When a food claims to be a "Smart Choice" or "Heart Healthy," and it's written right there on the front of the package, should you believe it? Not all the time, says the Food and Drug Administration.
Should snacks like these be considered health foods?
Should snacks like these be considered health foods? Joe Raedle/Getty
The FDA is taking a long, hard look at companies that tout their products as healthy eating options. The agency is also thinking about a unified healthy label system, maybe like a voluntary one relying on eating "traffic lights" in the UK.
We dug through lists of the purported healthy foods out there now, and you can do the same by searching the online guides for Smart Choices and even the American Heart Association.
Many of the foods seem just fine. But more than a few struck us as misplaced. We compared notes with Michael Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that spends a lot of time looking at food issues. Here's a list of six "healthy" foods you might think twice about.
- Kellogg Corn Pops and Froot Loops Jacobson says that including cereals loaded with sugar is a big problem with the Smart Choice list. Touting cereals made with highly processed, refined grains instead of the whole grains FDA and others recommend is also ill-advised, he says.
- Kraft Strawberry Bagel-fuls These are white flour bagels, stuffed with sugar-sweetened, artificially colored strawberry puree. The processed white flour and oodles of sugar seem a curious choice for a healthy seal of approval.
- Fudgesicle Low-Fat Original Fudge Bars Jacobson faults the snacks as "nothing foods." The frozen pops don't have any nutrients or vitamins and are artificially flavored and colored, so they shouldn't be pushed on consumers as "healthy," he says.
- Uncle Ben's Instant Rice The American Heart Association lists this instant rice as heart healthy. Jacobson says it may not cause heart disease, but it's not going to do you much good either.
- Oscar Mayer Lunchables, Cheese Pizza Fat, half of which is saturated, accounts for 90 percent of the calories in this food item. For a small amount of food (4 1/2 ounces), it also pack a salty punch, with 640 grams of sodium, or 27 percent of the recommended daily limit.
NPR's Patti Neighmond has more on Wednesday's All Things Considered. Mike Hughes of the Smart Choices program tells her the decisions about the labeling are "not rooted in some image that a product has but are rooted in science." And the Froot Loops sporting the Smart Choice logo, for instance, have less sugar and more fiber than they did before.