“Smart Choices” Food Labels - Shameful!

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“Smart Choices” is a shameful food labeling campaign bought and paid for by giant food processers. It is a sham and so deserves its place of dishonor in the Hall of Shame. In these days of contentious debate about health and health care reform I want to do what I can to bring fame to those doing good work and shame to those trying to bamboozle us for a quick (or big) buck.

Dollars to Doughnuts

The “Smart Choices” food labeling campaign is funded (to the tune of $1.47 million dollars so far) by the nation’s largest food manufacturers (Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, Unilever, General Mills, PepsiCo and Tyson Foods). We’ll get to whether it’s smart to manufacture food at all in a minute. Somehow these manufacturers found a bunch of “experts” willing to endorse putting “Smart Choices” labels on packages of foods that are not “smart choices” at all.

Dr. Eileen T. Kennedy, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the president of the Smart Choices board. She was quoted in a recent New York Times article as supporting Fruit Loops (of all things) with a green “smart choice” check mark because she says Fruit Loops are a “better” choice than doughnuts. (For the record – Fruit Loops are not food, they are a highly processed food “product” and they contain 41% sugar! There is absolutely nothing “smart’ about them.)

Richard Kahn, PhD, a former chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetic Association, participated on the selection panel and now serves on the board of trustees. He was quoted in a recent Forbes article as saying the “guidelines” were designed to help people who are currently making “terrible, terrible choices” with their diets. He thinks it seems “unrealistic” to point consumers toward less-processed foods like fruits and vegetables because the “intended audience” of the Smart Choices program is those who might be choosing between a sugary cereal and a doughnut. “If you get someone who has diabetes and they’re eating doughnuts for breakfast,” he said, “anything down the ladder is a better choice.” Shame, shame – Fruit Loops are 41% sugar! Give me a break. How dumb do these people think we are?

It’s shameful that such well educated health professionals could endorse labeling Fruit Loops as “healthy”. According to them being “better for you than doughnuts” makes them a “Smart Choice”.

As the author of a book titled A Nurse Practitioner’s Guide to Smart Health Choices I am appalled. If this were a good program that actually helped guide consumers to smarter food choices, I’d be thrilled and would put the program in the Hall of Fame – but that is SO not the case here. This whole labeling scheme has nothing to do with helping consumers and everything to do with selling more processed food products. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts on that.

What’s a REAL Smart Choice?

In the nutrition chapter of my book and in two recently published books by future Maverick Health Hall of Famers, Michael Pollan and David Kessler, one thing is perfectly clear – most processed/manufactured food is not good for you at all, it is bad for you. Simply stated, a diet of whole foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) prepared simply with healthy fats like olive oil and without excess sodium and sugar is the “smartest choice” you can make.

If you want to know what you should and should not eat I strongly recommend these two entertaining books. Read Pollan’s book first. It leads perfectly into Kessler’s. I’ve been recommending both to all my patients since a registered dietitian friend sent them to me last summer.

For the Record

Maverick Health receives no outside funding from any individual or organization. Nor will Maverick Health make or accept endorsements in exchange for money or favors. Maverick Health is supported entirely by books sales of A Nurse Practitioner’s Guide to Smart Health Choices, income I earn in my medical practice and, to a small extent, speaking engagements. As Maverick Health’s founder, I have posted extensive information about my professional background and credentials on this website. I encourage you to read these and determine for yourself whether I am a credible health expert.

I always gratefully accept endorsements of my book and of Maverick Health from readers and health professionals who believe that what I am doing can help people get healthier. And I always welcome comments and opinions about the things I write.

So what do YOU think about this “Smart Choices” labeling?

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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