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Nutrition symbols: are they fact or promo?

by Catherine Grych
Dietetic Intern
For years, the health conscious consumer would flip over a package of food to see the nutrition information. Lately, with an increase in nutrition-friendly packaging, the consumer seldom has to search beyond the front panel for nutritional facts.
In fact, nutrition symbols are popping up on boxes, bags and cans. These symbols have been created by individual companies to guide consumers toward making healthier choices. Nutrition symbols may imply that a product is lower in calories, fat or sugar. It may also state a product meets federal requirements for a specific vitamin or mineral content. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is attempting to streamline nutrition labels to decrease confusion in the market. Ideally, one universal symbol would be created to rate a product based upon the specific criteria.
The March issue of the ADA Times, a monthly journal from the American Dietetic Association, features an article breaking down nutrition symbols and some of their implications. Here are a few of the many nutrition symbols and some information about them:

National Dairy Council: This symbol is placed on cheeses, milks and yogurts that meet specific FDA guidelines. These foods can be considered healthy choices towards your three recommended servings of dairy a day. Visit

Unilever produces this symbol, as well as a similar “Drink Smart” symbol. The symbol lets consumers know the product meets the company’s specific criteria for trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and added sugar. For more information visit

American Heart Association: Products boasting this symbol meet the American Heart Associations criteria for total and saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, protein, and dietary fiber. For information visit

Whole Grain Council:
The Whole Grain Council has two different stamps. One stamp notes that a product has 8 grams or more of whole grain per serving. The “100%” stamp states the product has at least 16 grams of whole grain. For more information visit

The Smart Spot indicates that the product exceeds 10 percent of the daily value of a targeted nutrient, and meets limits for fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Visit

This panel takes information from the nutrition facts panel and places it in clear view. Calories, total fat, sodium and sugar are among the components listed. General Mills also has a “Nutrition Highlights” panel that provides similar information. Visit
Smaller stores and companies also are creating their own logos to place on the front of nutrition packaging. A benefit of these labels is that they help consumers identify products that can be considered better choices. However, the reason these items may be better than others is not always clear. Not every company lists the criteria they used to determine a product healthy, and not all provide their Web sites for more information.
Nutrition symbols point the consumer in the right direction of healthy choices, however, these choices may not be the best available.
Better consumer choices relies on the individual taking the initiative to flip the package, look at the nutrition facts label, and determine how that item fits into their diet.

Friday, April 25, 2008
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