Sunday, December 09, 2007

Comparing Apples & Oranges

I'm a very fickle reader when it comes to nutritional labels. I buy the ingredients for much of my cooking as close to the original form as possible, so reading isn't as critical. For things I can't or don't make myself, like breakfast cereal, I skim the labels before putting in my cart. Sometimes.

I have shown my kids the side of the fruit loop box before, to point out how much better wheat chex is for them. But let's face it - nutritional labels are a pain. The information is based on whatever portion size the manufacturer decided to use, which will always be the portion making their product look best. To get accurate info I'd need to total up everything by the number of servings and divide by weight. Did I mention I'd be doing this in the grocery store with three children in tow?

A supermarket in the northeast, Hannafords, has started a ranking system (0-3) for the foods they sell. They've noticed an increase in sales for higher ranked foods. Obviously, shoppers want this information. There's a system ranking NNR (naturally nutrient rich) in the works. A group at Yale has worked out a scoring system, Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI). Eventually, foods will be assigned a 0-100 score, based on vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat, antioxidants and other nutrients found in that food, beverage or recipe.

There's a partial list up at the website, and it's an eye-opener. I mentioned cereal earlier. My kids know better than to ask for anything in bright shades of the rainbow or chocolate, but I do get regular requests for Quaker Life cereal. I usually turn those down in favor of Multi-grain Chex, but that's a mistake. Take a look at the numbers for my "regular" cereals:
Multi-Bran Chex (General Mills)....................48.38577
Good Friends Cinna-Raisin Crunch (Kashi)....63.63499
Honey Graham Life (Quaker).......................164.0544
Of the three cereals, the one I don't buy is the healthiest choice? I'm floored. I like Honey Graham Life myself, but think of it more as a sweet treat than breakfast. How'd my cereal choice(s) do?
All-Bran Original (Kellogg's) ....................1101.602
Complete Wheat Bran Flakes (Kellogg's) ...343.9216
I need to stick with sprinkling All-Bran on my morning yogurt. The beverage category didn't hold too many surprises. We all know water is the best beverage choice. This one was interesting:
V-8 Splash - all flavors .................................29.64926
Ocean Spray Reduced Calorie - all flavors...149.7773
I look forward to seeing how this rating system develops. It probably will change the way I shop for food. It definitely will change the way I think about the nutritional common knowledge.

Hat tip to Wenchypoo.

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