Last week, we took a look at organic food to better understand what “organic” means, and see if it’s worth the extra cost. Check it out if you missed it. This week, we’re taking a look at a jaw-dropper:
How Smart are “Smart Choices”?
A new TV commercial caught my eye the other day, featuring Froot Loops cereal and its new “Smart Choice” label. Say what? There isn’t even any fruit in the product, which is why it’s spelled “froot”! Let’s see what’s going on here.
The New Smart Choices Labeling Program
According to a press release, Smart Choices is a new food-labeling program designed to promote public health by helping shoppers make smarter food and beverage choices. Product manufacturers are able to use the Smart Choice logo on their product, for a fee, if the product meets certain nutritional criteria.
A recent NY Times article notes that one of the problems, according to critics of the program, is that processed foods that are high in sugar or sodium can be included if they’re enriched with vitamins and minerals.
And the criteria can be modified for different product categories. Which is how Froot Loops, which is 41% added sugar, and includes artificial dyes and trans-fats gets included. While it does include whole grains, I think there’s enough of an argument against teaching our kids that cereals like this one are healthy and smart choices.
I’m not even going to mention that food and beverage manufacturers were involved in developing this program.
My advice has not changed: remember that the front of the package comes from the marketing department, whose job is to sell you the product. Manufacturers have a lot of leeway on what they can say on the front of the package and this new labeling program just reinforces that. To understand if a product really is a “smart choice”, read and understand the ingredients. It’s the only way to know for certain. Better still, reach for the non-processed choices like real fruit (not froot) and vegetables and you won’t have to wonder if you’re making a smart choice.