Sunday, October 11, 2009

Food Labeling: Grocers Further Confuse the Chaotic Nutrition Info on Packaged Foods


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A handful of new programs have appeared on the labels of the food industry's bigger conglomerates, attempting to single out healthy foods. Are they marketing major nutritional assets of the foods or trying to inflate the perceived value of the smaller, healthy ingredients? You decide:

Labels that can already be found on most packaged foods include:
  • Nutrition facts box
  • Ingredients list (in descending order by volume)
  • American Heart Association's Check mark (indicating higher fiber and whole grain content)
  • At least 5 major food companies use their own healthy choice icons, further confusing consumers (notably Kraft, PepsiCo, Kellog's, General Mills, Unilever)
  • Questionable labels on many convenience and junk foods tout the benefits of minimal healthy components to help sell such sugar, fat or salt-laden foods to parents of clamboring children.
The newest programs, such as Nutrition IQ, NuVal ratings and Smart Choice ratings are each based on different criteria and may exclude snacks, desserts and condiments. As a result, one system may give a food a low rating, while it receives a much higher rank from another system.

One example is Kellog's Frosted Flakes cereal, which receives low scores by two rating systems and yet qualified as a "Smart Choice" by the American Dietetic Association. Go figure how Tony the Tiger was able to get nutritional kudos.

Given all this confusion, how is a smart shopper supposed to sort through all the propaganda? Start by asking yourself three important questions:
  1. Is it real or artificial?
  2. What chemicals, preservatives, food coloring, herbicides, and artificial ingredients are present?
  3. Is it a fresh, unprocessed food? (No ingredient label usually equals fresh and unprocessed. An example would be a vegetable)
Remember, processed foods lose much of their natural nutritional value. If optimum health is your goal, try to purchase most of your foods from the outside edges of the supermarket: produce, dairy, meat, fish, poultry, bread (better yet, make your own). It's also good to own and use a guide to food additives--something like the one I've highlighted below. You can purchase it by clicking through here, right to Amazon. I do try to make healthy living easier for you.

Of course, you'll need staples from the interior of the store. Think "The Basics" and check my posts at Saving Money on Organic Meals and Saving with CSAs, Coops and Buying Clubs, for ways to save on your food budget.

Check back for an upcoming post on grocery staples. I'll evaluate my list of staples: fresh vs. processed and we'll see how it stacks up.

Sources: FDA, NYU, Orlando Sentinel

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