Tag Archives: Food Politics, Labeling, Et Al

A Triscuit, a Task Ahead

The work for the CPPW (Communities Putting Prevention to Work) grant project is humming along.  My colleague, Carol White, and I have five power points and 2/3 of the workbook completed for the ensuing spring and summer workshops (hooray!) titled “Discover. Cook. Nourish: the why and how of whole foods cooking for school food service staff”

A challenge arose in portraying the USDA guidelines in the power point on balanced meals – the crazy quilt pyramid with the android running up the side of it?   The one where figuring out which colored stripe means what takes some wild guessing, a magnifying glass or both.  We look up close and personal at this chart during my class at Bastyr.  The two Triscuits prominently displayed beneath the orange stripe and the quart of milk, pint of milk, and (in case you didn’t get it) glass of milk, dancing within the blue stripe are noteworthy.   If you believe these were artistic choices, pull your head out of the Nabisco box.

In the slide for the workshops I chose the soft word “compromised” in describing the pyramid.    Not polite to admonish rules for which there are no alternatives.  Still, it’s good to add the reminder that the regulations put forth by the USDA are loaded with political punch and financial headlocks.

This morning I read Marion Nestle’s food politics blog where she outlined her 2011 predictions.  Apparently a new pictorial USDA food guideline is ready for launch.  Ms. Nestle says, “The 2005 pyramid’s rainbow stripes proved impossible to teach and useless to anyone without a computer. I’ve heard a rumor that I will love the new design. I’m skeptical. ”

Amen.  Impossible to teach are the right words.  How one would construct a balanced meal by staring at the stripes with the product menagerie spilling out of the bottom is beyond me.  Too many interest groups spoiled the broth?

(from Cynthia)

"Smart Choices" Are Not So Smart

Written by Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development and Support, Free and Clear

The Smart Choices Program is a great idea. A Smart Choice seal of approval, a big green check mark, is put on the front of any product that is a healthy option. You are in the grocery store and the check mark lets you know right away that the product is a great choice for your own health and the health of your family. It’s so easy and convenient to know which nutritious foods to choose.

Unfortunately, this is only wishful thinking.

The Smart Choices program, which was released in August, has been underwritten by ten of the largest food companies doing business in the United States. One problem is that the Smart Choice check marks only appear on processed foods – which are typically not the healthiest choice. You won’t see a check mark on an orange, a carrot, or a bunch of spinach. Even though all fruits and vegetables automatically qualify for a Smart Choice check mark, they won’t be labeled that way in the grocery store.

A second problem is that the nutrition criteria used by the Smart Choice program are extremely problematic. Perhaps because the program is backed by food manufacturers, less healthy products like sugary cereal and salty packaged meals are able to qualify for the seal of approval. So a parent walking down the grocery store aisle, relying on the green checkmarks for information, would choose Froot Loops or Lucky Charms breakfast cereal as a so-called healthy choice for their kids. However, there is more sugar in those cereals than in many brands of cookies. Cookies for breakfast on a regular basis? Not so smart.

Unhealthy foods that have added nutrients also qualify for the check mark. So white bread that has been stripped of nutrition, and then had some nutrients (like vitamin C or vitamin A) added to it, is a healthy choice according to the Smart Choice program.

The Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture are not happy either. They sent the Smart Choices program a letter on August 19th explaining that the program was being monitored and that there would be concern if the checkmarks encouraged consumers to buy processed foods and refined grains, rather than whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

So the smartest choice is to ignore the Smart Choice check mark. Focus instead on the whole foods that really do support your health. Experiment with filling at least half of your grocery cart (and your plate!) with fruits and vegetables, throw in some whole grains and legumes, low fat dairy, lean meats and healthy fats. Let the highly processed foods take up the least space in your cart and your diet.

Food Politics Blog

Stirring Literature

I really enjoy checking in on Marion Nestle’s blog Food Politics.  Marion is our champion of level-headed thinking when it comes to the whole food business.

She revealed a lot of depressing information about just how political our food system is in her book Food Politics and woke us all up.  She followed that with the book What to Eat – a very practical guide about how to shop in the grocery store without getting dizzy trying to understand all the labeling.  She writes frequent posts on her Food Politics blog so those who want to keep in the know about food policy, food news, and how the big corporations are reacting to all of it might want to bookmark.  I’m just sayin’.