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“Smart choice” food labels misleading?

14 September 2009 2,110 views No Comment

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Smart Choices?
Registered Dietitian Keri Glassman spoke to Jeff Glor about new controversial food labels called “Smart Choices” meant to help shoppers choose healthier food and beverages.
A Smart Choices checkmark logo on a bottle of syrup.  (CBS)
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Experts Say Industry Food Labels Deceptive
(CBS)  A new food-labeling campaign called “Smart Choices,” which is backed by many of the nation’s largest food makers, was designed to help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices. The green checkmark is already showing up on grocery store shelves across the country, but many critics of the program are claiming that the labels are misleading.

Experts Say Industry Food Labels Deceptive

Registered dietician Keri Glassman said on “The Early Show” Monday that to qualify for the Smart Choices Program nutrition symbol, products must meet specific nutritional benchmarks. For example, foods cannot exceed “nutrients to limit” including: total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium. Additionally, products must include one or more “nutrients to encourage,” such as vitamin C, or provide at least a one-half serving from at least one “food group to encourage,” such as vegetables.


Get a complete look at specific nutrient requirements in each “Smart Choices” Program food category.


However, different foods have different qualifications. Glassman explained the foods are categorized into 19 different categories and have different standards. Snacks, for example, have a different standard than cereals.

The program, originally devised by The Keystone Center, a nonprofit organization, was designed to help remove customers’ confusion about different claims or call-outs on packages, and to help lead consumers to healthier choices. Scientists, consumer organizations and the food industry all had a say in the program. However, Glassman said, Smart Choices was then handed off to the American Society for Nutrition to administer. And then, guidelines were derived from the Dietary Guidelines of America and other sources, such as the Institute of Medicine.

“Early Show” substitute co-anchor Jeff Glor remarked that the program has gotten confusing along the way. He added the Smart Choices Program has come under fire for giving checkmarks to some sugary products. Kellogg’s Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies, Frosted Flakes and Keebler Cookie Crunch, which contain roughly 40 percent of calories from sugar, qualified for the checkmark, Glassman said, because an exception was made.

Glassman explained foods in most product categories cannot qualify for a check if more than 25 percent of their calories come as added sugars, but the exception was made to include these cereals because they are the lesser of dietary evils. For people who reach for even more sugary breakfast options, such as donuts, Glassman said, these cereals are a better choice.

“But we know, obviously, there are much better choices out there,” she said. “… If this check mark guides you to the box, you can’t take any shortcuts, you still need to read the nutrition, read the ingredients list and remember the best foods out there – whole foods — don’t come in packages — so you won’t see the green check mark — so don’t forget those foods.”

Several companies, including Kraft Foods, Unilever, Kellogg Company, ConAgra Foods, Tyson Foods, PepsiCo and General Mills, have joined the program.

© MMIX, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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