How to Shop for Four Popular Health Foods

Shopping for healthier groceries isn’t always easy. Some foods might be obviously healthy, while others may require deciphering the nutrition label to figure out if it’s a good choice. To make things easier, we’ve researched four popular health foods to find simple, time-saving ways to make smarter choices.

Here’s how to shop for better non-dairy milks, nut butters, salad dressings and granola.

1. Shopping for Non-Dairy Milk

Non-dairy milks are a great alternative for those who are sensitive to lactose or are looking for a plant-based substitute for cow’s milk. These days, most non-dairy milks are fortified with vitamins and minerals to replicate the nutritional content of cow’s milk.

Based on our taste-testing, we’ve found that soy milk and almond milk score highest in flavor. On the nutrition side, soy milk offers a great source of protein, while almond milk is a lighter, lower-calorie choice.

To shop for better non-dairy milks:

  • Look for unsweetened varieties with no added sugars. Also check the nutrition label and make sure that there’s at least 20% of the daily value for calcium and vitamin D. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, look for non-dairy milk that’s fortified with vitamin B12 as well.
  • Avoid sweetened flavors like vanilla and chocolate, as they’re often high in added sugars. Also avoid non-dairy milks made from refined grains like rice milk as they tend to be less nutrient-dense.

2. Buying Nut Butters

Nut butters are a deliciously versatile snack food. They’re a great source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Nut butters also make a complete protein when combined with wheat bread.

To make nut butters more shelf-stable, many popular brands add hydrogenated oils to help maintain the nut butters’ smooth consistency. Hydrogenated oils contain not-so-healthy trans fats, which have been linked to increasing the risk for heart disease and certain cancers.

To shop for better nut butters:

  • Look for an ingredients list that contains only the nut itself. Also opt for unsalted varieties to avoid extra sodium.
  • Avoid nut butters with added ingredients like oils, sodium and sugars. Check the ingredients list to be on the lookout for hydrogenated oils. Also avoid low-fat and light nut butters, as they’re often filled with numerous food additives.

3. Picking Salad Dressing

Salad dressings are a quick way to make veggies more delicious. In general, vinaigrette dressings like balsamic and Italian contain less total fat and calories than creamy dressings like ranch and Caesar. For a Zipongo-approved option, check out our taste-tested balsamic vinaigrette.

Like many packaged items, store-bought salad dressings can have processed additives that are hard to decipher.

To shop for better salad dressings:

  • Look for salad dressings with no added sugars. To choose a lighter-sodium salad dressing, aim for a 1:1 ratio of sodium to calories. If the milligrams of sodium are greater than the number of calories, chances are the salad dressing is super salty. Add bonus points for salad dressings made with expeller-pressed oil, which tends to be higher quality.
  • Avoid low-fat and fat-free varieties, as they often contain extra sodium, added sugars and other additives to compensate for the lack of fat.

4. Choosing Granola

Granola is a great energy-boosting breakfast or snack filled with complex carbs and healthy fats. That said, some granola brands can take the added sugar count overboard, making them more like desserts.

To shop for better granola:

  • Look for fruit and nut varieties, which are often lower in unhealthy saturated fats than flavors like chocolate and yogurt. Take a look at the amount of fiber and choose a granola with close to 20% of the daily value per serving.
  • Avoid granola with too much added sugars. Compare brands side by side and choose the one with the least amount of sugar. Based on our taste-testing, we found that granolas with less than 12 g sugar per ½ cup serving were generally a good choice.

This blog was originally published on April 22, 2015. It was last updated on October 11, 2016.

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