lived in New Zealand where you had to "market". - 8/3/2011   8:16:10 PM
  • 110
    The basket works for me. My cart usually winds up with more junk in it when I reach the register. I also NEED to use the basket because I walk almost 1.5 miles home from the store as I stop at the store on the way home from work (off the bus). The basket keeps me conscious of the weight I'm going to need to haul home. - 8/3/2011   9:00:26 AM
  • 109
    I am much more careful when using a basket, though, until this blog, I never really thought about it. By carrying the basket, I am careful not to impulse buy as much because, to be honest, the basket gets heavy! If I have a cart, I am much more likely to buy foods that were not on my list.
    Thanks for the thought provoking blog! - 8/2/2011   4:59:02 PM
  • 108
    I don't think it matters either way. To me personally, if a person wants to eat unhealthy they will do so with or without a shopping cart,basket,etc. I shop Sam's club because its a lot more cost effective for my family of 5, and when we go there, I push the shopping cart for a extra little boost of exercise with my 2 kids in the seats. We usually shop for the month, so by the time we leave, that shopping cart is pretty heavy. We all eat healthier together, so we stick to the meats,vegetables, fruits and healthy grains. - 8/2/2011   12:17:56 PM
  • 107
    I shop for 2 weeks at a time and I use a "small" cart, I can't carry a basket and put enough food in for 2 weeks. I use a grocery list to control spending and making sure I get the items I need. - 8/1/2011   10:45:32 PM
  • 106
    I think it varies.

    When I was younger and just shopping for one or two I made healthier choices using a basket. When the basket started getting full, I started putting back the junk. If I got a buggy I would end up with 2 or 3 varieties of snack foods and a 12 pack of pop.

    Now I'm married and have 2 kids and a live-in mother in law. Shopping for 5 requires a lot more food. A basket would only hold enough for a day or two, resulting in more frequent trips, resulting in more opportunities for impulse junk. - 8/1/2011   1:24:12 PM
  • 105
    I think shopping with a cart gives me more time to make healthy choices. I can read labels and take the time to compare. I can choose the freshest produce when I can use both hands. When I carry a basket I just try to get in and out in a hurry, which is fine if I am just getting a couple of items. - 8/1/2011   1:18:13 PM
  • 104
    I think the problem with the basket is that you don't have the space to pick up various packages and read the dietary info. on the package. With a cart I can take my time and not have the full basket pulling on my arm, which then hastens my choice. Carriages for me! - 8/1/2011   1:02:47 PM
  • 103
    You can buy bad food, and junk, and put it, in a basket, as well as a cart. You may not get as much, that's all. - 8/1/2011   12:39:39 PM
  • 102
    Since I only shop for one, I use the basket. If I don't then I'll just buy extra things that I don't need. If I had a family, I might ask the husband to carry another basket - or I would have to switch to a cart. - 8/1/2011   10:24:35 AM
  • 101
    The store I shop at has baskets that roll, so weight is not a factor in the choices. I use a basket for a few things and a cart when I need bulky items.....try putting 12 rolls of toilet paper in a basket!

    Saying that healthier choices are dependent on the type of transport you use to purchase your items is stretching it at best. - 8/1/2011   10:20:00 AM
  • 100
    I use a cart, but just for the practicality. I shop with my 8 month old and there is no way I could carry the basket and him and get any kind of real shopping done. Also, a container of formula and a weeks worth of baby food and the basket would be full. - 8/1/2011   10:16:04 AM
  • 99
    I tend to agree with you - a basket means I just focus on getting what I planned to get - the heavier it gets, the less I want to add to it! When I push a cart, I "forget" and put in things I don't really need - that box of cookies or that tub of ice cream looks interesting today. :) - 8/1/2011   8:29:52 AM
  • 98
    I'm trying not to stop as often-- and getting things like dried beans and such like that to last the week so a cart is a must. Lost of veggies??? Gotta have a cart for me to carrry that stuff.

    The more often I shop, the more times I have to be tempted.

    But that's just me,
    dD - 8/1/2011   1:44:41 AM
  • 97
    I used a basket when I was younger and single and I didn't eat as healthy when I was young. maybe that's the connection? - 8/1/2011   1:27:44 AM
    I use the cart, because sometimes my foot hurt from where I had surgery. So yes I use the cart to walk through the store. Plus I dont like those little baskets smashing up my things. - 7/31/2011   9:47:35 PM
  • 95
    I've often tried using a hand-basket, but always put it back and get a cart. I hate lugging purse and carry bags, hurting my hands with basket handles, and feeling helpless with my hands full. A cart leaves my hands and mind free to pick things up to read/compare information, or to find just the right ear of sweet corn. I try not be in a hurry, because I take nutrition and good tasting food seriously. Also, I think that shopping is a big chunk of my everyday life, thus I try to make it a pleasant and worthwhile experience. So, I toss my purse and carry bags into a cart and take my time! Happy shopping!
    P.S. Those half-gallon cartons of milk are heavy and slippery! - 7/31/2011   9:30:37 PM
  • 94
    I'm single so I use a basket most of the time because I buy the few items I need. I also get a workout by carrying it through the store. If I need both hands to look at an item then I just set the basket on the store floor in front of me. If my family asks me to shop for them then I use a cart because they have a more extensive grocery list. - 7/31/2011   7:18:02 PM
  • 93
    I completely agree with you. When I first read this headline I chose basket for the same reasons you stated. - 7/31/2011   7:03:57 PM
  • 92
    I think I shop healthier with a cart. When I have a cart, that leaves both of my hands free to compare foods side by side and scrutinize nutritional information. It also frees my hands to better dig and find the best produce in each display. :)

    I also think that having a cart gives me the time to really think about whether or not to buy an item that isn't on my list. When I have a basket, I tend to just grab things that I want because the basket is heavy and I want to get out of there; but if I have a cart I can read labels and decide if the splurge is worth it (it usually isn't and I put the impulse item back). - 7/31/2011   6:44:51 PM
  • 91
    I think they're stretching for causation while it's probably just a correlation. It would mean a lot more if we knew WHO uses baskets. The person picks the food. The basket or cart is an inanimate object that doesn't tell you to get Oreos or a head of lettuce. Seems like they're trying to say if I switch to a cart I'll be healthier. Um no. If I make healthier food choices, no matter if I put them in a cart, basket or on a pack mule, I'll be healthier. - 7/31/2011   5:28:07 PM
  • 90
    I disagree with the findings too. I use a basket at the market because I either am walking or riding my bike. I use a backpack to carry my purchases home. So when I am choosing what to buy I have to remember that I will be carrying it on my body (literally) back to my house. I always go to the produce aisle first and that is where most of the items that fill up my basket are selected. I almost never go to the areas where the high cal things are such as chips, cookies and pre-prepared foods. - 7/31/2011   2:48:45 PM
    I really disagree with the findings because I find that when I use a basket I am more careful about what I choose to put in and carry around the store than just putting things in the trolley. I dont want to carry a really heavy basket so I choose healthy foods and do not even go near the biscuit and sweetie aisles. - 7/31/2011   11:14:54 AM
  • 88
    I only shop for primary foods 2 times a month so I use a cart then but I have to make weekly trips for fresh fruits/veggies so when I do those I use the basket. However, I only buy what is on my list and those are off of my menu so I don't think either the cart or basket impacts what I buy. - 7/31/2011   10:47:29 AM
  • 87
    The important thing is sticking to your list. Because of my disability, I usually shop with the store's electric cart or my own power chair. When I am not in the pain that walking gives me, I find it much easier to stick to my list. If I have to walk through a store, I wind up not getting everything on my list and, because something is displayed at the front, more impulse buys. The only thing that saves me is that I am on such a limited budget that I can't afford to buy very much. Most of my food comes from the local food pantry, and that is my downfall, since you sort of have to take what you are given, without a lot of choices except for the breads. If I am given something I am allergic to, I can exchange it, but other than that, they don't allow it. Luckily, there are usually healthy choices in the breads. - 7/31/2011   9:59:34 AM
    I take my time with a cart, usually resulting in better choices. I tend to use a basket when i am in a hurry, and the you never know what might end up in there! - 7/31/2011   9:46:31 AM
  • 85
    I use a shopping basket almost 90% of the time. I love making my arms work so hard to get my food. I usually buy fruits & veggies multiple times a week. I consider it my weight lifting for the day (haha). - 7/31/2011   7:42:58 AM
  • 84
    I have to admit that I usually use a cart when I go shopping. Well, wholesale clubs don't offer baskets as an option. OTOH, I only buy a limited selection of foods there. I've found a couple of supermarkets in the area that provide two sizes of cart, one standard size and one that somewhat smaller. Actually, they're both nationwide chains, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I like to grab the smaller carts because tI can sling my backpack into them and take the load off my shoulders, and the smaller size (comparable to a basket once the pack goes in) constrains the amount I can buy. I wish this option was available more generally. - 7/31/2011   4:21:26 AM
  • 83
    I use a cart. - 7/31/2011   1:38:37 AM
  • 82
    I actually had thought about this before reading this blog. Since I'm only shopping for 2, and visit the store 3-4 times a week, I could get away with a carry-type basket. But along with my purse, I hate lugging the thing, which makes me want to grab whatever's most convenient & just clear outta Dodge! However, I know this about myself so I always get a small size cart. Then if I'm feeling lazy (!) I can lean on it while I push along slowly reading labels, etc. But I definitely am one who makes more informed choices when I'm not feeling like a pack mule and have both hands free to pick up and read jars and packages before buying. That's why I voted shopping cart (for me) and I'm stickin' to it! - 7/31/2011   1:31:18 AM

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