While many are applauding Walmart’s efforts to spotlight healthier foods, questions are being raised about health foods in general and how people use and abuse them.
The recent announcement from Walmart, the nation’s largest grocery chain, to label its store brands in an effort to steer customers to healthier choices is being met with tempered optimism. This week, the chain unveiled its new “Great for You” logo that will be incorporated into packaging and fruit and vegetable displays beginning this spring.
While many agree it’s a step in the right direction—it even has first lady Michelle Obama’s approval for supporting her efforts to fight childhood obesity—there’s a healthy dose of skepticism as well.
For example, critics point out that only a fraction of the store’s products are eligible for that label—and notably, sugary cereals that tend to be kiddie favorites don’t get that healthier designation.
Still, Walmart’s efforts are admirable. Essentially, its goal is to work with suppliers to eliminate trans fats and reduce sodium and sugar content while also making these healthier food options even more affordable. (Anyone who has compared costs in the grocery aisle can attest that often reduced fat or “healthier” foods carry a slightly higher price tag.)
However, several studies mentioned in the February issue of Eating Well magazine point to some of the challenges this new label may hold for consumers.
For starters, a Purdue University study found that there is potential danger in eating fat-free products, particularly if you’re lulled into thinking that having a few extra chips or maybe snacking on half the bag isn’t really all that bad. Especially since it’s fat-free.
The study observed rats who were fed both fat-free and regular potato chips and found that the sample that ate the “healthier” option gained more weight than the ones that didn’t. Researchers concluded that more work still needs to be done but surmised that fat-free substitutes could throw off the body’s natural ability to feel full or satisfied, thus causing some people to eat more.
Another study conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio found that daily diet soda drinkers boasted larger waistlines than those who didn’t drink it at all. Over the course of 10 years, researchers found that those with an affinity for low-cal caffeine had a six-times-greater increase in their waist size. They suggested that the diet label may have given those thirst-quenchers a pass to splurge in other areas since they felt they were making a healthier choice in their beverages.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that a healthy label of any sort doesn’t mean you’re getting a pass to eat the entire box. Making healthier choices in the grocery aisle is one thing, but translating that into health-conscious behaviors at home is quite another.