Is it weird that I LOVE to grocery shop? In my single years, half of my Saturday was devoted to grocery shopping. The day would begin at the Soulard Farmer’s Market, move to Sappington International Farmer’s market and then Trader Joe’s, and would wind down at Whole Foods for lunch. In these numerous shopping visits, I always enjoyed observing other shoppers. There are those who mechanically toss the same grocery list of foods into their carts without giving other similar food products a chance, and then you have those who scour over their food selections comparing nutrition facts, price per ounce, etc to find the perfect food for their recipes. No matter what your shopping style is (probably somewhere in the middle), I think we all could agree that grocery shopping can be overwhelming at times. To begin, there are so many choices, most groceries contain over 50,000 products and these numerous choices may only differ by one gram of fat or one ingredient, ie: (my most difficult dilemma) the salad dressing aisle. In addition, food label marketing can be deceiving. While you can trust claims such as “low-fat” because they are standardized and must have no more than 3 grams of fat per serving, other claims such as “natural” or “lightly sweetened” tell us basically nothing. Shouldn’t it be easier to make the very important decision about what enters our and our family’s mouths? Enter the concept of “nutritional profiling.” Organizations such as the Harvard Medical School, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association and the organization list goes on…believe they might have developed an easier way for us to more quickly identify healthy foods. Currently, there are about 5 different Nutritional profiling programs (potential problem #1) that utilize symbols which are placed directly on the food product or on the actual grocery shelf or both to be a visual sign to clue us in that the food your are purchasing meets some sort of “nutritional quality”. Each of the 5 nutrition profiling programs have different criteria for how foods qualify or don’t (potential problem #2). In order for a food to qualify for the “Smart Choice” Nutrient Profiling label (developed by a combination of food manufacturers, retailers, and the nutrition organizations) the food must contain more than 10% of the Daily Value of at least one nutrient (calcium, potassium, fiber, vitamins A, C, or E). The food must also be low in total, saturated, and trans fats, sodium, and sugars. Interesting enough, Frosted Flakes Cereal gets a smart choice label, while pre-portioned boneless chicken breasts would not (potential problem #3). If you are interested in other nutrient profiling programs and their criteria, check out “Guiding Stars”, “Healthy Ideas”, “Nutrition IQ”, and “NuVal”. Depending upon your location, and whether your grocery store decides to support programs/labels, you might have already seen these nutrition symbols. The debate will continue on whether nutrient profiling programs help or hurt in terms of our food decisions, but there is no debate that non-processed, whole foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains, symbol or no symbol will always get a healthy food rating.
Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.