Reading Food Labels Gets Easier
Food health rating programs aim to help grocery buyers make better choices.
Supermarket Health Rating Systems continued...
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.
About.com 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
Further, many food companies have developed front-of-package icons to
reflect healthier foods, like Pepsi’s "Smart Spot" and Kraft’s
"Sensible Solutions" programs. Pepsi, Kraft, and many others
companies such as Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Unilever,
and WalMart are interested in participating with the Smart Choices program and
retiring their individual healthy food programs.
While foods bearing these icons are among the healthiest in their product
line, experts say it's important for consumers to see these health promotions
in the context of a healthy diet.
"Healthy icons on foods like baked chips and diet soda imply these
foods are healthy, and while they are better than fried chips or sweet soda,
they are not as nutritious and good for you as a piece of fruit," says
She advises that consumers not rely on the front of package, but turn it
over and read the nutrition facts panel to get the whole picture.