Better for You Foods: Cutting Through the Clutter

Post by Amaris Bradley, Senior Director, Partnerships, Partnership for a Healthier America

2018 Healthy Eating Reseach ranking table.

2018 Healthy Eating Research Rankings

This past week, Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) was recognized in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-commissioned report as having developed one of the most high-quality nutrition standards for packaged foods and beverages. Among the 12 standards reviewed and ranked, PHA’s was among the top three found to align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the public recommendations for healthy eating that are established every five years by a committee of nationally-recognized nutrition and medical experts.

In layman terms: the rules we developed to help define healthier options have been validated by a reputable, third party – and our commitment to transparency and accountability has been substantiated.

Last year, in partnership with the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), PHA converted these nutrition standards into an online healthier product calculator to give retailers, manufacturers and distributors an easy way to identify packaged foods and beverages to stock, merchandise and sell.

As a registered dietitian who helped develop PHA’s food and beverage criteria and product calculator, I’m immensely proud of our organization and our high ranking in the report. It validates our work and the standard we hold our partners to, but the significance goes far beyond that. If you’ve ever strolled down a supermarket aisle or ordered off of a restaurant menu (i.e. all of us), you know it’s a confusing and crowded environment. The options are endless, and it’s often tough to know which options are truly healthier. Add to that the number of exciting new products entering the market daily as food and beverage companies innovate and reformulate to meet rising consumer demand for healthier options and it’s a lot to take in.

So how does one navigate this evolving food landscape? This is why standards, and this report, matters. At a time when our typical American breakfast foods have more sugar and calories than our favorite dessert treats, we desperately need a North Star – evidence-based standards. They allow us to both easily identify healthier options and pinpoint areas of improvement a company could make to a product portfolio.

Our role at PHA is to leverage the incredible power of corporate America to drive positive change in the food supply so that all kids can grow up free from (preventable!) diet-related diseases. Our private sector partners look to us to provide evidence-based guidelines and recommendations for the commitments they make, and we look to science to develop that standard.

What’s also exciting is how the private sector has taken the lead in recent years to develop its own standards. I marvel at the companies also ranked on the list: among the top eight, three of the high-quality standards were developed by for-profit companies, two of which are PHA partners: Walmart and Ahold Delhaize.

These retailers are using their strong standards to reformulate, label and educate consumers on the healthiest options in their supermarkets. Kudos to these industry leaders for setting such strong nutrition criteria so that at the end of the day there’s no more guesswork, no more mistaking a snack bar as healthy when “brown rice syrup” is the first ingredient (tip: that means there’s more sugar in the product than any other ingredient).

This report highlights the most rigorous criteria out there – and we expect nothing less of PHA to be at the top of the list, alongside our valued partners, as we forge ahead with transforming the marketplace from the inside out.