If you haven’t already, you will soon see this label on processed foods at a grocery store near you. I know, I know… anyone who has been in a grocery store in the last three years, has probably seen the “smart spots”, “sensible solutions”, “best life”, and healthy food rating systems like “stars” or “overall nutrient quality index“. It’s complicated. What do these things mean and how can they help me? Right?!
The Smart Choices Program was motivated by the need for a single, trusted and reliable front-of-pack nutrition labeling program that U.S. food manufacturers and retailers could voluntarily adopt to help guide people in making food and beverage choices that fit within their daily calorie needs.
It’s great that there’s a chance all these different front of package labels will go away in place of a uniform label (designed by the food industry’s agreed upon health standards). But I have to ask the question: do we really need a big effort to help people choose processed foods? Shouldn’t nutrition experts tell people to limit packaged foods and eat more whole foods? YOU BET!
But, I’m more of a realist than an idealist. I can also tell when someone doesn’t want to “give up” their chips, but is willing to cut down on portions or choose the baked version if it is better for them. So I think this labeling system can be useful with a weight management program if you take the right approach. I have some tips to offer that will help. Don’t forget, you are in control. You are smart and can make the right choices for you and your family.
- Don’t let the label give the product a health halo – processed food is processed food (yes, minimally processed is better). If it needs a label to rate it, you know it’s probably not the healthiest choice. So use it as a way of identifying a better choice among your bags of chips, pretzels, and the other salty convenience foods. You still have to do the work of portion control and making it a “sometimes” food. These aren’t foods you devour in front of the T.V.
- Don’t let the label make you buy more – just because you see a new product with a label, doesn’t mean you need to add it to your grocery bill. It’s one thing to try something new that replaces another packaged food you used to buy, but be careful that you don’t overdo it on the convenient packaged foods. Sliced veggies and hummus is a convenient and healthy choice that can be a great side to lunch sandwiches.
- Fill your cart with mostly fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables – before cruising the packaged foods with the new Smart Choices Label, make sure you give priority to fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, your favorite lean protein (canned beans, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy), and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, wheat pasta, tortillas, and other wheat bread products).