Froot Loops Qualify for the new “Smart Choices” Label (?!)


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  261 comments   :  29,372 Views

You’ve probably seen those new green checkmark labels that are starting to show up on lots of packaged food products in your grocery store. The label is intended to be a guide for consumers who want to make healthier choices when shopping for groceries. It’s part of a new program called “Smart Choices” that’s sponsored by a group of 10 major food producers, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Tyson Foods, and PepsiCo.

In order to display the Smart Choice label, a product must meet nutritional guidelines established by the program, which set limits on the amount of sugar, salt, and fat a product can contain, and specify that it should have a certain amount of desired nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Sounds pretty good, right? Many people don’t pay much attention to the food labels on these same products, so having a simple label prominently displayed on the front of the package could be a good way to let people know which products are more nutritionally sound than others.

But as usual, the devil is in the details—in this case, the details of the program’s nutritional guidelines. It seems that both Froot Loops and Cocoa Crispies are eligible for the Smart Choice label, as are both lite and regular mayonnaise, and any frozen or packaged meals with up to 600 milligrams of sodium in them (25% of the recommended maximum intake).

What’s going on here?

Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department of the Harvard School of Public Health, told the New York Times that “these are terrible choices.” He claimed that the nutritional criteria adopted by the Smart Choices program allowed less healthy products like artificially sweetened cereals and heavily salted processed meals to win its seal of approval, and rendered the program “not credible.”

Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture have decided to closely monitor the use of the Smart Choices label. They’ve already sent the program a letter stating that they are concerned that the Smart Choices could have “the effect of encouraging consumers to choose highly processed foods and grains instead of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”

On the other side of the fence is Dr. Eileen Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tuft’s University. She said (in the NYT article) that the label isn’t designed to distinguish “healthy” foods from “unhealthy” foods in any absolute way, because people don't much like to be told what they should or shouldn't eat. Rather, “the checkmark means the food item is a ‘better for you’ product….You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a donut and a cereal. So Froot Loops is a better choice.”

Using this logic, Froot Loops qualifies for the label because it meets the Smart Choices program’s standards for fiber, Vitamins A and C, and does not exceed the limits for fat, sodium or sugar. But it has the maximum allowed amount of sugar per serving (12 grams), the vitamins are all added, and the sugar content is 41% of the product, by weight.

According to Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “you could start out with some sawdust, add calcium or Vitamin A, and meet the criteria.”

The debate over the Smart Choices program reveals some pretty important and basic questions about what we ought to mean when we say that a food is a “smart” choice. Is it enough to toss a few vitamins into a highly processed product made mainly out of refined grains and sugar, making it better for you than a doughnut? Or should the basic idea be to help people understand the importance of choosing whole grains, fruits and veggies, and minimally processed foods as much as possible? What about all the important substances in natural foods—things like the more than 250 phytochemicals and other chemicals that play an important role in maintaining good health, and just aren’t to be found in heavily processed foods? Is it realistic to think that many people will truly benefit from having a “better for you” label, even though the product itself is a pretty long ways from being nutritionally ideal?

What do you think? Is the Smart Choices label something you’d rely on when you’re trying to figure out what to buy?

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  • 211
    I swear, I could put a bunch of kindergarten children in most of the roles where corprate america sets and get sounder decisions made. The sad fact is that the vast majority will see that stupid, useless check mark on the package and feel great about throwing it in the grocery cart and then wonder why little junior is such a chunky kid. Knowledge is power, and I intend to spread as much of that knowledge to anyone who will listen. - 9/16/2009   1:23:33 PM
  • 210
    This in a nutshell is why we are an overweight population. Too many "credible" people giving the wrong advice. I am obviously engaged and obsessed wth reading about healthy living so I know that froot loops are never a smart choice, whether they have added vitamins or not. BUT for all of those people out there who aren't engaged, they are just going to buy that product with the check mark and think they made a great choice for their children. and that's what the big companies are counting on.

    makes me sick. - 9/16/2009   12:32:32 PM
  • 209
    I wouldn't use that to guide me, but plenty of people will. I'm a HUGE label reader now. If I'm looking at bread, pasta or cereal and the first thing isn't WHOLE... then it goes back. Second thing I look for is HFCS, got to put that back also. That's why when I find a product I tend to stick with it. - 9/16/2009   11:51:50 AM
    Let me see....a program sponsored by 10 major food companies names their own unhealthy products as healthy? Shocking!
    - 9/16/2009   11:23:14 AM
  • NPAUL929
    I'd like to comment on post # 204 by DixieDD - Yes, they do!! - 9/16/2009   9:16:02 AM
  • 206
    You've got to be kidding? Do they think the American consumer is so stupid? - 9/15/2009   11:12:31 PM
    I agree that these labels should identify REAL healthy choices. It is a farce, the corporations pay to get these labels. The best thing to do is read the ingredients and make sure that you are purchasing a healthy product. - 9/15/2009   2:35:55 PM
  • 204
    How exciting!!! Now I can eat fruit loops and mayo and have not guilt!
    Seriously, this is silly. i have always read labels... is the american public so lazy that they will not read labels and start to believe little green check marks? Really? And really, is there anyone who truly thinks that fruit loops is a good breakfast choice? WOW! This whole thing is silly. If you want fruit loops, eat them, just don't pretend that they are good for you!!! - 9/15/2009   2:33:01 PM
    I never read the front of the container, only the nutional info on the side or back. - 9/14/2009   3:08:54 PM
  • 202
    How did this get on SparkPeople. What if someone believes this??? Darn, I wanted to but I've been here too long. - 9/14/2009   2:23:26 PM
    Once again, corporatism rears its ugly head. Notice the phrase "It’s part of a new program called “Smart Choices” that’s sponsored by a group of 10 major food producers, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Tyson Foods, and PepsiCo.". I always look for who sponsored the group, not just the name (titles mean nothing), but the sponsors. It really opens your eyes.

    This reminds me of the "educational television" question back in the 1980s, in which TNT applied to be "educational television because they showed programs like "The Jetsons" as "a vision of a possible future." Funny and sickening at the same time. - 9/14/2009   1:29:32 PM
  • 200
    I think that the label, which is supposedly for people who are rushing around, is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard of. We all know that fresh foods and wheat are good and processed foods (especially garbage like Fruit Loops) are bad. Why do we need a label to confuse us, or justify bad choices? There should be a label that says "not as bad", rather than "healthy". Healthy= squash, NOT Fruit Loops. - 9/14/2009   12:16:11 PM
  • 199
    Don't trust these little logos -- always read the nutrition label and compare. Decide once and for all to toss the non-nutritious stuff. I have noticed that Sparkpeople Food Showdown sometimes compares two bad items -- as choosing the lesser of two evils. Let's choose food that is not bad for us, only good for us! - 9/14/2009   8:40:14 AM
  • 198
    Other than a couple of brands of HFCS-free 100% whole-wheat breads, I tend to stay away from packaged foods altogether. There are so many additives, preservatives and flavour enhancers in packaged foods that I tend to question how good it could possibly be for *any* body - so I try not to put it in my own body. I may overeat, but at least I choose to overeat things that are recognisable as food, rather than as a list of chemicals! :)
    - 9/14/2009   6:15:16 AM
  • 197
    Thanks for the blog. It is sad that packaging is fooling people. READ THE NUTRITION FACTS on the package. - 9/13/2009   11:09:11 PM
  • 196
    I agree that it is really fooling too many people into thinking that they are eating healthy. - 9/13/2009   11:05:20 PM
  • 195
    Well, they can label away with fancy , "supposed to be healthy" labels, won't make it so. I will continue to READ the label for myself, and be my own judge. Loopes and cocoa crispies will NOT end up in me, I prefer cereals High in Fiber! Neither would qualify. The rest of the ingredients are also suspcious! A good consumer will keep thier eyes open!!! - 9/13/2009   10:26:26 PM
  • 194
    DUH! It's sponsored by 10 major food producers. Do you really expect them to say thier products are unhealthy? I base my decision on reading the ingredients and nutritional info, and on price/value. - 9/13/2009   7:10:03 PM
  • 193
    uhm uhm.... That is why I do not believe in labels. They are part of the product marketing... - 9/13/2009   7:00:32 PM
  • 192
    Anyone who is relying an advertiser's label of their own product for the sum of their nutrition knowledge is not very smart to start with, lol. I think we should learn about what we are eating from independent sources. - 9/13/2009   6:48:08 PM
    This is exactly why we need to take our time while food shopping and read the FDA food labels. Silly companies trying to trick us but we have sparkpeople on our side. - 9/13/2009   6:37:29 PM
  • 190
    No wonder we're an increasingly obese signals like these. And then there's the GMOs consideration. SO SAD!!!!!!

    But even sadder is that Coach Dean isn't leading the SP Cincy morning walk -- WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! - 9/13/2009   6:19:45 PM
  • GRACED24/7
    This is silly but many unsuspecting people will far of it because they habitually let some "outside authority" decide what is best for them. We have to take our health and food choices in our own hands!!! Big companies are out to earn BIG BUCKS on uninformed consumers!!! - 9/13/2009   5:22:42 PM
    I have noticed those labels before and have used them as an extra contributor to my decision to buy the product. THANK YOU for bringing this to my attention. While I normally read labels, there are days I'm rushing around the grocery store before picking my daughter up from daycare and would be willing to trust that little label. Now I know better, and am very dissapointed that the criteria for this label is so low. - 9/13/2009   4:54:20 PM
  • 187
    I always read the entire nutrition label, paying special attention to serving size. It's the only way to be sure. I stopped paying attention to so-called seals of approval on food a long time ago. Often, it's a meaningless self-designated marketing ploy by the manufacturer. Even when it's a third party endorsement, it usually speaks more to how much the manufacturer was willing to pay that third party rather than any true level of healthiness. - 9/13/2009   4:44:42 PM
  • 186
    What a crock! Thank you for sharing this information and shame on these companies and the directors of this program! - 9/13/2009   3:57:37 PM
  • 185
    So very sad that junk cereal can be labeled as a "smart choice". Nutrition education needs to be incorporated more in the school programs and in the home. The average person can't make heads or tails of most of this. I saw a lady in the grocery store the other day helping her obese (maybe 5 year old) decide between Pop tarts, Cocoa Krispies, or Sugar pops. Then, I heard her tell the little girl "No,the Dr. said you should have fruit roll ups". Well, I guess that was good she didn't let her have that too. I don't even take my kids down the cereal isle. The stuff that is marketed to kids is just crap! What a shame. - 9/13/2009   3:05:09 PM
  • 184
    Wow, so I'm supposed to put my faith in a round table of corporations whose main objective is profits? That's like the putting the fox in charge of the hen house. It's already tricky enough staying on top of all these various differentials on food labels, ingredient listings, and serving sizes. In this case, I think that it would be best if I watch out for my own well being and keep in mind that their stamp is basically just a marketing tool. - 9/13/2009   2:49:30 PM
  • MMOUSE1977
    I feel anything supported or promoted by the FDA cannot really be trusted- any corporation that works in tandem with the medical system and pharmaceutical companies is worth questioning, in my opinion. - 9/13/2009   1:06:21 PM
  • 182
    I can't believe these companies can get away with these kinds of marketing tactics. It's ridiculous! - 9/13/2009   1:03:28 PM
  • 181
    This is such a terrible thing to do fool the public with semantics of words that many trust them and do not know thefacts about certain words used on products. Have to check labels very carefull esp. the no sugar added ones. - 9/13/2009   12:58:05 PM
  • 180
    Once again, I'll say that you can't rely on what's on the front of ANY package --- READ THE NUTRITION INFORMATION LABEL. Anyone that thinks Froot Loops is a "healthier" choice, I'm sorry, is just plain ignorant. It's only obviously filled with sugar!
    No, I don't rely on that green check mark - I still read labels. - 9/13/2009   12:45:42 PM
  • 179
    With that mentality the "smart choice" could be applied to ANYTHING! Donuts would be "better for you" than eating Draino! - 9/13/2009   12:45:01 PM
  • 178
    I'm a label reader so it won't impact me much and generally unhealthy people won't really know what it's about, just another thing on the box! - 9/13/2009   11:01:21 AM
    This label, Smart Choice, is misleading and this should be brought to the public's attention. Thank you! - 9/13/2009   9:51:32 AM
    I love Froot Loops because they are loaded with sugar, fully recognizing the cereal is not the best thing I could be eating. Having the US government endorse a program labeling it as a "Smart Choice" provides me no assurance that the cereal is actually healthful for me. - 9/13/2009   9:17:55 AM
    I think the outrage of this board proves 1 thing. Most people know what smart choices are. Some people just avoid them. Noone ever said I think potatoe chips are healthy because they are made of potatoes. Everyone knows that addage everything in moderation. What they need are cigarette style warning labels on alot of products because they are not only not healthy they should be downright illegal.

    Further low-fat products etc, are not necessarily good for you. They will find this out in a few years. Some people know it today. When you take out the fat, what you are left with is the carbs, sugar sugar and more sugar. Again it is about balance. Further many low-fat foods that get that label are actually reduced fat. Learn to read labels when you are eating processed foods. That is the trick, or eat natural foods. Don't bother with the organic label, half the time it is just as bad. Standards for organic foods are terrible. It can be like we didn't add the pestacides but we set up show next to a place that air sprays so we're organic but they're not. That kind of thing. As always buyer beware. Grow you're own food if you are that worried about it. Unless you live in antarctica it is easy, cheap, and can be fun. - 9/13/2009   7:11:31 AM
  • 174
    "Is the Smart Choices label something you’d rely on when you’re trying to figure out what to buy?"

    Lord NO! I've recently read a couple of TERRIFIC articles related to this issue, one by my food guru Michael (Eat food, mostly plants, not too much) Pollan "Big Food vs. Big Insurance (

    "Passing a health care reform bill, no matter how ambitious, is only the first step in solving our health care crisis. To keep from bankrupting ourselves, we will then have to get to work on improving our health — which means going to work on the American way of eating."

    and Barbara Berkeley's latest blog from Refuse To Regain (
    /) "Is Obesity a Disease?"

    From the article: "Defeating obesity involves personal choice. It also involves cultural choice. One cannot succeed without the other. Let us make a start with simple education and accountability. There is no room for penalizing obese persons until we have made the task of losing weight and keeping it off a reasonable, possible goal. This will not occur without major changes in the food industry and in our modern cultural attitudes toward eating." - 9/13/2009   12:31:56 AM
  • 173
    Most real food doesn't have a label full of ingredients that you can't pronounce. Some of the best foods don't have labels at all. - 9/12/2009   7:51:11 PM
  • 172
    Thank goodness I know better, but I feel for those gullible sheeples out there. Eat REAL food and you don't have to read labels. - 9/12/2009   7:22:25 PM
    I'm glad I am teaching my daughter about healthy choices. She has brought things to me that have the check mark on them and we go through the nutritional info and she puts it back knowing that it isn't that healthy. She would prefer to eat plain shredded wheat, whole fruits, etc and if she is going to have something that is not healthy to make it a true treat such as the occasional candy bar, etc. I am glad my daughter is realizing that these places trick you. She also says that is why people are not healthy is because of the food producers not caring. - 9/12/2009   7:03:32 PM
  • 170
    Thank you for the info! I've noticed the "Smart Choices" logo on lots of food products but never thought it would also include not-so-healthy foods. Even though I read the actual nutritional label and not the packaged advertising, I have friends who don't read labels and would trust a logo like the "Smart Choices" one. Now I can better inform them. It's so sad that many people don't take the time to really understand what it is they are eating and putting into their bodies. - 9/12/2009   6:08:32 PM
  • 169
    So why doesn't Hostess put some fiber (Benefiber or Fibersure can be used in baked goods) and vitamins in their donuts. Then they could get the Smart Choices label, too.
    How ridiculous!

    I've been advised to "read the back of the box, not the front". I think it's still good advice.

    Dr. Kennedy and Tuft's University should be ashamed of themselves!
    - 9/12/2009   4:49:59 PM
    Once again the FDA has let us down, Fruit Loops a 'healthy choice" Give me a break! - 9/12/2009   4:31:36 PM
  • 167
    To answer the question. No - I would not use the smart choices check mark to guide me in which product to buy. In addition - I will use this to teach my students yet another form of propaganda. Thanks for this example - I would have "blindly" trusted the label - and I should know better! - 9/12/2009   4:08:21 PM
    I just try to buy as many foods as I can WITHOUT an ingredient list and go from there. Fruit, veggies, milk, etc. That way there is no hidden anything. If I want something sweet, I have to make it from scratch. Means I make less sweets but when I do, I am aware of their contents. - 9/12/2009   1:53:53 PM
  • 165
    I've never had faith in a system endorsed by the food manufacturers. We need to look out for ourselves, since they are out for profit, and could care less about our health. - 9/12/2009   1:47:36 PM
    There was an investigation into this label in Canada on CBC. I do not trust this Smart Choices label after the findings the reporter found. However, I do read labels to compare brands. That is the only way to find out whether products meet standards or healthy living goals. I think Smart Choices may be getting a kick back from the companies they advocate. Interesting thought considering most of the products with this label are not healthy. - 9/12/2009   1:43:03 PM
  • 163
    I agaree with ELENASAN, there should be some more tougher guideline for them to follow. What is the FDA there for if this is going on. I wouldsay to everyone, just follow your health instincts and everything else you have been taught. - 9/12/2009   11:21:39 AM
  • 162
    No industry should be allowed to rate itself in anyway. Most consumers won't realize that this is industry-driven. What's to monitor? They're recommending foods high in sodium, fat and sugar. They're promoting highly processed foods over fresh foods. FDA, get a clue. - 9/12/2009   9:35:29 AM

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