We asked registered dietitians Mary Ryan in Seattle and Tara Gidus in Orlando, Fla., for tips on what to look for on food labels. Then our test kitchen picked their favorite brands.
1. Nut butters
Look for natural versions, which have no added sugar and no hydrogenated oil, the source of unhealthy trans fats.
Our pick: Arrowhead Mills Crunchy Organic Peanut Butter is made purely of peanuts, so you don't have to worry about unhealthy additives.
Look for at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 10 grams of sugar (less is even better). And pay attention to serving size -- it's likely smaller than what's going in the bowl.
Our picks: Food for Life's Ezekiel 4:9 cereal has small, crunchy nuggets that won't get soggy in milk. Barbara's Puffins are a kid-friendly option.
Look for key words such as whole grain or whole wheat at the top of the ingredients list and at least 3 grams of fiber.
Our pick: Mary's Gone Crackers are thin, crisp and gluten-free.
4. Pasta and rice
Look for the words 100 percent whole grain on the label for whole-wheat pasta, and 3 grams of fiber per serving. For rice, choose any whole grain variety (such as brown, wild, red or brown basmati), which will be higher in fiber and nutrients than its more processed white cousin.
Our picks: Lundberg Organic Rice is grown sustainably and has a variety of choices. DeLallo pasta is firm, not chewy, so it tastes like regular pasta.
Look for extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, which is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and contains disease-fighting antioxidants.
Our pick: Badia a Coltibuono is a good all-purpose oil. It can be used for cooking and to dress a salad.
6. Nuts and dried fruit
Look for roasted, unsalted nuts for snacking. Almonds are the highest in vitamin E, and walnuts boast omega-3s. All dried fruit is a good source of fiber and potassium, but cranberries and blueberries are the antioxidant superstars. Look for those with no added sugar.
Our picks: Bazzini nuts are fresh and flavorful. Trader Joe's is a reliable source for dried fruit.
7. Salt and spices
Look for sea salt, which is more flavorful than table salt, so you will use less of it and still get great flavor. Limit your intake to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about one teaspoon). Use spices to add flavor, not calories. Plus, spices increase satiety, so you will be less likely to overeat.
Our picks: Maldon Sea Salt Flakes have large crystals, which add a little crunch. Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel has finer crystals and a more delicate flavor. Penzey's spices are the test kitchen's favorite; Spice Islands is a good supermarket option.
8. Canned tomatoes
Look for the shortest list of ingredients on the label and the least amount of added sugar and sodium. All kinds of canned tomatoes -- diced, or in a sauce, or paste -- will be good sources of the potent antioxidant lycopene, but tomato paste will have the highest levels because it is the most concentrated.
Our pick: San Marzano canned tomatoes (imported from Italy) are a bit sweet and have more flesh and fewer seeds than other brands.
9. Canned tuna and salmon
Look for light tuna, which has the lowest amount of potentially harmful mercury. For lower-calorie versions, opt for those packed in water (although tuna in olive oil has a wonderfully rich flavor that will be better in some recipes). Choose canned wild salmon for one of the best sources of omega-3s.
Our picks: Ortiz tuna has big chunks of tuna in heart-healthy olive oil. American tuna is sustainably caught and is packed in its own oils, making it incredibly flavorful.
10. Canned beans
Look for low-sodium varieties, since canned beans can be high in salt. As a general rule, more color means more nutrients, so red kidney, pinto and black beans will all be rich in a variety of antioxidants. But all beans are great (and cheap) sources of protein and fiber.
Our pick: Eden Organic Beans have no chemical additives and stay whole, so they aren't mushy.
11. Chicken broth
Look for unsalted or low-sodium broths. (Regular stock can have as much as 860 milligrams of salt per cup.) Opt for organic whenever possible.
Our pick: Kitchen Basics has natural ingredients and no MSG.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine