Nutrition Data, Front and Center
Nutritionists, public health officials, and food companies have for years sought a consumer-friendly means of posting useful nutrition information on food packages. Some individual companies and retail chains have adopted their own. But those scattershot efforts may just add to the confusion consumers feel in the grocery store.
So I'll be watching with interest to see whether the new Smart Choices Program unveiled yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association lives up to expectations. Developed under the guidance of the nonprofit The Keystone Center, the Smart Choices Program has, according to its p.r. people, attracted the interest and likely participation of more than a dozen major food manufacturers and retailers, from Kraft to WalMart. Packages with Smart Choices Program labels may be in stores by mid-2009.
Under the program, foods that meet the program's nutritional standards (which are clearly laid on out on its Web site) will bear a green check-mark logo on the front of their package. Also right up front: the calorie count and the number of servings per package.
To qualify for that green checkmark, products can't exceed the program's standards -- based on the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other sources that follow science-based criteria -- for specific "nutrients to limit" such as trans fat, added sugars and sodium. Products in most of the program's 18 food categories also must offer nutritional benefits in the form of "nutrients to encourage" (such as calcium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and E) and "food groups to encourage" (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).
The program's designed to be flexible enough to accommodate new scientific findings and will easily adapt to whatever changes might come when the next set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans are issued in 2010, says Eileen Kennedy, a professor and nutrition policy expert at Tufts University who is part of the coalition that developed the Smart Choices Program.
I've spent enough time in grocery stores comparing Nutrition Facts Panels and squinting at ingredients lists to welcome some consistency and simplicity in food labeling. And I like the way this program considers both the presence of good nutrients and the absence of less-good ones.
The program depends, though, on big companies' signing on, setting aside their own agendas. Otherwise, that green checkmark's just going to add to the clutter.
Have a look at the Smart Choices Program Web site and let me know what you think. Does it look like it would help you make better food choices?
New this week: Since Tuesday is nutrition day at The Checkup, we'll be posting a healthful recipe here every week. Today we've got this pasta dish featuring brussels sprouts and hazelnuts from health.com. Enjoy!
Posted by: Fooducate | October 28, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse
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