Food Labeling Systems Distinguish "Bad" From "Not As Bad"

Things have gotten very bad indeed. The New York Times recently reported about the introduction of a new food labeling system called Smart Choices. Under the new system, consumers will find that Froot Loops, Fudgsicles, and mayonnaise will get the seal of approval. Yes, these highly processed, sugar laden options, we are told, will be designated as "smart."

In whose universe are these items considered "healthy?"

Eileen T. Kennedy, who is the president of the Smart Choices board, as well as the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, defended the program. She shared a hypothetical scenario of a busy, time-stressed parent trying to make healthy choices while shopping in the grocery store. He can purchase either donuts or Froot Loops. The parent sees the smart label and grabs the Froot Loops, because it is the better option.

Just how does this scenario offer an acceptable resolution? Froot Loops contains 12 grams, or 2 1/2 teaspoons, of sugar in one serving. The American Heart Association just released sugar guidelines for adults a couple of weeks ago. The organization recommended that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons per day and men consume a maximum of 8 teaspoons. Though guidelines were not released for children, I can hardly believe that filling a young, 30 lb body with a sugar laden cereal is a great way to start the day.

It seems that the very people who study nutrition and advise the public have given up on our ability to choose wholesome foods. Indeed, we've gotten to the point where the advice from nutritionists focuses on which product is not as bad as the other, as opposed to which food is truly a healthy choice.

Smart Choices is an industry funded program. Its goal is to get consumers to buy products. Buyer beware. If you want to make a good choice for your child, don't worry about comparing dozens of labels. Instead, shop the perimeter of the store. Buy fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole wheat bread products. When you do buy packaged foods, look for those with the fewest ingredients. Look for minimal sugar and good fiber and protein content. Don't trust a seal that an industry product has developed for marketing purposes.

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