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A Nutrition Label Revolution?

Grocery stores start to cut through 'healthy' claims in labeling.

A banana stamped '100% Natural'

— Getty Images

Hannaford Brothers, a New England grocery chain with more than 164 outlets, created a system called “Guiding Stars” in 2006 to evaluate the healthfulness of food products in their stores. A panel of nutritionists and physicians developed the standards. Of the more than 25,500 products they evaluated, 72 percent received no stars, including many processed foods that are advertised as good for you. Other chains are considering following their lead.

For example, many tomato juices, soups and frozen dinners promoted as healthy contained too much sodium to be rated by the panel as healthy. Nearly all yogurt with fruit had too much sugar. Other products lacked sufficient nutrients. Others had bad that outweighed the good: for example, high in valuable fiber, but also high in unhealthy sugar.

Their assessment highlights questions about the integrity of nutritional claims made by food manufacturers.

Critics of their approach say that it is unrealistic to expect manufacturers to reduce salt, fat and sugar, because customers won’t buy the products. The prevailing wisdom is that people want to eat healthier, but do not want to change their behavior. Marketers have stepped in with products promoted as healthy.

Supporters of the evaluation system appreciate the attempt to help consumers separate the puffery of marketing from the truth. With more information, consumers can make informed choices and move toward more nutritious and less fattening foods.

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