Get Healthy With Whole Grains

The Health Must-Eat List

What it takes to be a Health Must-Eat Food
The Health Must-Eat List is designed to help you identify truly nutritious foods in every aisle of the grocery store. To qualify for our list, a product had to meet the following criteria.

First, it must be free of the following potentially harmful ingredients:
  1. Suspect preservatives: BHT, BHA, nitrites, and nitrates
  2. Unhealthy fats: olestra and trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils, hydrogenated oils, and shortening)
  3. Artificial and high-intensity sweeteners: acesulfame potassium or acesulfame K; aspartame; monk fruit extract; neotame; saccharin; sucralose; stevia extracts; tagatose; and trehalose
Second, it must be a good source of at least one of the following health-promoting nutrients. Each of these has a body of scientific research suggesting it contributes to fending off disease and promoting good health:
  1. Dietary fiber. One serving must have at least 3g of fiber. Foods with only added or functional fiber are excluded. Added fiber includes: inulin (from chicory root), maltodextrin, polydextrose, soy hulls, oat fibers, sorghum fibers.
  2. Live active cultures. Product must either a) have a seal from the National Yogurt Association that says "Live & Active Cultures" or b) contain phrasing such as "contains live active cultures" or "living yogurt cultures." Products labeled "heat-treated after culturing" are excluded.
  3. Vitamins or minerals. One serving must provide at least 15 percent of the daily value (DV) for one or more of the following:
    • Potassium
    • Calcium
    • Vitamin D
    • B vitamins: Thiamine (vitamin B1), Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Niacin (vitamin B3), Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5), Vitamin B6, Biotin (vitamin B7), Vitamin B12, Folic acid/folate
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin E
    • Iron
    • Zinc
Third, it must not be a junk food in disguise. Sometimes a product might seem like a good choice—it's high in vitamins or fiber or some other health-promoting nutrient, for instance. But it's also loaded with sugar or salt. "A candy bar with added fiber is still a candy bar," says Health Must-Eat panelist Caroline Kaufman, RDN. All products that made it through the first two rounds of criteria were evaluated to ensure they were not too high in sugar, salt (sodium) or any other potentially unhealthy ingredient.

Meet our nutrition pros
We consulted with leading health and nutrition authorities to compile the Health Must-Eat List. These experts are on the forefront of nutrition and antiobesity research. Through their numerous books and more than 1,000 scientific studies, they have changed the way we eat and think about food.

Walter Willett, MD. Fredrick John Stare professor of epidemiology and nutrition, and chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Adam Drewnowski, PhD. Director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition and the Center for Obesity Research, and director of the nutritional sciences program and professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.

Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN. Registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in family nutrition, and award-winning blogger at

Special thanks to Colin Rehm, MPH, a PhD candidate in the department of epidemiology at the University of Washington; Anna Gabriel, MPH, RD; the Whole Grains Council; Sally Barton; Doris Chung; Cara E. Davis; Jessica E. Kim; Juli Louttit, MPH, RD.

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