Several new on-package nutrition symbols are designed to inform consumers about the nutrient profile of products. Are these programs going to help consumers or just simply add to their confusion?
According to a recent survey by the American Dietetic Association, three in five consumers think that diet and exercise are very important. Yet, more than half say they need practical tips to help them eat right and 41% don’t know or understand nutrition guidelines.
Another survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation showed that 45 percent of consumers say food and health information is confusing and conflicting. With over 50,000 items in an average supermarket, it’s no wonder that many people feel confused about which products to select.
To help educate consumers about the nutrient profile of their products, a number of manufacturers including Kraft, Kellogg’s and General Mills have developed their own on-package nutrition symbols.
Recently, a number of profiling systems have been developed by supermarkets, health organizations and manufacturers in an attempt to help consumers live healthier lifestyles and make more nutritious food choices.
The five programs include Guiding Stars, Healthy Ideas, Nutrition iQ, NuVal and Smart Choices Program. Each of the programs follow the dietary advice of leading governmental and health organizations including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts Panel, and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) MyPyramid. An overview of each nutrition labeling program is provided below.
While these programs have the consumers’ interest in mind, they may actually create more confusion. With the Nutrition iQ program, the use of 7 colors help cue consumers to a food’s health profile. A food with an orange and purple stripe means that it is an excellent source of fiber and low calorie. Isn’t it just easier to read the nutrition facts instead of remembering a new color system?
Given that manufacturers developed the Smart Choices program, it remains to be seen whether a conflict of interest will influence foods selected for inclusion. Indeed, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes are not recommended by any of the other nutrition labeling programs except for Smart Choices. No surprise given that Kellogg’s is part of Smart Choices program.
As always, our advice is to stick to shopping the “perimeter” of the store. That way you won’t need to learn a new nutrition labeling program. This is where you find fresh produce, lean meats and dairy. It is in the “bowels” of the store where most of the processed, packaged foods that are high in trans fats, sodium and sugars are located.
Participating Stores (1,300+): Bloom Supermarkets, Food Lion, Hannaford Supermarkets and Sweetbay.
Where symbols will appear: Shelf tag
Encourages consumers to eat foods that contain more vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and whole grains. Discourages consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sodium and sugars.
Guiding Stars uses a star icon to identify nutritious foods. All foods are rated with the exception of five categories: bottled water, alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea and spices. Each food is given one of 3 star ratings. Foods with 3 stars have the best nutritional value. Ratings are based on a food’s nutrient density per 100 calories. A scientific advisory panel including scientists from Dartmouth Medical School and the University of North Carolina developed a proprietary algorithm to analyze the food products.
Participating Stores: Giant Foods, Stop and Shop
Where symbols will appear: Shelf tag, plus on package for some private label brands
Encourages consumers to eat a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; lean meats and limits saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Each food selected for inclusion in the program must contribute to at least 10% of the Daily Value for protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium. All fresh produce automatically qualify for the symbol.
The Healthy Ideas logo will appear on shelf tags and on packaging of some private label brands in participating stores. The program was developed for Giant Foods and Stop & Shop by an advisory panel of physicians and nutritionists and affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
Participating Stores: SuperValu stores including Albertson’s, Jewel-Osco and Shaw’s
Where symbols will appear: Shelf Tag
A system developed by a panel of dieticians from Joslin Clinic for SuperValu stores, uses a “better for you” cue to help consumers find healthy foods. A food that meets baseline criteria for good nutrition is further evaluated for the top two benefits among seven categories: fiber, calcium, whole grains, protein, low sodium, low saturated fat and low calories. To provide an excellent source of any category, the food must contain 20 percent or greater daily value of the category; to provide a good source, the food must contain 10 to 19 percent.
Nutrition iQ’s color coded system appears on shelf tags to identify foods that are excellent or good sources of fiber (orange); calcium (blue); protein (yellow); sodium (dark green); low calorie (purple); low saturated fat (red) and whole grains (dark orange).
Foods that are excluded from the program include bottled water, soft drinks, candy/gum/mints, coffee and tea, cookies, dietetic foods, ice cream, salts and spices, shelf-stable juice, shortening and oils, syrup, molasses and baby food.
Participating Stores: Price Chopper, Hy-Vee, Meijer (several thousand stores are slated to use the program throughout 2009 and 2010)
Where symbols will appear: Shelf Tag and Point-of-Purchase
The NuVal System scores food on a scale of 1 to 100. The NuVal score is calculated using a complex algorithm. The algorithm was developed by a panel of medical and nutrition experts from leading universities and health organizations.
The higher the NuVal score, the higher the nutrition. The System considers more than 30 different nutrients and nutrition factors and how these influence health to determine a food’s score. The System also incorporates measures for the quality of protein, fat and carbohydrates and the amount of calories and omega-3 fats.
Participating Stores: Grocery stores will start offering products with the Smart Choices symbol in mid-2009.
Where symbols will appear: Shelf Tag and Point-of-Purchase
The Smart Choices program was developed by food manufacturers and retailers with input from the Keystone Center Round Table. The idea was to create a single, trusted and reliable front-of-pack nutrition labeling system to help consumers stay within their daily calorie needs.
Food manufacturers and retailers who are part of the program include Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Hannaford Bros., Kellogg, Kraft, National Dairy Council, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and Wal-Mart. A number of these manufacturers have their own nutrition content labeling programs (e.g., Kraft Sensible Solutions, General Mills’ Nutrition Highlights). However, with the advent of Smart Choices, these separate programs will become obsolete.
The Smart Choices symbol will display calorie information on the front of the package which clearly states calories per serving and number of servings per container. Specific qualifying criteria were developed for 19 different product categories based on the presence of nutrients to limit (e.g., fats and added sugars), nutrient to encourage (e.g., calcium and potassium) and food groups to encourage (e.g., fruits, vegetables and whole grains).
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.