How Can Froot Loops be a "Smart Choice"?

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Image Courtesy of Marion Nestle

You may recall my previous posts about the new Smart Choices program. This program was developed by food processors to identify products that are ostensibly "better for you" because they supposedly contain more good nutrients and fewer bad ones. This program is about marketing processed foods and I wouldn't ordinarily take it seriously except that several nutrition professional associations are involved in this program and the American Society of Nutrition is managing it. In effect, this means that nutritionists are endorsing products that bear the Smart Choices logo.

So what products are nutritionists endorsing? I went grocery shopping last week and bought my first Smart Choice product: Froot Loops!

Look for the check mark in the upper right of the package. Frosted Flakes also qualifies for this logo, and do take a look at what else is on the approved list.

A close look a the Nutrition Facts label of Froot Loops shows that it has 12 grams of added sugars in a 110-calorie serving. That's 44 percent of the calories (12 times 4 calories per gram divided by 110). The usual program maximum for sugar is 25 percent of calories but it makes an exception for sugary breakfast cereals. Note that the fiber content is less than one gram per serving, which makes this an especially low-fiber cereal.

OK. I understand that companies want to market their processed foods, but I cannot understand why nutrition societies thought it would be a good idea to get involved with this marketing scheme. It isn't. The American Society of Nutrition gets paid to manage this program. It should not be doing this.

But, you may well ask, where is the FDA in regulating what goes on package labels?

Good news: I am happy to report that our new FDA is on the job!  FDA officials have written a letter to the manager of the program.  Although the letter is worded gently, I interpret its language as putting the program on high alert:

FDA and FSIS would be concerned if any FOP [Front of Package] labeling systems used criteria that were not stringent enough to protect consumers against misleading claims; were inconsistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; or had the effect of encouraging consumers to choose highly processed foods and refined grains instead of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains [my emphasis].

I can't wait to see how all of this plays out, but I view the FDA's letter as an excellent sign that the agency will be taking a good hard look at these marketing schemes. I'm also hoping that the FDA will consider the U.K.'s traffic light system. That system is much more about health and much less about marketing. See, for example, the traffic lights on this vegetarian product I picked up in London earlier this month:

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Image Courtesy of Marion Nestle

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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