On October 21, 2009, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced they were cracking down on food labeling that makes it appear certain foods have more nutritional value than they really do. Specifically, the crackdown targets the "Smart Choices" label, which food corporations use to rate food products which are "smart food and beverage choices."
What food products qualify as "Smart Choices"?
Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops, Corn Pops (General Mills)
Lunchables Chicken and Mozzarella
Hellman's mayonnaise (Kraft)
BAGEL-FULS Bagel Filled with Strawberry Cream Cheese (Kraft)
Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers frozen entrees (Conagra)
Wesson corn, peanut and vegetable oils (Wesson)
There are also two categories of fruits and vegetables - "with additives" and "with no additives."
Scared yet? How about the requirements for a food to be labeled a "Smart Choice"?
- Total fat less than 35% of calories and saturated fat less than 10% of calories (with a stipulation of 'no labeled' trans fat), cholesterol less than 60mg, sodium less than 480mg per serving, added sugars less than 25% of calories
- Must provide 10% or more of one of the following: calcium, potassium, magnesium, fiber, vitamins A, C or E
- Must provide a half-serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains (not 100% whole grain) or low-fat/fat-free dairy
Are they serious? Eating healthy, balanced meals does not require a PhD. in nutition, nor does it take hours of poring over nutrition labeling. It can even be done by the color-blind, no need for stickers.
Easy ways to choose healthy food without taxing your brain:
- Pick whole foods. Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables (skip the additives), lean cuts of meat, low-fat or fat-free dairy (they did get that one right). Rinse canned meats and beans to reduce their sodium (or cook dried beans at home).
- Skip boxed and frozen dinners and make them yourself. You'll save money, sodium, preservatives, colorings, texturizers and excess calories. It's as simple as tossing sliced chicken together with some frozen veggies and a little hoisin or (low-salt, real) soy sauce.
- Put only "100% whole grain" carbs into the cart - breads, cereals, side dishes. The "100%" is a nutritional guideline, while "whole grains" is empty promises.
- Go cheap on protein. Eggs ($0.17 per serving), peanut butter ($0.30 - $0.42), canned salmon ($0.59), canned tuna ($0.35) and dried beans ($0.20) are excellent sources of cheap, healthy nutrition.
- Make oatmeal for breakfast and popcorn for a snack. Huge savings on serving costs, calories and both are excellent sources of natural fiber.
- Avoid any food with more than five ingredients or ingredients that are unpronounceable. If that much science has gone into a food product, it's more product than food.