Food manufacturers are trying to make you think that processed food is just as healthy as unprocessed food. The New York Times reported on September 8 that there’s a new green checkmark label called Smart Choices that is starting to show up in grocery stores now. You’ll see it on hundreds of packages, including, get this, cereals like Cocoa Krispies and Froot Loops. Just thinking about these cereals makes my teeth ache from all the sugar in them! This new food-labeling campaign is backed by big food manufacturers like Kraft, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and PepsiCo (no surprise there), and is designed to “help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices.”
Eileen T. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board and the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said the program was based on government dietary guidelines and widely accepted nutritional standards, as well as research into consumer behavior. That research showed that, while shoppers wanted more information, they did not want to hear negative messages or feel their choices were being dictated to them.
Dr. Kennedy says: “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,’ ” because consumers want to have a choice. They don’t want to be told ‘You must do this.’ ” Dr. Kennedy defended the products endorsed by the program, including sweet cereals. Here’s what she said about a hypothetical parent in the supermarket: “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,” “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”
Dr. Kennedy, how about giving your kid an organic apple instead!
Froot Loops, you should know, contains the maximum amount of sugar allowed under the program for cereals, 12 grams per serving, which in the case of Froot Loops is 41 percent of the product by weight. That’s more sugar than in many cookies!
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, was part of a panel that helped devise the Smart Choices nutritional criteria, until he quit last September. He said the panel was dominated by members of the food industry, and he objected to some of the panel’s nutritional decisions. The criteria allow foods to carry the Smart Choices seal if they contain added nutrients, which he said could mask shortcomings in the food.
So, for example, the criteria allow breads made with no whole grains to get the seal if they have added nutrients. Jacobson said: “You could start out with some sawdust, add calcium or Vitamin A and meet the criteria.”
Be aware…if you see this green checkmark Smart Choices label, know who is behind it! Eat real food whenever you can…preferably food without labels. Shop locally, find your farmer at your local farmer’s market, start your own garden. That’s the real smart choice in food!