In an age where fresh food prices are skyrocketing and fat & sugar filled processed foods are being constantly made cheaper and cheaper with fillers, it is harder and harder for families to make healthy choices. The nutritional labels certainly help, but for many the time and math required to cross-reference Fat vs. Calories vs. Protein vs. Fiber and so on is just overwhelming. So there was much relief recently when an industry collective started the ‘Smart Choice’ label program. The goal was to make it easy to see what foods offered the best nutritional choices. Great in theory … but in reality, not so wonderful.
According to a story at the New York Times:
The green checkmark label that is starting to show up on store shelves will appear on hundreds of packages, including — to the surprise of many nutritionists — sugar-laden cereals like Cocoa Krispies and Froot Loops.
“These are horrible choices,” said Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department of the Harvard School of Public Health.
He said the criteria used by the Smart Choices Program were seriously flawed, allowing less healthy products, like sweet cereals and heavily salted packaged meals, to win its seal of approval. “It’s a blatant failure of this system and it makes it, I’m afraid, not credible,” Mr. Willett said.
From the perspective of the Smart Choices Program, they are trying to provide a ‘bottom line quick choice’ based on meeting minimums in some areas and not exceeding maximums in others.
According to Eileen T. Kennedy, President of the Smart Choices Board:
“The checkmark means the food item is a ‘better for you’ product, as opposed to having an x on it saying ‘Don’t eat this,’ ” Dr. Kennedy said. “Consumers are smart enough to deduce that if it doesn’t have the checkmark, by implication it’s not a ‘better for you’ product. They want to have a choice. They don’t want to be told ‘You must do this.’ ”
Dr. Kennedy, who is not paid for her work on the program, defended the products endorsed by the program, including sweet cereals. She said Froot Loops was better than other things parents could choose for their children.
“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”
So that is the bottom line of the program? Better than a doughnut? What is next – potato chips with the check mark because they’re better than pork rinds? My advice – take a few seconds and read the label and realize than with 12 grams of sugar per serving, “Froot Loops [has] more sugar than in many popular brands of cookies” … and is therefore not the healthiest thing to have for breakfast.