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Walmart’s new “Great for you” initiative: More harm than good?

Posted Apr 01 2012 5:19pm

Walmart recently annouced that they are going to launch a new campaign to label “healthy” foods with the words “Great for You” to help consumers easily identify foods that are “good” for them. At first glance, this seems like a great program. Walmart is working on lowering the price of fruits and vegetables, which is wonderful. Despite what others say, it is more expensive to eat healthy. You can go to McDonalds and buy dinner for a family of four for under $10, but it is extremely difficult to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and lean protein for a healthy dinner for that same price. Walmart is also working with suppliers to lower sodium and sugar in their products, which is also excellent.

However, according to the New York Times article , Walmart also “has worked with suppliers to cut the costs of items like reduced-fat peanut butter and fat-free salad dressing.” 

That is what concerns me.

Reduced-fat peanut butter is NOT healthy. In fact, reduced fat peanut butter is worse for you than full-fat, but natural, peanut better. Manufacturers make reduced-fat peanut butter by removing the healthy fats from the peanuts, and replacing it with corn syrup, thereby raising the sugar and carbohydrates in the product. Cooking Light magazine recently ran a piece on “10 Foods That Sound Healthy But Aren’t”  which included reduced-fat peanut butter. Their nutrition expert, Katherine Brooking, MS RD , advised to review the labels on all peanut butter to ensure added sugar  and oil isn’t on the list. She touted the benefits of the monosaturated fat in the peanuts and said that best case scenrio is actually grinding your own peanuts to make natural peanut butter. If you can’t do this, than finding a natural brand, such as Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter , is your next best source.

Fat-free salad dressings are also not exactly “healthy.” Manufacturers have to replace the fat with something, so these products are often higher in sugar and sodium. Check out this article on Livestrong which compares the labels on fat-free and full-fat ranch dressing. The fat-free version only has 119 calories per serving, but 27 grams of carbohydrates. The full-fat version has 484 calories, but only 7 grams of carbohydrates. Neither one is a nutritional winner.You are much better off making your own with heart-healthy olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. It’s also been shown that the fats in salad dressing help your body absorb vitamin E and other important vitamins and nutrients. Check out this great article by Fooducate for more information on finding a healthy salad dressing.

But what worries me the most is that Walmart will begin slapping the “Great for you” label on processed foods that are labled “low-fat,” “light,” or “gluten-free,” and provide consumers will a false sense of security on their snack choices.  The Harvard School of Public Health recommends a diet that  consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, lean protein, healthy fats and water.

Eating junk food, even if it is labled “low-fat,” is not healthy and won’t improve the obesity epidemic in this country. In fact, researchers have discovered the “halo effect,” which is when people eat more of a food that they consider “healthy” because they think it is good for them. This means that eating foods with a “Great for you” label could ultimately lead to consumers actually eating MORE and gaining more weight because they will think that a diet loaded with whole wheat crackers, reduced fat chips and gluten-free cookies is good for them. But a chip is still a chip, even if it has 10 fewer calories per serving. Check out this article by Psychology Today on the Halo Effect .

So what do you think? Do you think that the new “Great for you” program at Walmart will do more harm than good? Do you think that Walmart’s effort will actually help reduce the obesity epidemic? I want to hear from you!

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