Does the word healthy actually mean anything when it’s on the label of a processed food?

Athough the federal government may set up guidelines for its use, those guidelines can be somewhat, shall we say, unstringent. But there are organizations that are taking the matter into their own hands. In New England, the Hannaford Brothers grocery chain has, with the assistance of nutritionists and a physician, developed a star system, doling out one, two, or three stars to products on their shelves from soup to nuts.

Bad-for-you products get no stars, and surprisingly it’s not just bags of Ruffles in that club, but also items like V8 vegetable juice, Lean Cuisine frozen dinners, and Healthy Request soups from Campbell’s. In fact, 77 percent of products evaluated got no stars at all.

In this story from The New York Times (requires registration), there are some enlightening quotes from food manufacturers about the grocery chain’s star system:

‘We don’t like the idea that there are good and bad foods out there, and these sort of arbitrary rating systems,’ said John Faulkner, director of brand communication at the Campbell Soup Company. The Healthy Request line of soup, he said, was ‘aligned with the government definition of what healthy is.’

Hannaford isn’t pulling unhealthy products from its shelves, or even telling people not to buy cookies or chips. They’ve just spent their own money to create a panel to evaluate nutritional content and help consumers make choices. Props to them. With so many packaged food and health claims out there, it would be great to shop in a store that simplified things.

And as for all the no-stars products out there, nutrition guru Marion Nestle is quoted in the Times article:

The poor marks doled out by Hannaford show ‘what happens when an independent group sets the criteria.’

Take that, FDA.

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