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What's your sign?

(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

I'm one of those people who prolong their grocery-shopping trips with frequent nutrition-label comparisons. This can or that can? Those chips or these? And now grocery chains are tossing their own labeling systems into the cart. 

The New England-based chain Hannaford Brothers has garnered much press for its new Guiding Stars nutrition navigation system. Hannaford enlisted nutrition experts to rate most of its food products on a zero-to-three-star scale (zero stars for the least-nutritional items, three for the best). The experts based their ratings on such dietary criteria as vitamins, fiber, whole grains, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. 

In February, the Midwestern Hy-Vee Supermarket grocery chain promoted on-staff dietitians at eight stores in Omaha and Council Bluffs to help shoppers navigate signs and nutritional information. These individuals roamed stores, ready to answer customer questions, while pink signs on shelving provided their phone numbers for future reference.

Not to be left out are the formerly conventional chains, such as Safeway (which not only added natural and organic foods to its lineup but has its own "O" organics line of products), Kroger-owned Fred Meyer (which also added natural and organic sections to its stores, and posts signs indicating which varieties of produce have the least and most pesticides), and the big gun itself, Wal-Mart (which recently announced plans to add organic products to its monster stores). 

Who will jump on the bandwagon next?

No matter the label, it always pays to read closely. According to Medical News Today, some "health foods," like granola bars and multi-grain (but not whole-grain) bread, are in fact laden with guess what? Unhealthy ingredients. 

So what exactly should you look for when reading labels? Medical News Today talks to Dee Rollins, a dietitian, who says you should concentrate on three things: sodium, fat, and total calories. Then read through the ingredients and make sure things like salt, sugar, and corn syrup aren't at the top.

In other words, anything that screams "healthy" probably isn't.