Not all packaged foods are created equal. Finding the best ones can be hard.
“Bread is the number one source of sodium in the average American’s diet,” says Jayne Hurley, a Registered Dietitian at CSPI. So if you love sandwiches — and who doesn’t? — pay attention.
THE CRITERIA: CSPI's picks for bread have no more than 120mg or less of sodium per slice, are made from all (or almost all) whole grain, and do not include breads made with the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium, whose safety tests CSPI says "were conducted in the 1970s and were of mediocre quality." (More information about this sweetener and others is available here.)
•Nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat: 60 calories and 110mg of sodium per slice.
•Sara Lee Classic 100% Whole Wheat: 60 calories and 120mg of sodium per slice.
•Pepperidge Farm Stoneground 100% Whole Wheat Bread: 70 calories and 70mg of sodium per slice.
“Cheese is two-thirds saturated fat,” says Hurley. “And saturated fat is the kind of fat that clogs arteries, so it’s the harmful kind of fat.” So, if you’re going to eat a lot of cheese, she advises choosing the lower-fat kind. “I agree the fat-free cheeses suffer from a rubbery texture,” says Hurley. “But for the light cheeses, I think many pass for being as good as the full fat ones.”
THE CRITERIA: CSPI's picks have no more than 3 grams of saturated fat and 170 milligrams per ounce.
Note: “Because of rounding inconsistencies, [CSPI] included some cheeses whose labels list up to 3.5 grams of saturated fat.”
•Cabot’s 50% Less Fat Sharp Light Cheddar: 70 calories, 3g of saturated fat, 170mg of sodium, and 20% of your daily calcium needs per ounce.
•BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella Snacking Cheese: 70 calories, 3g of saturated fat, 90mg of sodium, and 15% of your daly calcium needs per 1 ounce ball.
•Chavrie Original Mild Goat Cheese: 50 calories, 2.5g of saturated fat, 120mg of sodium, and 2% of your daily calcium needs per ounce.
CSPI recommends sticking with plain, unsweetened yogurt and adding your own fruit at home. “The problem with the fruit-on-the-bottom ones, or let’s call it ‘fruit glop on the bottom,’ is it’s mostly sugar,” says Hurley. “The most ‘fruited’ yogurts have 3-4 teaspoons of added sugar.”
THE CRITERIA: Because yogurts come in so many different sizes, CSPI’s precise requirements vary from size to size. All of the picks below are plain and unsweetened, have low calorie counts, and provide a decent amount of calcium and protein. Any sugar in these yogurts are naturally occurring from the milk — they are not added. While there are some variations in nutritional content, these are all good choices and Hurley says to "follow your taste."
•Siggi's Icelandic Style Skyr, 0% Milkfat, 5.3 ounces: 80 calories, 0g of saturated fat, 15g of protein, 20% of your daily calcium requirements and 1 tsp of sugar. (Dannon Oikos, Stonyfield Organic Greek, and Brown Cow Greek have about the same nutritional content, so you if you like those brands better, take your pick.)
•Stonyfield Organic Smooth & Creamy Fat Free Plain, 8-ounce serving: 100 calories, 0g of saturated fat, 10g of protein, 35% of your daily calcium needs and 4 tsp of sugar.
Yes, sometimes it seems like pulling up to a drive-thru is the easiest way to get a hot and delicious breakfast. But plenty of healthy, hot cereals can be made in less time than it takes to get to the local drive-thru window. These are all unsweetened — add fruit for a healthy way to sweeten your breakfast.
THE CRITERIA: CSPI only chose cereals that are made with 100% whole grains, have no added sugar, and no more than than 100mg of sodium per serving.
•Hodgson Mill Apples & More Muesli, 1/4 cup dry: 150 calories, 4g of fiber, 5g of protein, and 0g of sodium.
•McCann’s Regular Instant Irish Oatmeal, 1 packet: 100 calories, 3g of fiber, 4g of protein, and 80mg of sodium.
There are few places in this world as confusing as the cereal aisle. So many labels! So many health claims! How's a person to know what's actually good for them?
THE CRITERIA: CSPI's choices have no more than 2.5g of saturated fat per serving and no acesulfame-potassium, sucralose, or monk fruit extract. They also have at least 3g of fiber per 100 calories (and if a cereal lists processed fiber as an ingredient, it has to list bran first), and the cereals have to either list whole grains as the first two ingredients OR contain little or no refined grains (bran counts as a whole grain).
•General Mills Cheerios, 1 cup: 100 calories and 3g of fiber.
•Kashi Organic Promise Berry Fruitful, 29 biscuits: 170 calories and 6g of fiber.
•Post Bran Flakes, 3/4 cup: 100 calories and 5g of fiber.
The beauty of a frozen novelty dessert is that the serving size is built-in. You don't have to worry about your scoops being too big and accidentally eating more than you intended. But they can be tricky, too, because they usually have a lot of sugar, fat, and artificial sweeteners.
THE CRITERIA: CSPI's choices have no more than 120 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, and "are free of unsafe or questionable artificial sweeteners."
Note: "Added sugar numbers are all estimates. [CSPI} cannot estimate added sugar on the fruit bars because we do not know how much naturally occurring sugar is coming from the fruit."
•Ciao Bella Adonia Wild Blueberry Greek Frozen Yogurt Bar, 1 bar: 80 calories, 0g of saturated fat, and 2 teaspoons of added sugar.
•Healthy Choice Strawberry Greek Frozen Yogurt Cup, 1 container: 100 calories, 1g of saturated fat, and 1.5 teaspoons of added sugar.
•Dreyer's (or Edy's) Fruit Bars in Strawberry, Wildberry, and Lime, 1 bar: 40 calories and 0g of saturated fat.
Most canned soups have too much sodium to make it onto CSPI’s list. But these soups keep the sodium count low without sacrificing taste, CSPI says.
THE CRITERIA: CSPI's picks have a maximum of 300mg of sodium and 2 grams of saturated fat in each 1-cup serving.
•Imagine Organic Light In Sodium Creamy Garden Broccoli: 70 calories, 0g of saturated fat, and 190mg of sodium per cup.
•Pacific Organic Light In Sodium Creamy Butternut Squash: 90 calories, 0g of saturated fat, and 280mg of sodium per cup.
•Amy's Organic Light in Sodium Low Fat Minestrone: 90 calories, 0g of saturated fat and 290mg of sodium per cup.
Keep in mind that these numbers are all based on half-cup servings (which is a pretty small scoop), so either keep an eye on your portion sizes or multiply accordingly.
THE CRITERIA: Each 1/2-cup serving has no more than 130 calories or 2.5g of saturated fat; none include acesulfame potassium as an ingredient.
•Edy's (or Dreyer's) Slow Churned Ice Cream, Vanilla Bean: 100 calories, 2g of saturated fat, and 2.5 teaspoons of added sugar per 1/2 cup. (Check out this line's many other flavors, too — they all meet CSPI's criteria.)
•Turkey Hill Stuff'd Junior Mints: 120 calories, 1.5g of saturated fat, and 3.5 teaspoons of added sugar per 1/2 cup. (The line's Praline Pecan Paradise and Strawberry Cheesecake are also good options.)
•Breyers Blast! Oreo Cookies & Cream Mint: 120 calories, 2g of saturated fat and 2.5 tsp of added sugar per 1/2 cup. (The line's Oreo Cookies & Cream Chocolate, Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake, and Creamsicle Orange are also good options.)
Choosy eaters should choose the nut butters without added salts and sugars but with plenty of protein. While these butters can still have small amounts of sugar, they are naturally occurring in the nuts.
CRITERIA: CSPI recommends nut butters that contain no added salt or sugar. Each 2 tablespoon serving should have at least 6 grams of protein and no more than 3 grams of saturated fat.
•Krema (or Crazy Richard's) Natural Peanut Butter, Creamy or Crunchy: 190 calories, 9g of protein, and 0g of sodium per 2-tbsp serving.
•Smucker’s Natural No Salt Added Creamy Peanut Butter: 210 calories, 7g of protein, and 0g of sodium per 2-tbsp serving.
•Justin’s All-Natural Classic Almond Butter: 190 calories, 7g of protein, and 0g of sodium per 2-tbsp serving.
Making salad dressing at home can be very simple. "If you were making your own dressing," Hurley says, "make it low in sodium or just leave the sodium out entirely." But if you're buying you're dressings, keep an eye out! Many dressings are high in calories, sugar, and sodium.
THE CRITERIA: In each 2-tablespoon serving, there are no more than 110 calories and 100mg of sodium. Plus, none of these list sugar (or any sweetener) as the first ingredient.
•Annie's Naturals Balsamic Vinaigrette: 100 calories, 1g of saturated fat, and 60mg of sodium per 2-tbsp serving.
•Cindy's Kitchen Chipotle Ranch: 100 calories, 1g of saturated fat, and 80mg of sodium per 2-tbsp serving.
•Vino de Milo Creamy Light French: 40 calories, 0g of saturated fat, and 90mg of sodium per 2-tbsp serving.
Spreads taste great but they are also an easy way to add a lot of calories, and often trans fats, to your sandwiches.
THE CRITERIA: Each tablespoon has no more than 1.5g of saturated fat and 50 calories. These brands also contain no partially hydrogenated oil, a source of trans fats.
•Country Crock Light: 50 calories, 1.5g of saturated fat, 90mg of sodium per tablespoon.
•I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Light: 50 calories, 1.5g of saturated fat, and 90mg of sodium per tablespoon.
•Smart Balance Light: 50 calories, 1.5g of saturated fat, and 90mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Holy cow there are a lot of options when it comes to coffee creamers. But many are full of sugars, artificial sweeteners and fat, so choosing the right one can be tough.
THE CRITERIA: Each 1 tablespoon serving has no trans fats, no more than 0.2g of saturated fat, no more than 15 calories (which limits sugar) and no artificial sweeteners.
Note: CSPI "estimated saturated fat content for these because per labeling rules, if the product contains less than 0.5g fat, the product may list 0g fat on the label (even though it may contain up to just under 0.5g)."
•Land O’Lakes Fat-Free Half and Half : 10 calories, 0.2g of saturated fat, and no added sugar, per tablespoon.
•So Delicious Original Coconut Milk Creamer: 10 calories, 0.2g of saturated fat, and no added sugar, per tablespoon.
•Organic Valley Original Soy Creamer: 15 calories, 0.2g of saturated fat, and no added sugar, per tablespoon.
An earlier version misstated the calorie count for Healthy Choice Strawberry Greek Frozen Yogurt Cup. A single serving has 100 calories.