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New healthy food ratings - will they help us eat healthier or make us more confused?

Posted on Jul 20, 2009 by Maggie LaBarbera

With the big push for eating healthier, companies are introducing new healthy rating food systems.  With food labels and health claims splattered all over the packaging, it can become very confusing!

Let's take a look at what is out there: Food Labels.  These have been on food packages for years and gives you a way to compare some key nutrition ingredients in foods so you can determine which item is better for you and your family.  This to look at when comparing food labels:

  • serving size- this is key because all the nutrients are based on this.  A package can contain 4 servings so if you eat the whole package, you have to multiply everything (including fat and calories by 4!)  This is one of the biggest and most common mistakes people make.
  • calories and percentage of calories from fat
  • what kind of fat is also important - unsaturated fats is the good fat
  • other nutrients:  fiber, protein, sugar, vitamins etc
This system has all the information to help you make a better or healthier decision, but with various factors that you have to balance, there is no clear cut answer.  It depends!  So that makes this system a bit hard to use.

NuVal system:  uses a numbering system 1 to 100 with higher scores indicating a healthier product.  So the consumer can compare products and automatically knows which one is healthier based on their algorithm.  That seems a bit simpler but what if you need lower sodium or less sugar.  You will still need to look at food labels for specifics.

Guiding Stars Rating System:   Foods are labeled with a seal that indicates "good, better, and best" nutrition value based on their nutrition guidelines developed by scientists.  Ratings are based on a food's nutrient density (how much vitamins and minerals are in that food item) per 100 calories.

Nutrition IQ: which is coming this fall, uses a color coded system to highlight nutritional content.  Some foods will have shelf signs with a red tab that says "low saturated fat." Others will have orange tags for foods that have higher levels of fiber, green tags for items with less salt and blue labels for foods with more calcium.

Then there are other labels from organizations that have set a bar or standard on nutrition or a nutrient component (like fiber) and food manufacturers who meet this standard can place their mark on their package.  For example, American Heart Association has a label for foods that hare rich in fiber or whole grains. These are just a few of the healthy foods rating systems that are out there.

You may see a variety of "health claims" made by the foods that are really "Marketing" trying to think they are really healthier but they might not actually be that healthy.  In fact, there might be a great number of foods that are healthier for your family but you got hooked "when you saw "helps your immune system"  or "heart healthy" ! And you thought, well if the box says that, it must be so.  Nope.  Sorry, it is not that easy.

You have to really read past the initial box claims and see what is really being offered. So what is a poor shopper to do when trying to find healthier choices! Here are some basic rules you can follow to help find the healthier foods: if it is in a package, it is processed food, so it is already not very healthythink of the basic food groups,

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • low fat or skim milk products
  • lean meats, whole beans and nuts
  • look for 100% whole grains that is low in sugar
everything else is probably not very good for your kids, so teach them to eat them only once in a while, and teach them to eat small amounts.

Resources: Learn more about Food Labels Read about Health Claims Print a handy Health Claims Reference Sheet for  grocery shopping.





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