Sep 5 2009

Kellogg’s asks for a Froot Loops correction. More on Smart (?) Choices

Froot Loops

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from Dr. Celeste Clark, Kellogg’s senior vice president for global nutrition, corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer.

She had seen my previous blog post on the Smart Choices program, and wanted me to know that Froot Loops has been reformulated to contain 3 grams of fiber, not less than 1 gram, as I had posted, and that  in all fairness, I ought to post the new version.  Sure.  Happy to.  Here it is.Froot Loops_Nutrition Facts

This higher fiber product, of course, gets us into the philosophical question:  Is a somewhat-better-for-you, highly processed food really a good choice?  Does the additional 2.5 grams of fiber convert this product to a health food?  Whether Froot Loops really is a better choice than a doughnut as the Smart Choices program contends, seems debatable.

If I read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list correctly, Froot Loops cereal contains:

  • No fruit
  • Sugar as the first ingredient (meaning the highest in weight–41%)
  • Sugar as 44% of the calories
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and, therefore, trans fat (although less than half a gram per serving so the label can read zero)

But with an implied endorsement from the American Society of Nutrition, which is managing the Smart Choices program, I guess none of that matters.  Or maybe the added fiber cancels all that out?

I pointed out to Dr. Clark that I had just bought the fiberless Froot Loops at a grocery store in midtown Manhattan, which means the old packages must still be on the market.

I discussed this and other such products with William Neuman of the New York Times whose reporting on the Smart Choices program appears on the front page of today’s business section under the title, “For your health, Froot Loops.  Industry-backed label calls sugary cereal a ‘Smart Choice.’”

According to his well reported account, Kellogg’s and other participating companies pay up to $100,000 for that seal.  No wonder the American Society of Nutrition and everyone else involved in the program want to set nutrition standards so loosely that they can encompass as many products as possible.   The more products that qualify for the Smart Choices logo, the more money the program gets.  I’d call that a clear conflict of interest.

Neuman managed to find nutritionists who defend the program.  I am not one of them.

Update September 6: CBS did a story on Smart Choices (I’m interviewed in it)

Update September 9: The American Society of Nutrition must be getting a bit defensive about the negative publicity, as well it should be.  It has issued an explanation to members.

  • Biz Morris Haselwandter

    I was disheartened to see this program defended using the argument that Froot Loops are better than a doughnut. This doesn’t make either what most would call a “smart choice”, and I think while you can claim that almost any food fits into the dietary guidelines (under the umbrella of “moderation” and “as part of a well balanced diet”), I think it undermines the spirit of what COULD have been a meaningful label, designed, for instance, to help one choose a healthier cereal amongst OTHER cereals on the market.

    The program is not called “Better than a Doughnut”, but if that is the comparison used to justify the claims, maybe it should be. It would certainly be a more honest representation of the criteria.

  • albert

    Food Politics? You should call this blog Food Fascists. You people are really, really scary. You make Fruit Loops a political issue? I suppose you’re very happy about Californian farmers having their water supply cut off. Right? I mean you want to control every morsel of food that we eat. I think the American people are waking up to you radical fascists trying to gain control of every facet of our lives. It was close, but hopefully you and your kind have been exposed enough to be stopped. I know its a cliche, but if you believe that the government mandates what we can and cannot eat, you really should go live in some communist country. We are not going to let you destroy America.

  • Regina

    Dear Albert,
    On what planet do you spend most of your time?

  • http://www.nielpatel.blogspot.com Niel

    Albert you silly person, obesity is destroying America.

    Anyways, if it needs a Smart Choices seal, it probably wasn’t good for your health in the first place.

  • http://toomanycombined.blogspot.com Melissa Bastian

    Oh dearest Albert. Actually, all we want is to take *away* the complete and utter control that giant corporations currently hold over our entire food supply and give it back to individuals. If new laws can help that happen, so be it. Sometimes we need the government to step up to entities that have gained too much power and say “Hey, you guys can’t do this.” Like when they break up monopolies. And if the current state of food corporations don’t represent monopolies, I don’t know what to call them.

    We want the food companies to do wild, crazy things like a) be honest about the nutritional quality of their food, b) produce food that’s safe to eat, and c) do so in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily harm people, animals, or the environment. You’re right – we’re a bunch of wackos!

    You think you’re fighting for freedom of choice, when actually you’re fighting so that you can continue to do exactly what the corporations want you to – make them lots and lots of money.

  • http://sehacecamino.com Nancy
  • alb\

    Dear Regina..

    Why has 90% of CA’s water been cut off from the most fertile/productive land area in the country? I suppose you believe a 2-inch bait fish is more important than the US food supply? 40% unemployment amongst farmers in the region. I live on this planet, unlike you. If you are too stupid to eat what is healthy for you, then you will probably, eventually get sick. If we have NO affordable food we will certainly get sick.

    Niel..

    Political correctness is destroying the world.

    Oh Dearest Melissa..

    What you want to do is take away people’s freedom to do what they want to do, conforming them into what YOU want them to be. If you have $5 in your pocket for lunch, YOU choose to eat a Big Mac, or 8oz of yogurt, a banana, and have change left over. The educational system is what is rotten to the core, run by people who think like you do. Ignorance makes for bad choices. The government mandating what you eat is so Orwellian as to give any rational thinking human a chill. And I see you’re anti-capitalist. What a shock. How much money do YOU have? There is NO “complete and utter control” over the food that you buy. I have many choices, from local markets, Whole Foods, or more generic chains. YOU are the one who wants to make control utter and complete.

    I see I’ve waded into a swamp of fanatical control freaks. Sorry for the intrusion.

  • CJ

    Albert,

    You’re obviously grounded in your opinions, and have some good points. But, unlike you, not everyone in this country has access to Whole Foods and local markets, but EVERYONE has access to misleading health claims like “smart choice”.

    I am a concerned husband and new father who has a hard time finding the best food for my daughter and cancer-patient wife. You make it sound just as easy for me to find healthy food for lunch as it is to find a Big Mac, but the nation’s food supply is hardly this balanced. As a consumer, I should have a much easier time finding wholesome food without having to read every label (even in Whole Foods!) or interview every farmer in my region. “The government mandating what I eat” does sound ridiculous, except for the fact that they’ve subsidized most of the foods that are at the heart of most nutrition controversies and made it almost impossible to avoid them. As for this article, they’re also trying to convince us that Fruit Loops is health food. Not a mandate, but damn close to propaganda.

    Ease up a little bit and realize that not everyone who falls on the side of those like Marion Nestle are political nutjobs. Most of us just want healthy choices at the same rate as unhealthy ones.

  • albert

    CJ.. good points, and fully taken. I’m sorry to hear about your wife. Good luck

  • http://toomanycombined.blogspot.com Melissa Bastian

    I love that being against monopolistic, multinational, multi-billion dollar corporations that send lobbiests to the White House and strongarm government organizations into weakening regulations makes me “anti-capitalist”. Clearly there’s no possibility for a middle ground – it surely must be one extreme or the other. I must be writing this comment on stolen wifi signal, using a laptop cobbled together from bits of the refuse of western society while sitting out here in my cabin in the woods…

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  • Janet Camp

    Albert – I am very sorry if your livelihood has been impacted by environmental impact fallout, but to connect that directly to an effort to give consumers honest information (no one forces them to use that information) in order to make their own personal choices doesn’t seem…well, rational.

    Also, have you noticed that the people here responded to you with decency and respect? I am hoping you will visit this site again and read the varying views that are exchanged here.

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  • dsimon

    albert-

    This isn’t about “control.” Anyone can buy anything they want. They can look at labels or ignore them.

    The issue here is whether the labels mean what they say they mean. One side is exercising its free speech right to say that their products are a “smart choice” and others are saying that their products are not healthy regardless of the label.

    But if speech is misleading, then it becomes fraud, and fraud is not inappropriate for government to regulate. The worst case scenario is that the standards are changed and/or the labels are removed, and people would be in the same situation they were a few months ago with all the choices we had then. If things were “capitalist” then and didn’t involve “government control,” I don’t see how returning to that state would be “anti-capitalist” or involve any real “government control” over what we eat.

  • Bombolino

    very nicely expressed, dsimon. it is helpful sometimes to step back and remember what the discussion question is. and this is a worthy discussion.

  • http://www.KristensRaw.blogspot.com KRISTEN’S RAW

    Great post.

    And… what a joke…. amazing that they wanted the correction like it was some major improvement.

  • jesalma

    Labels are not the problem. Processed food is the problem. When it comes to food preparation, most people are lazy. They want quick, easy, and tasty. The industry is just giving people what they want.

  • http://tobykitchen.wordpress.com Toby

    Actually, it seems that a doughnut would be a better choice (occasionally) than Froot Loops. We know that a doughnut isn’t healthy and I’m sure there’s more pleasure in eating a doughnut (and perhaps supporting a local business?) than a bowl of Froot Loops! Thanks, Marion Nestle, for identifying what’s honest and important in labeling.

  • James

    Froot Loops (from Kellogg’s website)

    Ingredients
    SUGAR; WHOLE GRAIN CORN FLOUR; WHEAT FLOUR; WHOLE GRAIN OAT FLOUR; OAT FIBER; SOLUBLE CORN FIBER; PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (ONE OR MORE OF: COCONUT, SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OILS)†; SALT; SODIUM ASCORBATE AND ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C); NIACINAMIDE; REDUCED IRON; NATURAL ORANGE, LEMON, CHERRY, RASPBERRY, BLUEBERRY, LIME AND OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS; RED #40; BLUE #2; TURMERIC COLOR; YELLOW #6; ZINC OXIDE; ANNATTO COLOR; BLUE #1; PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6); RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2); THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1); VITAMIN A PALMITATE; BHT (PRESERVATIVE); FOLIC ACID; VITAMIN D; VITAMIN B12.

    A Doughnut from the local bakery:

    Flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and a few other things.

    Froot Loops is not better than a doughnut!

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  • http://www.youarenotafitperson Mark Vaughan

    This morning I had to watch kids playing doctors writing a ‘prescription’ for Fruit Loops because fibre is good for your stomach… So, the additional 2.5 grams of fibre may do nothing to really improve this terrible food choice, but it allows Kellogg’s to pretend that Froot Loops are a good choice…

    Great article by the way!

  • http://www.youarenotafitperson.com Mark Vaughan
  • http://recapitulatedstream.blogspot.com Crystal Coker

    http://www.foodpolitics.com‘s done it once more! Superb read!

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  • jody

    I came to this site because I was very hungry earlier and did not have much in the house… I sat at the table and started reading the nutrition facts on the box of fruit loops ( as I was gobbling down my third bowl ) , I saw the little spot that said “smart choice” … ha! I thought … as apposed to what .. a doughnut! lol ..and yet here it is in black and white.

  • billdberger

    Does Kelloggs pay the Jew tax we see all other cereals do with the U or K in a circle on the box. In the USA, Kellogg’s Cereals
    with a K on the box are certified by the KVH of Mass. In Canada, the K stands
    for the COR.

    How much money does Kelloggs pay yearly on all of their products to these Rabbis for their shakedown extortion racket?