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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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Wow, Fruit Loops or Coco Crispies, I've heard of them but somehow real food just sounds better, how about a crepe with added protein powder and strawberries on top? They might as well put the seal of approval on attractive, child seductive,well preserved, chemical laden candy...apparenty that's what the partners of crime (Big Food corporations and Big Pharma) that control the government have already done...Just a thought! You can choose for yourself which is better for your children. Maybe North America should take some lessons from the villages of Africa, almost everyone grows their own vegetables (organically) throw their waste to the grass fed goats (which they later eat), grass fed cows, guinea fowl,chickens that run freely, they don't over indulge, they workout regularly, walking miles each day, and if they get sick there are isles of herbal remedies that would be purchased in the drug store for much less than costly drugs. Yes some areas need help, perhaps if we gave up some of our stupidity we could partner up and learn from true simplicity without Froot Loops and Cocoa Crispies. Just another thought! Please understand, I have studied the pathophysiology of disease and I do understand that pharmaceuticals are life savers and sometimes they are absolutely needed, but wake up, prevention through what we learn on Sparkpeople mixed with a little common sense will prevent, heal or at the very least help most conditions that demand medical intervention. "lots of thoughts on my day off--it's reading week for us, I'm a college instructor and teach an allied health program that deals with Mind-Body-Soul connections" Report
Ok for what its worth heres my 2 cents on this. Pretty much most SP are well informed of what is healthy and what is not and we will not buy this BS from companies that are just out there to get the lions share on their products , BUT those folks who are not so wise this MIGHT be of some help, maybe better than none. Regardless this tactic to get consumers to buy their product should def be more realistic with being a healthy item. Report
Are you FLooping kidding me? This is the best news since I found our frozen french fries are a vegetable!! (Rolling my eyes sarcastically) Report
My objection to Fruit Loops has more to do with all the artificial colors added than the amount of sugar. A little sugar is okay for my kids, but the artificial colors seem to cause stomach aches and hyper behavior. Report
Old article is old. Report
I don't believe the "Smart Label" on food - I feel it's just another way for the big corporations to get their piece of the pie. Report
I would not pick these foods, for myself, and buy some of this type of stuff (we call it treat cereal) to be eaten as dessert occasionally. This reminds me of the "Eat This Not That" books, where it really should be "Eat Neither" Report
Consider using the Nuval scoring system. It has robust database and the math and science distill multiple variables to a number between 1 and 100. One meaning little nutritional value and 100 meaning nutrient dense. It helps the consumer to understand the differences between cereals. Not all Kashi cereals are healthy.
If I sell something in a box why would I be gung ho about encouraging people to eat something outside of that box? (i.e. fruit and veg) Not going to happen! I decide what's smart or not... Report
Um no, I consider myself smarter than the smart choices! Report
We are facing an obesity crisis because we are too lazy to read labels and/or cook healthy meals. Of course food makers are going to use this as a marketing tool! "Smart Choice" sounds better than the truth ("Not the worst possible choice") and is catchier! I'm waiting for Krispy Kreme to come out with their "Smart Choice"--Multi-grain with sprinkles anyone? Report
When I first saw those "Smart Choices" labels on cereal, a glimmer of hope came over me. Were corporate execs really getting concerned about the general public's health? How promising, right? Then I read the nutrition label and ingredients. *sigh* Too good to be true. As usual. Report
I read lables rather than rely on such a mark. Same as picking a book that says "New York Times Best Selling Author." Just because the book has that seal doesn't mean I buy it automatically. It's a start, but not the total decision maker. Report
I would still always reccommend reading labels! Report
I don't get why people are disgusted by this "corporate greed." It's the same with any product or service: people want to make what they're selling seem as attractive as possible. "Smart Choice" is a term without any (to my knowledge) legal or nutritional significance. Same as something like "America's favorite (insert product category here)." If the phrase doesn't actually mean anything, it's not really a deception. And of course it's a marketing ploy, just like the name of the product, the picture on the box, the color of the label, the characteristics of the people in the ads, and where it's placed on a shelf in a store. It's up to the manufacturers/sellers to make their products seem as enticing as possible without lying or violating the law, and it's up to consumers to sift through the crap, read the facts on the label, and consider if and how the product might fit into their diet. Report
I don't see the big deal. If you are wondering what a label means, research it. Now we know the food brands themselves invented this label, not a watchdog government organization or a NGO, so it's just another form of marketing. Skimming the nutrition facts for your dietary needs takes a second more than looking for a green label. Also I am far more interested in number of calories versus pure grams of sugar or % of weight as sugar or whether the vitamins are natural or fortified. Report
Outrageous! Report
Thanks for the information. I haven't seen the logo yet up here in Canada, but we will have our own version of stupidity.
2 pathetic 2 believe....

Karen Report
I'm a "read the label" kind of girl. No shortcuts for me!
This isn't all that surprising...I'm pretty sure Lays potato chips have one of those labels... Report
I'm sorry, but this "Smart Choice" program is just plain retarded...only a ROCK doesn't know that cereal is the better choice if you have to choose between cereal and a doughnut...please. I ALWAYS read the nutrition label. I'll pick up 2 or 3 brands of the same food and will decide which one to purchase depending on what the label states. Ever since I learned how to properly read a nutrition label about 5 years ago, I have always read them. And that is the best way to know if something is a healthy's also the ONLY way to know if something is a "smart choice" or not. Report
Reading the list of Ingrediants and the Nutritional info are our best defense to advertising and marketing. Report
This points to the of the things about nutrition that makes me nuts. Many of us don't suffer from being overweight because we make bad choices of individual foods: it's about how you combine the foods into meals, and how much you eat. It may be true that Froot Loops is a better choice than a donut, but it's a worse choice than fresh fruit. But the label doesn't tell you what it's being compared with. It smells like a marketing ploy to me. I thought Eileen Kennedy had a good reputation in the nutrition policy community, but this doesn't sound like one of her better decisions. There is a lot of money at stake for those who sell these products and that is what it's really about. I recommend that people read: "The End of Overreating" by David Kessler, and wake up to what the food companies are trying to do to us. Report
I won't be watching for that. I do read label and closely watch fat, sodium and sugar content. I am trying to limit my fat and sodium intake and slow down but not elimate my sugar content. Don't people care about the consumer anymore rather than how to earn a buck?? Report
I really don't know about anyone else but a double blind McComb children study finds my kids jones'n for things with HFCS. There is a distinct difference in the amount of Sunny D (with HFCS) that my kids will drink as opposed to the local brand of the same type drink. perhaps that example is not germane, nothing REALLY tastes just like Sunny D. But across the board from breads to jam the brand my kids scream for have HFCS. They are also the ones I avoid. I think sooner or later they will find that HFCS is addictive. That's my conspiracy theory for the day!=) Report
In the words of Fmr President Ronald Reagan, "Trust but verify". Unfortunately, you can't just go by a catchy advertising gimick. While label reading can be time consuming at first, once you have your "go to" list, you can just check out new products to see how they stack up. Even just a quick glance can tell you if the food should be considered.

I'm just really disappointed that the Smart Choices program is run by a doctor who should know better. It's a cop out when she says the program is designed to highlight a "better choice" than total junk. I've seen the doesn't mention anything about sugary cereals being better than a donut! Report
I bought Froot Loops because it was designated as a smart choice. I also know eating a serving is only one cup. Anything in moderation is okay, there is no bad food when eaten occaisionally mixed with a healthy diet. Report
Sugary cereal is a smart choice! I thought we are fighting obesity in children. Report
I wouldn't trust any label granted by the producer of the food. This label is just a marketing strategy. Report
I wouldn't use the checkmark as a reason TO buy, but I wouldn't discount the item just becuase of it. Like everything else, check the label.

Imagine what our ancestors did before processed food! Oh, yeah, they ate real food, and were much healthier for it. Report
After reading this I wouldn't use the "Smart Choices" label to pick up any grocery item. Clearly that is not a "smart choice" for the consumer who is trying to give their child a healthier breakfast item. Some countries in Europe use a numbering system (something so easy to do) and the item is numbered on where it lands on the healthy choice scale....there is no sugar coating for the company involved....why can't we all just go back to basics and come up with something so easy? It's nice that we all do everything we can to cater to the big corporations that are destroying our health! Report
Until more people start reading labels and making truly informed decisions on the foods they are buying, there's no label, sticker, endorsement, etc., that will ever help to identify "healthier" food, in my opinion. We all have different nutritional needs, to some extent - there will always be those of us who should be on a sodium-restrictive diet, others who will have to watch their sugar intake, etc. I don't think Froot Loops is necessarily a "bad" choice - I enjoy Froot Loops not generally ass a breakfast food, but one serving is about 100 calories and beats out either the 100-calorie snack packs or a candy bar, etc., as a sweet treat and a sugary pick-me-up. But I pay no attention to endorsements, etc. The FDA requires the full information be put in front of us - and that's what I take advantage of in making my decisions. Report
I generally use common sense when choosing food and, when in doubt, I read the nutrition label. I ignore all claims on the front package that advertise no Trans Fat, or x% less fat, Smart Choice or anything else along those lines. For example, I saw a Reeces candy bar yesterday that claimed 40% less fat... than WHAT? I read the label on this tiny candy bar and realized it had 260 calories. I didn't even read on... I put it down. Report
I probably would of selected products with the "Smart Choices" label before I read your article, but now I have my doubts. Plus, seeing the companies that are involved with this campaign, I'm thinking it's just a publicity stunt to get people to eat/drink more sugar and empty calories. Buyer beware. Report
The "Smart Choice" label was a good idea - too bad companies are using it to market their not-so-smart choices. Corporate greed SUCKS! They quickly took a possibly helpful nutritional tool and made it not trustworthy. Why bother to do it at all?

We'll just have to keep reading labels and not trust the "Smart Choice" check.
We all need to realize that it's not our health that processed food manufacturers are concerned about. What they are concerned about is the almighty dollar and how promoting truly good health, ie whole foods, would seriously jeopardize their paychecks. These big executives are not much better than big tobacco...they will do whatever it takes to get us to buy their products, even if that means misleading or right out lying to us and worst of all targeting our CHILDREN! Advertising in general is just a big network of evil greedy executives that keep one another's hands buttered to keep their mouths shut about this or lie a little about truly is digusting. Report
No way, there are so many claims that this that or the other is "healthy" for you, but because of so many misleading and uncreditable claims, I don't trust any of them. I read the nutrient label and ingredient list and rarely buy things packaged in boxes or bags. They should have a (credible) rating label that shows how processed a food is, then people will get the idea that the closer to nature your food is the better. Report
I never liked fruit loops as a child and never gave them to my own children either. I always look at the label before I make my choices. Report
It's cheaper to put some ridiculous check-mark in the corner of packaging than it is to make the food inside truly healthier. What's next - saying donuts are good choices because at least you're not eating antifreeze-pops? Report
Generally, packaged foods can be dangerous to dieters unless you are a savvy food label reader. Therefore, trust yourself and your own judgements. Fresh foods are usually much better for you. Smart Choice is not necessarily smart!!! Report
No, I would not rely on a smart choices label. I use both the nutrition label and list of ingredients. My mom, even back in the 1970's, would not let us eat any cereal that had sugar or corn syrup in the first 4 ingredients. I was a little shocked that Fruit Loops was advertised during Biggest Loser the other night. Report
I would not depend on the company's info to determine if something is healthy for me. I look at the total nutritional info to determine if the food fits into my eating plan. Report
Ha! Strange this cereal showed up same day local TV personality nutritionist said...the amount of fiber has increased but the amount of sugar grams is still high. Elementrary school teachers must really love having their K-4 students flipping around the class room & parents saying...but I fed them a healthy breakfast. Stop & think about it, there is no such thing as a healthy, cold, dump-in-a-dish-gobble-in-two-minute
s-and-out-the-door healthy breakfast. Think about it! If you want the kids to eat healthy in the am, throw out the boxed cereal..(might put some big names out of business), but, who cares, as long as the kids are still in business & healthy. Report
No way would I follow the Smart Choices label! I'm fairly well informed and only trust myself to read nutrition labels. Report
Smart Choices to whom? Like others have already posted, the smartest choice is to read and understand the nutritional information on the package and make the decision for yourself. Report
I don't rely on labels like this. I never even knew this existed until this blog, actually. I always read the ingredients and nutrition facts. Report
No I would never rely on the program. Actually reading the ingredients is the best practice. Fruit Loops! Come on! Report
And this is exactly why I always read the actual ingredients list combined with the nutrition information. Any label that looks like good marketing carries a potential for corruption because these companies have lots of money and are quite motivated to find loopholes. I've also noticed that many cereals have labels that say they are "made with 100% whole grains". Further inspection of the ingredients reveals some of the grains in the cereal are 100% whole grains, but there are also refined grains mixed in. Tricky. Report
It's too bad that things have to be this way...Thank God for the nutritional information on the containers. I don't trust anything unless I read it in the nutritional information. Report