“Smart Choices Program” Really Not So Smart

Smart Choice ban

On the website for the Smart Choices Program the catch phrase is:

“Guiding Food Choices.”

If you see this symbol on the front of a package of so called “food” you might want to walk away.  You’ll probably want to run, really fast.  If you choose not to high tail it away from these products you’ll have to read the nutrition labels very carefully.  What they are labeling as “healthy” is really just another way to market unhealthy foods to uneducated, trusting consumers.  The program’s aim is to build healthy habits for the long term.  Looks like they need to re-evaluate what healthy habits are.

I have to say I was grossed out to even type the words “Smart Choices Program” into my search engine as this is one of the saddest, not smart programs I have ever seen.  I stumbled upon it via the NY Times article Connecticut to Scrutinize Food Labels by William Neuman.  The  Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is on to something.  He is starting an investigation into this labeling campaign.

Dietary Guidelines?

Our federal government has come up with Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that is supposed to dictate how the average American should eat.  More attention is being paid to overall calorie consumption than the quality of the calories.  In the Smart Choice Program website they include a Nutrition Criteria and Calorie Indicator page.  The good news is they are acknowledging a sense of balance, with a nod to healthy fats from fish and nuts.  Also, they acknowledge that a human should consume fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Where they fall real short is advocating loads of  industrial, processed foods as means to get these nutrients.

Where they REALLY drop the bomb:

Is the breakfast cereal category.  We need a good, balanced breakfast to start our day.  After a night of sleep our bodies need nourishment.  Kids and adults should have breakfast.  A balanced breakfast sets the tone for the mind and body for the rest of the day.  A healthy breakfast increases our ability to focus and gives us physical energy.  It helps drive our metabolism.

The criteria at SCP suggests that is is OK for a cereal to have no greater than 12 grams of sugar per serving and the milk or milk substitute should also have no greater than 12 grams of sugar per serving.  If  the consumer eats a breakfast with this profile they could easily start their day with 24 grams of refined sugar.  That is if they stick to the tiny portion size stated on the box, which they probably are not.

Some of the cereals that made the cut within this program:

Cocoa Krispies, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes.  Great way to start the day.  Oh, Cookie Crisp and Trix made the cut too.

Let’s see, last time I checked 120 calories of sugared sweetened cereal is gonna add a lot more to the waistline then 120 calories of whole oats.  Not to mention the rise and dips in blood sugar levels with all of the refined sugar.  A simple, healthy Oatmeal breakfast will keep you satisfied a lot longer and will help prevent sugar cravings through out the day.

The program states that they include a larger amount of sugar in breakfast foods to encourage people to eat breakfast ’cause the sugar makes it more palatable.  So, they are encouraging children to develop palates that crave highly sugared foods?  Can’t we just put a bit of Agave, pure Maple syrup or dare I suggest Stevia into the morning feast to sweeten it up?  How about sliced fresh fruit??  When it comes to oatmeal, the program says “yes” to packaged pre-sweetened oatmeal.   Again, a highly sweetened, highly processed, nutrient lacking breakfast is not the way to create good dietary habits.

I gather the Smart Choices Program is probably funded by the large processed  food companies.   Judging from it’s “A list” of quality food choices which is far from “A” quality.  I get it that they are addressing our nations obese population.  It is good that they are trying to make them more mindful in their calorie intake, but come on let’s work the quality of those calories.

To read details about this program you can click on: Smart Choices Program.

A Better Reality:

My kid’s just finished their breakfast.  I fed them organic scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast, and orange slices.  Did this cost a lot?  No. Did it take loads of time to prepare?  NO. Was it a balanced meal?  YES.  It included healthy fats, carbs and protein. For a basic on the fly meal it is very well rounded.  Other days we have Oatmeal with healthy, yummy additions.  Oatmeal is a staple in our home, please click the following:

Oatmeal: the Basics

Oatmeal Bowls: 7 Flavor Ways Approved Breakfast Cereals

If  you are in a bind and cannot get a hot breakfast on the table

here are some low sugar/low glycemic whole grain cereal choices:

Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal

Uncle Sam Cereal

Unsweetened/Whole Grain Puffed Cereals

Organic Weetabix

Organic, unsweetened O’s (Cheerio kinda thing)

A few handfuls of Rolled Oats (Museli)
  • Instead of milk the kids sometimes like Kefir (cultured milk/yogurt) in their cereal.  It comes in many flavors.  To limit sugar intake we add some natural sweetener (see below) to the “plain” Kefir.

We also add “Sprinkles”

which include the following to balance out the meal:

Chopped Toasted Nuts, or Seeds

Ground Flaxseed

Handful of chopped Fruit, Berries, Dried Fruit

Splash of Flaxseed Oil

Splash of Maple, Agave or Honey

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger or Cardamom

  • Adding the “sprinkles” helps to create more balance in the meal.  The addition of the Healthy Fats will slow down the burn of the carb dense cereal.


Since I wrote this post the following articles have appeared:

Industry Backs Off Food Labels After FDA Criticism

~ Marla Meridith

Join the Conversation

2 thoughts on ““Smart Choices Program” Really Not So Smart

  1. Thank you Marla….great post!! This issue drives me crazy too. My family & friends try to argue they are eating healthy food. I’m just a health nut my poor children have to live with, ha! It’s so nice to hear someone else talk about it and dong it so well . Great suggestions too!

  2. Don’t even get me started on this. So sad…and they wonder why America is obese.

    The sad thing is is that so many people think they’re sugar laden instant oatmeal is “healthy” as well as their low fat bowl of Total Raisin Bran. I’d take a Family Fresh style bowl of oatmeal with “sprinkles” any day over that crap. Wouldn’t mind a shot of coconut milk kefir and some almond butter topping if you’ve got some on hand. 😉