How can I choose healthy foods at the supermarket?

Layne Lieberman, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Choosing healthy foods at the market is easy; opt for fresh, local foods and avoid packaged foods with long ingredient lists. Watch culinary nutritionist Layne Lieberman, RD, explain how to select healthy items and why you shouldn't shop hungry.
One of the best ways to know which foods are best to choose in the supermarket is to do as much of your shopping as possible in the outside aisles. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy and bread are usually found in the outer aisles. As you move further into the middle of the market you will encounter more and more processed, unhealthy products.

Another way to choose healthy foods is to read the ingredients labels on any packaged product you intend to purchase. Choose foods with ingredients you can pronounce and with as few (two or three) ingredients as possible. Ingredients are listed in the order of predominance, so the first two or three ingredients listed on the package are the most abundant in the product. Hence, if you see corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, etc. in the first couple of ingredients, you know you're getting a product loaded with sugar.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Steering kids (yourself, too) clear of sugary, chemical-laden, "Mom, can I have that?" treats requires more skill than tightrope walking. That's because stuff that seems good can actually contain hidden nutritional bombs. I want to help you decipher food labels on produce and packaged food so you can better spot them.

Smart reading will tell you where food is from, if it's genetically modified, and what food colorings, fats, sugars, and preservatives are in it. Did you know, for example, that the little tag on fruits and vegetables -- called the price look-up (PLU) code -- holds a world of info?
  • A four-digit PLU code starting with the number 4 indicates conventionally grown and not genetically modified. Produce with this code may have been sprayed with synthetic pesticides.
  • A five-digit code beginning with 9 indicates organic, not genetically modified.
  • A five-digit code starting with an 8 indicates genetically modified.
To know what's in other foods that you purchase -- and to get kids involved in making healthy food choices -- use a smartphone app. Fooducate and Good Guide, for example, are free mobile apps (available for both iPhone and Android) that scan barcodes and tell you what's in that sports drink, canned soup, cupcake, frozen meal, etc. They also offer you healthy alternatives. Kids love the game of it, and they can discover firsthand why you say, "No, we're not buying that!" Better yet, soon they'll be saying that, too.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.