Eileen T. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board and the dean of
the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at
Tufts University, said the program’s criteria were based on government
dietary guidelines and widely accepted nutritional standards.
She said the program was also influenced by research into consumer
behavior. That research showed that, while shoppers wanted more information,
they did not want to hear negative messages or feel their choices were being
dictated to them.
“The checkmark means the food item is a ‘better for you’ product, as
opposed to having an x on it saying ‘Don’t eat this,’ ” Dr. Kennedy said.
“Consumers are smart enough to deduce that if it doesn’t have the checkmark,
by implication it’s not a ‘better for you’ product. They want to have a
choice. They don’t want to be told ‘You must do this.’ ”
Dr. Kennedy, who is not paid for her work on the program, defended the
products endorsed by the program, including sweet cereals. She said Froot
Loops was better than other things parents could choose for their children.
“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for
your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr.
Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot
Loops is a better choice.”
Froot Loops qualifies for the label because it meets standards set by the
Smart Choices Program for fiber and
Vitamins A and C, and because it does not exceed limits on fat, sodium
and sugar. It contains the maximum amount of sugar allowed under the program
for cereals, 12 grams per serving, which in the case of Froot Loops is 41
percent of the product, measured by weight.
That is more sugar than in many
popular brands of cookies.
“Froot Loops is an excellent source of many essential vitamins and
minerals and it is also a good source of fiber with only 12 grams of sugar,”
said Celeste A. Clark, senior vice president of global nutrition for
Kellogg’s, which makes Froot Loops. “You cannot judge the nutritional merits
of a food product based on one ingredient.”
Dr. Clark, who is a member of the Smart Choices board, said that the
program’s standard for sugar in cereals was consistent with federal dietary
guidelines that say that “small amounts of sugar” added to nutrient-dense
foods like breakfast cereals can make them taste better. That, in theory,
will encourage people to eat more of them, which would increase the
nutrients in their diet.
Ten companies have signed up for the Smart Choices program so far,
Tyson Foods. Companies
that participate pay up to $100,000 a year to the program, with the fee
based on total sales of its products that bear the seal.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the
Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, was part
of a panel that helped devise the Smart Choices nutritional criteria, until
he quit last September. He said the panel was dominated by members of the
food industry, which skewed its decisions.
“It was paid for by industry and when industry put down its foot and said
this is what we’re doing, that was it, end of story,” he said. Dr. Kennedy
and Dr. Clark, who were both on the panel, said industry members had not
controlled the results.
Mr. Jacobson objected to some of the panel’s nutritional decisions. The
criteria allow foods to carry the Smart Choices seal if they contain added
nutrients, which he said could mask shortcomings in the food.
Despite federal guidelines favoring whole grains, the criteria allow
breads made with no whole grains to get the seal if they have added
“You could start out with some sawdust, add
Vitamin A and meet the criteria,” Mr. Jacobson said.
Nutritionists questioned other foods given the Smart Choices label. The
program gives the seal to both regular and light mayonnaise, which could
lead consumers to think they are both equally healthy. It also allows frozen
meals and packaged sandwiches to have up to 600 milligrams of sodium, a
quarter of the recommended daily maximum intake.
“The object of this is to make highly processed foods appear as healthful
as unprocessed foods, which they are not,” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition
New York University.
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Published: September 4, 2009 NYT
SEE IMPORTANT UPDATE OCTOBER 23 2009
your Immune System