Caution: Landmines in the Grocery Store Ahead

Knowing what is what in your grocery cart can save you fat, calories, and even money

By Jed Nitzberg
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario,MD

Do you know what you're really putting into your cart at the grocery store? Need to lighten the fat, calorie, or carb load in your buggy? Are foods really "smart?" WebMD takes a closer look.

Grocery stores have come along way -- new high-tech computer cart buddies are being tested in some markets that do everything from order your deli items while you shop to keep a running tab of the foods in your buggy. While grocery stores increasingly improve their design, variety, and layout, making a trek to the market is still fraught with nutritional landmines.

One problem is many foods in the grocery store may be marketed as healthy but contain hidden fat, calories, and sodium when you look closely. Worse, foods are now labeled "smart" or "enhanced," yet we have no guidelines for what those terms actually mean.

The food industry is hoping to develop this new niche and create demand for these products -- for which they'll likely charge a premium price. In reality, functional foods are broadly defined as those that claim, or at least hint at, enhanced health benefits such as juice drinks fortified with herbs like echinacea, which is said to enhance immunity, and ginseng, believed to boost energy.

Federal regulations for supplements don't require studies to back their products' label claims, which may imply health benefits. But foods that carry specific health assurances, such as disease prevention, are a different matter. These require testing and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Quaker Oats was the first functional food to get the green light with claims it can lower the risk of heart disease. Today, dozens of others are cropping up or seeking approval.