If the foods we ate were actually as healthy as their packages would have us believe, Americans certainly wouldn’t be spending $168 billion a year on obesity-related healthcare costs. So it shouldn’t exactly be shocking to learn that yet another study has found that the front-of-package labels on processed food items are misleading (to put it kindly).
Even judging by these low standards, the new report out Wednesday from the Prevention Institute manages to evoke some distress.
The report focuses on the claims made on packages of certain cereals, meals, beverages and snacks that are marketed to kids. Researchers zeroed in on 58 products that were deemed healthy by an industry group and that also made nutritional claims on their front-of-package labels. Among the 58 items were such staples as Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Skippy Super Chunk Peanut Butter and Rice Krispies.
The researchers examined the "nutrition facts" panels of all 58 items to determine how much sodium and fiber they contained, and to calculate the percentage of total calories that came from sugar, fat and saturated fat. Then they checked to see how many of the items measured up to nutrient criteria derived from the federal government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." To qualify as healthy, foods had to:
- Derive less than 35% of their total calories from fat (exceptions were made for nuts, nut butters and seeds) and less than 10% from saturated fat;
- Get less than 25% of their total calories from sugar;
- Contain at least 1.25 grams of fiber per serving (milk products and 100% fruit juices got a pass); and
- Contain less than 480 milligrams per serving of sodium (for snacks) or less than 600 milligrams per serving of sodium (for meals).
Care to guess how many of the 58 items failed to meet at least one of these criteria and were judged “unhealthy” by the Prevention Institute researchers? Would you believe 49?