This post was written by guest blogger, Christen Cupples Cooper, MS, RD (www.coopernutrition.com)
Parents, I’m sure you’ve been in some version of the following situation: Your child is seated in a shopping cart, perfectly happy, until she spots a box of cereal that contains marshmallows, brightly colored shapes, and an enticing prize. Flashing back to all the common sense advice your parents gave you about avoiding sugary cereals, you immediately put the box back on the shelf. Then, of course, the screaming begins.
Working quickly to keep your red-faced toddler under control, you reach for the box and scan the label. The cereal contains a fair percentage of the RDAs of several important vitamins and minerals, and there’s even a claim on the front of the box that reads: “A good source of fiber.” You think: Well if it has fiber, it’s probably not as bad as it looks.
Score: Gut, 1. Head, 0.
Your gut was right. Now you are on your way to the check out line with a cereal that offers, in reality, a little fiber and a lot of sugar. As an RD I am not terribly concerned about the one-time purchase of a sugary cereal. I’m more concerned that, in a store filled with fruits, veggies and whole grains, even the most well-intentioned parent can walk out with a box of cereal that masquerades as a healthy breakfast. This is what I call the “lipstick on a pig” label, the kind that has only one purpose. (Hint: It’s not to help you become healthier.)
So how can parents choose foods that are truly good-for-you and not those that are just labeled to seem like they are? The FDA works to ensure that the claims on food labels are scientifically sound. Trouble is, many claims are hard to put into perspective, given that food is complex. Labels give consumers only a fraction of the information they need to make an informed food buying decisions. Yet, as consumer studies have shown, these claims strongly affect what ends up in our shopping carts. (The claims, plus our children’s lung power, of course.)
Here’s a quick translation of government-speak of some popular food label terms:
“High,” “Rich in,” or “An excellent source of” means that a typical serving of the food must contain at least 20% of the recommended daily value for a particular ingredient.
“Good source,” “Contains” or “Provides” means that a typical serving of the food contains at least 10-19% of the recommended daily value for a particular ingredient.
“More,” “Fortified,” “Enriched” or “Added” means that a typical serving of the food contains 10% or more of ingredients limited to vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fiber and potassium.
So returning to our example of the sugary cereal that is a “a good source of fiber,” what we’ve got is a product that will provide 10% of an adult’s daily fiber needs and a somewhat larger proportion of a child’s needs. But what about the rest of a growing child’s nutrient needs? Shouldn’t breakfast provide her with a jump start on more than just fiber?
Choosing a whole grain cereal, which, although lacking in marshmallows and prizes, will offer even more fiber, fewer chemicals and much less sugar. And adding some fresh fruit for color, fiber, vitamins, minerals and potassium will ramp your breakfast up to being an excellent source of a number of things, including sustainable energy.
Are you following me here? If you spot a food that strikes you as a “pig” in most ways, a food that needs a label to assign it some redeeming qualities, don’t ignore you’re gut. It probably is a pig–wearing a lovely fall shade of lipstick.
Note to readers: We are all big fans of real pigs at AppforHealth.com! No offense was intended toward our furry four-legged friend by the use of this funny expression!