As a country we have become so confused about what to eat that we need expert guidance to steer us to the right choices. Unfortunately, some “experts” seem even more ignorant than the average US consumer. If you are counting on the Smart Choices label to help you, your chances of being healthy are sadly slim. Some highlights from a New York Times article by William Neuman:
“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’s criteria were based on government dietary guidelines and widely accepted nutritional standards.
She said the program was also influenced by 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.
The [Smart Choices] 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.’ ”
Are we smart enough? I wonder if avocados and whole grains in the bulk section come with the Smart Choices label? Yet Froot Loops meets these ‘widely accepted nutritional standards.’
Kennedy claimed that “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, if you want to pick a “less-bad” choice, look for the Smart Choices label. If you want healthy food – avoid the label.
“Froot Loops is an excellent source of many essential vitamins and minerals and it is also a good source of fiber with only 12 grams of sugar,” said Celeste A. Clark, senior vice president of global nutrition for Kellogg’s, which makes Froot Loops. “You cannot judge the nutritional merits of a food product based on one ingredient.”
Should we judge foods based on nutrients that are not inherently in the food? The ‘merits’ of Froot Loops do not come from the food ingredients used to make the cereal, but rather the sludge of added vitamins and minerals. Might it make sense to get our B vitamins and iron from actual foods?
As Michael Jacobson points out, “You could start out with some sawdust, add calcium or Vitamin A and meet the criteria.”
“The object of this is to make highly processed foods appear as healthful as unprocessed foods, which they are not,” said Marion Nestle.”
In an article titled “Smart Choice Foods: Dumb As They Look?,” Rebecca Ruiz writes:
Richard Kahn, Ph.D, a panel participant… said the guidelines were designed to help people who are currently making “terrible, terrible choices” with their diets.
Kahn, who was formerly the chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetic Association, said it seemed unrealistic to point consumers toward less-processed foods like fruits and vegetables because the intended audience of the Smart Choices program comprises those who might be choosing between a sugary cereal and a doughnut.
Perhaps the label should come with a footnote saying, “intended for people who make terrible, terrible food choices.” Then we would know if we would benefit from the label or not.
I think the main problem is this was funded by food companies. Am I the only one who would find the justification for ‘smart choices’ comical, if it weren’t for the fact that people looking for guidance would actually be swayed by this nonsense?
It appears that the program has been ‘voluntarily halted.’ But if I saw a product with the logo on it, I would take it as a good bet that the item is a junk choice.