Beware the New Food Labels


Several grocery chains are implementing new labels to help the consumer identify which products might be more healthy than others. The Healthy Ideas program, just introduced by two northeastern chains, Stop & Shop and Giant Food, is designed to identify varying degrees that products conform to federal guidelines for better-for-you foods. This means that products containing at least one nutritious ingredient, such as calcium, in concert with lower levels of fat or cholesterol will qualify for the designation.


This program is a new addition to the existing Guiding Stars initiative by Hannaford Brothers supermarkets and a soon to be launched Smart Choices label being drafted by Kraft, Unilever and PepsiCo among other packaged goods firms.

These programs are designed to simplify the communication of health information to the consumer in a way that is better understood. As such, they should do a better job than the existing hard-to-decipher nutrition labels.

Will this fix the nation’s obesity crisis? I think not.

Just like banning trans fats in frying and baking oils will not lower the poundage, these new label initiatives do not deal with the #1 culprit in the obesity crisis: calories.

Let me show you what I mean:

    • 100-calorie packs of cookies and snacks often contain higher percentages of sugar or fats than optimal. However, a University of Colorado – Denver study has found that consumers who ate only from 100-calorie packages when compared to those eating out of the usual box consumed 120 calories less per day. Switching consumers to 100-calorie packs would go a long way in fighting obesity. But under the new labeling systems, these products would be ding’d.
    • Products containing oils such as omega-3’s and monosaturates like canola oil or avocados receive higher “stars” than others. While these are better fats for your heart, they do not take into consideration that the number of calories is the same for all oils. Don’t expect to go from a size 10 to a size 6 on this strategy.
    • No soft drinks are likely to receive exemplary grades for their health qualities. However, by highlighting products like Coca-Cola Zero and Diet Pepsi, labeling programs could move massive amounts of sugared beverage consumption into no/low calorie versions. This would make a huge dent into the number of calories consumed. Apparently, the Labeling Police don’t agree.

A huge opportunity is being missed by not rewarding products that are lower calorie versions of others in their category. Yes, a diet soft drink or small pack of cookies won’t charm the nutritionists, but they may be more effective in loosening America’s beltbuckles.

One Response to “Beware the New Food Labels”

  1. Eartha Olk says:

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