Services and Strategies That May Actually Help You Make Healthier Food Choices
A dietitian shares worthwhile programs, services and more that are designed to help consumers navigate nutrition.
Making healthy choices at the store and restaurants can be overwhelming, confusing and even misleading. Several organizations are recruiting the expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN), as well as other members of the health care community, to come up with innovative ways to help patrons make healthier choices in an easy and effective ways. Here are some services and programs you should try if you spot them in your daily life.
Nutrition Scoring Systems
While the specifics vary by program, nutrition scoring systems establish criteria to indicate nutritional quality. These criteria are often based on highlighting healthy ingredients like fiber, healthy fats and protein and limit sodium, saturated fats, added sugars and other low-nutrient ingredients. The TUFTS Food Compass Score has taken this concept to the next level by taking more than 50 attributions into consideration to score foods from 1 to 100. More than 8,000 foods were evaluated and none are off limits. Foods score 70 to 100 like raspberries and tuna salad with light mayo are encouraged as they are most likely to have a positive impact on health, while those with a 69 to 31 like sweet potato chips are recommended in moderation. Foods score 30 and below include fat free pudding and thick crust pizza with extra meat should be minimized. Recent research supports the validity of this tool, so be on the lookout for it more in the coming months.
Some programs are designed with community in mind. EAT FIT program from Ochsner Health System in southern Louisiana has created a system to help consumers make healthy choices at restaurants, schools, community centers and sporting events. Health conscious consumers can find the EAT FIT seal of approval on menus throughout the state to help them choose foods that are heart healthy, low in added sugars and high in protein. The program also has cookbooks and youth outreach programs where nutrition pros teach kids how to cook. Research conducted by EAT FIT determined that restaurants using this program made them more marketable to customers seeking healthy options.
Reliable Social Media
According to the UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, the unhealthy influence of fast food marketing is a continual risk to public health. Their 2021 report on Food Advertising to Children and Teens (f.a.c.t.s) identified just how many millions of dollars fast food franchises spend on targeted social media to teens and Hispanic and Black youth.
Social media accounts like Center for Science in the Public Interest (@CSPI_nutritionaction) Produce for Better Health (@fruitsandveggies), Eat Fit Nola (@EatFitNOLA), and International Food Information Council (@foodinsight) can help folks of all ages make better choices and connect to healthier brands and qualified nutrition experts. Be sure to take into account that not all social influencers are created equal. It's important to be able to spot bad nutrition information on social media.
Clear Package Labeling
According to research conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), more and more Americans are reading food packaging, but they also find it confusing! Forty-three percent of consumers always look for healthy options when shopping but only 28% report that it is easy to identify healthy foods.
In the UK, they have recently installed a traffic light type system to help consumers identify if a packaged food contains high amounts of unhealthy fats, added sugars and sodium. While some research indicates this system doesn’t lead to healthier purchases, it does help educate shoppers more as to what is in their food.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.