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Reading Food Labels Gets Easier

Food health rating programs aim to help grocery buyers make better choices.

Supermarket Health Rating Systems continued...

"The online option allows us to provide consumers with deeper levels of functionality, additional information and explanation on food scoring, diet recommendations, and how to use the scoring system for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity," says Katz. 

Another new front-of-pack nutrition labeling program is Smart Choices, sponsored by the Keystone Organization, which represents a wide array of industry, scientists, academicians, and health and research organizations.  Like the other programs, to qualify as a smart choice, foods must meet specific nutrition criteria.  A symbol will reflect foods that qualify as healthy choices and will debut in grocery stores in mid-2009. 

In 2006, the New England chain Hannaford Brothers became the first grocer to launch a food scoring program. Their proprietary program, called "Guiding Stars," was developed by a group of nutrition scientists. Hannaford plans to license the nutrition navigation system to supermarket chains, vendors, health care groups and anyone else interested in helping people make nutritious food choices.

"At Hannaford, we evaluate each food and beverage based on the information from the nutrition facts panel and list of ingredients within a 100-calorie serving," says Caren Epstein, communications director for Hannaford. 

Hannaford presents the results on a scale of 0-3 stars, with 3 being the healthiest. Hannaford has scored more than 25,500 foods and beverages.

"Our customers love the program and it has helped them make better food choices within certain categories and teach their children about good nutrition," says Epstein.

In Harris Teeter's "yourwellness" program, color-coded wellness keys are placed on foods that meet the FDA's criteria for certain label terms. The markers distinguish foods that are "excellent" or "good" sources of particular nutrients, as well as foods that are free of fat, lactose, sodium, or sugar; low in sodium, fat, or calories; heart-healthy; lean; organic; vegan; or contain zero trans fats.

Even markets that don't have formal rating systems usually have some way to help consumers select healthier foods -- through newsletters, demonstrations, and/or shelf markers.

Other Food Rating Programs

Since 1995, the American Heart Association (AHA) has been trying to make heart-healthy grocery shopping easier with its heart check symbol. To qualify for the AHA Food Certification Program, a single serving of the food must, according to Food and Drug Administration criteria:

  • Contain no more than 3 grams of total fat
  • Contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat
  • Contain no more than 20 grams of cholesterol
  • Contain no more than 480 milligrams of sodium
  • Contain at least 10% or more of one of these naturally occurring nutrients: protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron. has an online Calorie Count Plus system that rates foods, on a scale of A+ to F, according to a formula that takes into account both healthy and not-so healthy components in the food, Hartley says. The food's nutrient density (that is, the number of nutrients per calories) is also taken into consideration. A registered dietitian makes the final rating determination by hand.

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