We’re never been quiet when we find a new product we love. We make it a point to try out the newest “health” food being marketed and uncover brands with a smaller ad budget and a bigger nutritional bang. But we’ve never given you one collective list all at once like we’ve done in our first-ever food awards!
We’ve spent the summer developing nutrition criteria, scouring every shelf of the grocery store, reading labels until our eyes-crossed, and swapping lunch calories for taste-testing calories all in the name of helping you put the best food possible on your grocery list.
What we’ve come up with is a list of 13 popular food categories at the grocery store with a clear winner in each: bread, cereal, hot dogs, yogurt, snacks, deli meat, pasta sauce, dips, frozen meals, dressing, granola, beverages, and soup. While the general rule of thumb is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store, if you’re willing to read labels then there’s plenty of good food stocked down the aisles.
Our qualification process looked like this:
1. Work with our Mary Hartley, RD to develop clearly defined nutritional criteria for each food category. Parameters were made for calories, fat, sugar, sodium, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.
2. Scour the grocery store for five foods in each category that met our criteria or got really close. In a lot of categories, it was sometimes hard to find even one.
3. Review those five finalists for artificial and chemical ingredients that would immediately remove them from contention for the winning position.
4. Taste test each food to declare an ultimate winner.
We shopped exclusively at Kroger because we wanted to find brands that were most accessible to our national audience. As one of the major grocery chains in the country, Kroger offers a similar supermarket experience no matter where you are. We were looking for real food for real people.
What we learned
The biggest thing was that no healthy frozen pizza exists. This list started with 14 categories, but once we flipped the box over on every single frozen pizza at our Kroger (even going beyond our qualifier and shopping two other stores in town), we were forced to remove the category. Not a single pizza could meet our nutrition criteria, namely because of calories, sodium, and fat.
Other processed, pre-packaged meals like frozen foods and soups made our search difficult, too. We were able to find clear winners in both of those categories, but it proved once again that for consumers not reading food labels they really are going to have a hard time controlling what they eat.
Organic is great but not always better. A few foods that made the first-round nutrition cut didn’t make it to winner because of their nutrition profile or even taste.
Store-brand is great and, at least in our review, always better. Several times the store-brand won its category over major national brands. The ingredients are often better, the nutrition profiles healthier, and the taste can even beat out the big budget brands. Not to mention, you’ll save some serious coin shopping store brand products.
We’ve already been the judge, so not it’s your turn. Check out our list and see if you plan to make adjustments to your usual grocery trip based on our findings.
August 14th, 2012