Kids who can’t get enough of their Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are probably happy to hear that the spicy take on an old classic qualifies as a “smart snack” under new federal guidelines. Not so happy about that, however, are the people who helped create the guidelines. Their hope was that the new rules that went into effect last year would lead kids toward healthier choices. But some snack makers, such as Cheetos maker Frito-Lay, have found a bit of a loophole, reformulating their products to help them make the cut.
Not that this result was completely unexpected. “One of the things we were absolutely expecting and appreciate is that the food companies would look at these recommendations and they would, in fact, reformulate their products,” Virginia Stallings, a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who chaired the committee that helped make the guidelines, told NPR. But even though they meet the new letter of the law, Reduced Fat, Whole Grain Rich Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are not necessarily the ideal snack to get kids the nutrients they need.
“If you set up nutrition standards,” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, “the food industry can do anything to meet those standards, and this is a perfect example of that. So this is a ‘better-for-you’ junk food and, of course, the question is, is that a good choice? And no, of course it's not.”
For their part, Frito-Lay sent NPR a statement saying, “We offer a variety of Smart Snack-compliant products in schools in portion-controlled sizes to suit a variety of tastes, including the Reduced Fat, Whole Grain Rich Flamin' Hot Cheetos.” Regardless of how much or little fat is in this snack, you will still have orange-stained fingers after eating a bag. But at least those stains are whole-grain.