When “Smart” Food Choices Aren’t So Smart

Check this out: According to certain food industry standards, Froot Loops Cereal is considered a “Smart Choice” for consumers.  Predictably, many nutritionists beg to differ. The New York Times published a great piece about the subject in a recent investigation of the Smart Choice label.

So what is a Smart Choice label?

The Smart Choice label contains a big green checkmark and lists the number of calories per serving and servings per container in a package. It lets customers know what foods have met certain nutritional standards. According to WebMD, there are two ways to qualify. Foods must either 1) limit total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium, while including vitamins, calcium, fiber and other nutrients, or 2) they must contain fruits, vegetables, whole grains or low-fat or fat-free dairy. Unfortunately, the amounts of these ingredients required to qualify are not disclosed.

Butter as Food?

One issue that might give consumers pause is that the Smart Choices labeling program was developed by scientists, health and nutrition specialists who may not have been completely impartial. The Times quoted one member of the advisery panel that developed the Smart Choice criteria. “It was paid for by industry and when industry put down its foot and said this is what we’re doing, that was it, end of story,” said Michael Jacobson, who is also executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He eventually resigned from the panel. 

Digging a little deeper on the program’s Web site reveals that while fruits and vegetables, meat alternatives and bottled water get the Smart Choice label, so are fats, oils, spreads and butter, among other questionable choices. Even Kraft Macaroni and Cheese qualifies as a Smart Choice under the program.

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