You can’t walk into a grocery store without seeing bolded claims adorning every box, package, and wrapper in the store. Low fat! High fiber! Smart choices! Though Nutrition Facts labels don’t lie, it’s easy to get distracted by these misleading claims.
But just as your head is beginning to spin, there are several new nutrition labeling programs—some on packages, some on shelves—that are trying to address the need for simple nutrition information and direction. Do any of these help you if you’re trying to lose weight? Maybe, but whether you’re counting calories, carbs, fat, or fiber, I think it’s important to rely on the good ol’ Nutrition Facts panel and the ingredients list. Here’s a quick and dirty take on some of the new programs:
- A big green can’t-miss-it check marks the packages of healthier foods.
- Debatable criteria
Though a lot of experts weighed in on the program, several major food companies helped fund the program and companies pay to be involved. Low-calorie foods that are void of nutritional value (like Froot Loops) are receiving check marks, and consumers aren’t fooled. The Smart Choices website defends the Froot Loops inclusion by claiming “pre-sweetened cereals have been demonstrated to be a good source of vitamins and minerals for children,” but the program has drawn criticism from Forbes, The New York Times, and Nightline.
- Too much emphasis on calories
Calories and servings per package are the only numbers beneath the check. But as most of you dieters know, calories alone aren’t everything. A serving of Mueslix has 90 more calories than a serving of Froot Loops, but a lot of people would argue that that doesn’t necessarily mean the Froot Loops are healthier.
- Not all products are included
Because companies pay to get into the Smart Choices program, it doesn’t evaluate every single product in the store. For example, a serving of Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli gives you an equal amount of fiber as check-marked Kellogg’s Mueslix, with no added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, but isn’t in the Smart Choices program.
- One check for all
Kellogg’s Mueslix has more fiber, protein, and B-vitamins than Froot Loops, but they have the same green check on the box. A product could barely meet the criteria or be a superfood and you’d never know the difference.