Does Healthy Eating And College Mix?

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College cafeterias have come a long way and are far removed from the days when “mystery meat” or some sort of gray gruel was served up. These days, many on-campus cafeterias feature salad bars and other healthful choices as colleges go with the trend to promote good eating habits. For students who opt for a meal plan, diet choices have improved considerably over the years.

nutritional labelAs far as students who aren’t part of the college meal plan, particularly for those who live off campus in private housing, eating right can be much more of a challenge. Fortunately, some grocery store chains are now getting into the act thanks to some encouragement from the federal government.

Royal Ahold NV, a Netherlands based food consortium which owns Stop & Shop and Giants Food, grocery food chains with a strong presence in the northeast US, has established a “Healthy Ideas” system which distinguishes more than 3000 of the store’s products and fresh produce. Bright green and blue labels alert shoppers to which products comply with USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and other federal guidelines to meet what most consider to be healthy foods.

The move by Royal Ahold comes as the federal government requires that food labeling programs be improved to clearly identify nutritional information, but some of the new labeling has actually served to confuse consumers. Thus, separate labeling and packaging by food retailers as well as from food manufacturers (including Kraft) can help consumers identify which foods are healthier than others.

Hannaford Foods, a Maine based food store chain, has also come up with its own labeling system. Called “Guiding Stars” the program rates healthy food on a three star basis – one star for good, two stars for better, and three stars for best nutritional value. Not every food gets labeled, but if they do it means that it meets the store’s recommended criteria. In addition to labeling, Hannaford offers healthful recipes online as well as wellness and health classes in several New England states and New York.

Another system used to rate the nutritional value of food is NuVal, a concoction of a Braintree, MA company, NuVal, LLC, which labels food on a score ranging from 1 to 100. Shelf tags and signage are posted near the products being sold to help consumers decide whether the product has the nutritional value that they seek or is a food developed simply for fun consumption, such as potato chips. 30 nutrients are considered by a panel of 12 experts to create an algorithm to rate each product. Price Chopper and Hy-Vee are the first grocery store chains to use this system.

The Wall Street Journal (Grocers Launch Labels to Identify Healthy Foods, January 2, 2009, page A11) ran an article which shared the steps being taken to help identify good foods, but noted that even labeling cannot say for certain that one food is better than another one. Portion control and reading nutritional labels remain the most important factors in ensuring a healthy diet, something that every college student should keep in mind when shopping for him or herself.

Photo Credit: Jason Antony

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Categories: Personal Advice