SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Delhaize America ’s Guiding Stars program incorporates various positive and negative factors into its proprietary nutrition-rating algorithm, which awards products with one star (good), two stars (better) or three stars (best) — or no stars at all.
The positive product attributes include vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and whole grains, while the negative attributes consist of added salt, added sugar, cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat.
But what about natural and organic products? Does the fact that they are not grown with pesticides or incorporate few or no artificial ingredients get considered in the algorithm?
“We agonized about this,” said Julie Greene, director of healthy living for Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, a division of Delhaize USA. “‘Natural’ is easy because there is no formal definition for what this is, so it was not taken into account. Organic, however, is a different story because [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] does regulate the claim.”
But Guiding Stars’ scientific advisory panel decided against including organic as a factor in the algorithm because “there is no definitive evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown foods,” said Greene. “The jury is still out on this piece of the puzzle, so it was also not included.”
Greene noted that a large number of products marketed as natural and those qualifying for the USDA organic seal happen to earn Guiding Stars because they tend to have more nutrition per calorie. But not all such products earn stars. Indulgent natural/organic foods like chocolate chip cookies made with all natural butter and organic flour “still have more harmful than beneficial nutritional attributes,” she said.