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Are these hot new health food trends actually healthy?

What to put in your shopping cart—and what to skip

Last updated: July 17, 2015 12:30 PM

You try to eat healthy, but healthy food fads seem to come and go as fast as fashion trends. It's tough to keep up! A few years ago, heart-healthy oats and pomegranate juice were in vogue. More recently, everyone has been eating Greek yogurt and kale, which are now ingredients in dozens of food products including candy, dips, and snacks. But a whole new crop of good-for-you-sounding foods are about to upstage them. We rounded up seven of them here. Ever chow down on bean pasta or munch on hemp seeds? Our guide can help you figure out whether those and other hot health foods are worth putting in your shopping cart.

Chia seeds

Like other seeds and nuts, chia seeds are high in fiber and can be a healthy addition to your diet. Try mixing them into salad dressings, smoothies, and yogurt. But don't pay attention to weight-loss claims. In a study of overweight adults on a chia-laced diet, there were no big losers.

What to buy or skip Look for bags of whole seeds. In packaged products, the seeds are generally too low on the ingredients list to make any difference in your diet.

Bean pasta

Chickpeas and beans are nutrition powerhouses. And bean pastas are even healthier than wheat-based pastas because noodles made from beans are packed with more protein and fiber. They're also gluten-free.*

What to buy or skip Pick pastas with beans listed first in ingredients lists.

Read more about healthy eating and food safety.

Hemp seeds

These mild-tasting seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based source of heart-healthy omega-3s. And using the seeds in place of nuts in recipes is an easy way to boost protein. Don't worry—they won't give you the munchies. The seeds are free of THC, the chemical in hemp's cousin, marijuana.

What to buy or skip You're better off going for the whole seeds or equally healthy hemp milk than products that have seeds in them.

Fermented foods

Like yogurt, those foods are packed with probiotics, the good bacteria that live in your gut. For example, consider kimchee, the Korean vegetable dish. Research suggests that the probiotic bacteria that keep kimchee and similar foods from spoiling also have health benefits, including improved immunity and good digestive health.

What to buy or skip Shop the refrigerator case, where you'll find fermented foods like yogurt and kefir as well as sauerkraut and pickles. (The shelf-stable versions aren't fermented, so you can skip those.) Also look for a label that says the food has "live" cultures, which need refrigeration to stay active. Fermented foods that are heat-treated or pasteurized lose the good bacteria along with the bad.


* Correction:

A previous version of this article inadvertently compared dry chickpea pasta to cooked spaghetti. When dry, chickpea pasta and spaghetti have similar calorie counts.


Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the July 2015 issue of ShopSmart magazine.

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