The UC Davis dinning commons have recently introduced a new nutrition-labeling method. It’s called the Happy, Healthy Apple rating system and it’s intended to promote student health by encouraging sensible food choices.
The system ranks food on a scale of apples – not real apples, but cartooned apples. The apples are fire-hydrant red, markedly squat and have black beady eyes that complement their unyielding, Hollywood-white smiles. A green leaf and a slender stem also sit atop their head-bodies.
In terms of nutrition, one apple is “good,” two apples are “better” and three apples are “best.”
Linda Adams, a dietician for University Dining Services, and the Student Health Services’ Health Education and Promotion, HEP, program worked together to create it.
“We wanted something that was simple and straightforward,” Adams said. “It’s almost like a hotel rating system except we use apples instead of stars.”
On the surface, the ranking system may seem simple, but really the food items must first meet intricate nutritional standards established by both Adams and HEP.
“There was a lot of discussion about the nutritional criteria,” said Laura Rubin, MPH, a health educator with HEP. “The ultimate goal is to promote food quality.”
All products are scrutinized as served, and run through a food processor program for analysis. After analysis, a food product is eligible to receive one, two or three apples only if it has less than 35 percent total calories from fat.
The product must also have less than 10 percent total calories from saturated fat and contain less than .05 grams of trans fat per serving; though, according to Adams, the dining commons no longer use ingredients with trans fats at all.
Typically, if the food fails to meet any one of the aforementioned criterions, it’s ineligible to receive an apple. Exceptions to this include foods that contain “heart healthy” fats, some varieties of milk, yogurt and nuts.
Then, once a food item is deemed eligible, it’s aptly apple.
Eligible products receive one apple just for trying. Food then may receive two apples if it provides a good source of one nutrient – 25 percent of the United States Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) – or a significant source of two nutrients. A significant source is considered 10 percent of the USRDA. Three apples are awarded to products if they contain two good, or three significant sources of nutrients.
Some items are tricky, however, and don’t really fit the system’s mold. Fried chicken patties served at the dinning commons, for instance, should be given an apple according to the established Happy, Healthy Apple guidelines.
However, Adams adamantly disagrees since the chicken is processed and fried. By her standards, fried chicken is considered unhealthy. So, the patties don’t get an apple.
Eggs are also problematic. They are full of many healthy nutrients, but due to their fat content, they fail to meet the minimum requirements for apple eligibility. So far, eggs still remain apple-less.
“The system is a work in progress,” Adams said. “But we still think this is a great way to get students engaged in making healthy decisions.”
After all the wrinkles are ironed out, the Happy, Healthy Apple may eventually find its way to other areas on campus.
“We are looking into expanding it to the C stores [such as Trudy’s in the Tercero resident halls] and the vending machines,” Rubin said.
Until then, those involved are focused on educating students about the system within the dinning halls. Every week there is a game night with nutrition trivia. There is a Facebook group and there are nutritional information poster boards set up throughout the dining halls.
“We are working really hard to get the information out,” said Wongsiya Boon-Long, nutrition educator with University Dining Services. “It’s our job to try and get students to stay healthy and make good decisions. And we think the Happy, Healthy Apple system will be a great start.”
DAVID LAVINE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.