The New 'Healthy' Foods

4 rules for making smart choices

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

Fruit instead of french fries? Organic pita chips in vending machines? Has the food industry gone health nuts, or is all of this just another example of clever marketing?

There are lots of welcome new options on grocery shelves and restaurant menus these days, say two nutrition experts who spoke with WebMD. But there are also plenty of foods out there that are just posing as healthy. It's not always easy to tell the difference.

"It takes a very discerning eye to cull through all the stuff on ingredient labels and make the right choice," says Susan Moores, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

So how can a consumer avoid falling prey to marketing magic? Here are four basic rules from our experts:

1. Go natural. "For real healthy, a food being as close to its natural state as possible is a good tip off," says Moores.

But just because the label says natural doesn't necessarily mean it is better. Look at the product with a critical eye. For example, apples are great, but are the skins on them? Is that healthy-looking baked item made from whole grains or from white, processed flour? And is it chock-full of sugars that add calories but few nutrients?

2. Read the fine print. "We can read the front of the label for the highlights, but know that the real story is on the back of the label: the ingredient listing, nutrition facts panel, fine print -- read them all," says Moores. For example, if you're buying tomato sauce and the first ingredient listed is water, indicating that it is the item used in greatest quantity in the product, look for another brand.